This blog started out as a collection of scripts for an online radio show of the same name. It riffed off of my 2004 book, Musings from the Christian Left, now republished as The Conscience of a Catholic Radical.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DADT debate on LinkedIn

As a former Air Force employee, I am a member of the US Air Force group on LinkedIn. Currently, there is a debate going on about the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Here is what I have been saying:

All other issues aside, however, if good order and discipline is the reason for DADT, one must ask what about allowing gays to serve openly would violate GO&D (Good Order & Discipline)? Since DADT, the point that gay officers and airmen are required to lie to serve is gone, since no one asks anymore. Would gay service members flount there sexuality and behave in a manner that is unprofessional? If so, a gay ban is not necessary for that. What about the fact that gay sex is a violation of the UCMJ? That's easy to deal with, simply change the UCMJ to conform to civil law on sexual issues.

What is left? Is it the fault of gay service members that others object to their sexuality? The source of gay sexuality is entirely irrelevant, since under Lawrence v. Texas private sexual conduct is a matter of right - and by privacy I do not mean that it must be hidden but that it is a decision that society does not get a vote in.

If attitudes ABOUT gay service members are the issue than gay service members are not the problem at all and they should be allowed to serve openly. While people are entitled to their private thoughts about other service members, they are not entitled to let these thought affect how they deal with them. If they cannot help themselves then they need to question whether they are fit protectors of liberty.

There has been an issue (AFese for a problem) with religious coercion of zoomers by evangelical students and officers at the Academy. The problem does not rest with those who are discriminated against, but those who hold Dominionist views and who wish to impose those on other service members. This is the same kind of issue.

To put it bluntly, if there are people in the services who believe that God will somehow withdraw his protection from the United States for allowing gays to serve openly, it is best that they resign or not reenlist. We shouldn't force them to do so, however I suspect that they will.

This debate is an opportunity for people who object to gay service members to look at why they feel that way. If there objects are religious than, as a matter of honor, they should say that this is the case - or at least examine this question for themselves and if they find that religion is the issue, withdraw their objections, since such objections are innapproriate.

Someone then asked if I was out of bounds for allowing people to make such policy decisions based on their religious beliefs. My answer:

To be clear, their religious views are their business. However, they are no justification for denying other people the right to serve their country in the military or to somehow treat them differently as they serve. So, am I correct that religous beliefs on homosexuality are what is at the heart of the Good Order and Discipline argument?


Is moral scorn by even a significant group of soldiers a constitutionally protected right under the freedom of relgion, which can be used to prove that allowing gays to serve openly would disrupt good order and discipline? Opponents of repeal can make that argument, if you wish. In fact, I wish they would. It would make my day if they started a petition drive and delivered those petitions to national command authorities and Congress. (Since the experience of our allies in ending such bans shows that conduct of gay service members themselves does not violate good order and discipline).

I suspect they won't, because moral scorn is not contitutionally protected speech (it is considered malice if it is a motivation for either private or governmental action) and is as related to the freedom of religion as fighting words are to the freedom of speech (not protected).

Ice Dancing at Vancouver

I saw the last grouping from last night's ice dancing competition from Vancouver. It was nice that the Canadian pair won, although I enjoyed the American silver medalists a bit more, if only because the piece they selected was more familiar.

The Russian pair is upset, bordering on being sore losers, however they have only themselves to blame after their performance in their second routine (which took them from first to third in the first place). Indeed, the score they received in that peformance was overly generous and probably political given their prior medal (no one wants to give Mr. Putin another reason to complain about figure skating). Anyone else would have been out of the top 10.

For both performances, the costumes were a distraction from the actual dancing. I am no prude and am second to none in appreciation of female declotage - however if the audience is looking at how outlandish the costuming is, they will miss the dancing itself. The second Russian pair, with her firebird costume, also suffered from such a distraction. Costuming should be supportive, not designed to push boundaries. If reasonable people can call it a wardrobe malfunction, there should be no surprise when points are deducted.

Finally, 101 points to the bronze medalists were generous given that in the last movement of the song, a fast and energetic pace was evoked by the music - however it was absent from the dancing. Personally, I think the second American pair was robbed, although their costuming was not much more appropriate.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tempting Jesus, tempting us

Jesus was in what was probably the Negev for an undetermined period of time, which is what they mean by 40 days in biblical scholarship (meaning he had lost track of time). Jesus was hungry so the first temptation was for Jesus to turn the stones into bread - to which Jesus answered that man shall not live by bread alone.

The second temptation was to worship Satan in exchange for kingship over the entire world, to which Jesus answered that you must worship only God. Pilate put the same kind of question to him, inviting Jesus to prove his kingship - to which Jesus answered that His kingdom was not of this world.

The third temptation was to throw himself off the temple heights to prove God's love for him, to which he answered that you do not tempt God by doing such things (if God sends you a rowboat and a helicopter, you take them). This temptation was repeated by those who told Him to come down from the Cross rather than remain faithful as the suffering servant, experiencing both the resignation that humankind feels in sin and the death we all experience.

After the temptations were through, angels came and ministered to Jesus - just as after the passion came the Resurrection.

Some argue that these temptations could not touch Jesus - that Satan had no chance (in other words, that the game was rigged). I don't believe that for a second. Each of the temptations would have had great appeal to Jesus and some of them have great appeal to us - especially those of us who labor in the Washington area. Many of us are offered chances to sell out our principles in order to succeed - to succumb to half truths and please the powerful in order to accomplish what we want. We want things easy and on our terms or go the other way and put God to the test, tempting providence rather than working for change. It is even easy to focus only on the economics, especially in the progressive movement, when those of us who are Christian progressives remembering the Christian part - there is more to our economic agenda than bread. We must also propose things to feed the spirit. We can't just give people money, we must also give them an opportunity to develop their spirits.

Jesus did not propose an easy path, for himself or for us - however it is a better path.

The latest on health care reform and abortion

The important piece here is that the proposal coming out of the White House favors the Nelson approach on abortion. Assuming for the sake of argument that the USCCB is correct that this is inadequate, should this mean that it is time for Catholics to demand that reform be scuttled?

Absolutely not and here is why. While it would be good if the Senate reconciliation language brought in Stupak, it is not absolutely necessary that it do so. Indeed, Nelson seems to think that his language does the same thing as Stupak does and without insurance exchanges, it is unclear that Stupak is still necessary. Irregardless, just like for the underlying bill, Reconciliation will not pass the House of Representatives without the Stupak language and if it cannot this language will likely survive Conference (assuming the Senate does not accept it to avoid conference). Here is the beauty of using Reconciliation. In the Senate, last I recall, there were 55 votes in favor of Stupak. For reconciliation, this is enough. If the issue is handled responsibly, the Stupak language is pretty sure to prevail.

The bottom line is, then, that the way things are going Catholics must support health care reform since abortion will be dealt with by the process - this is, of course, if you believe that the Church should have an opinion on such issues. Given the centrality of health coverage for a family in the decision to have a child or abort it (meaning that families without care are more likely to obtain abortions), passing health care reform overall is one of those seemless garment of Life issue (even if Stupak does not pass).

Moira and I were interviewed on CNN

Here is the link.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Blogging the Arlington Catholic Herald

Last night, as is usual for a Thurday, the weekly diocesan newspaper was waiting for me when I got home. The editorial page always gives me something to write about. Indeed, last week's did as well, but I was busy dealing with the tail end of Snowpocolypse and preparing to be interviewed by CNN on Monday last on the vanishing middle class (see us on Monday at 7:24 AM with a repeat at 8:24) that I did not have time to blog on last week's issue, so today you get two for the price of one.

Last week, Jay Killearn of Annadale wrote on immigration reform, asking some very pertient questions to the debate. After raising some valid questions (my answers to which I doubt he would like) he goes on to question the patriotism of the writer he was responding to. You can read him here: I am a bit disheartened that the Herald would give such a statement ink, since the viewpoint is a bit partisan, hardly Catholic, and probably has no place in something published by the Church. Indeed, it makes me wonder about the editors. I can only respond that there is no American section (and indeed no Catholic section) in heaven.

This week, Russell Shaw's article is about the move to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, a move he disagrees with. You can read him here His thesis is that DADT is part of the move to accepting gay culture. He is probably correct about this, to which I respond that this is the point. In Lawrence v. Texas, gays were found to possess a right of privacy regarding sexual conduct in the home. Shaw misunderstands what privacy means, however. It does not mean that they have a right to keep it quiet. The essence of privacy is that the public no longer has a say in gay sexuality. In other words, privacy is not about secrecy, it is about autonomy. In a free society, with autonomy comes acceptance of teh conduct of others. Evidence is mounting that being gay in the military has no impact on either readiness or morale (and probably never has). A military that defends individual rights must mirror that respect within its ranks. I would rather not be protected by those who feel morally superior to their fellow citizens as ultimately that is not good for my own personal liberty or anyohe elses. Shaw is wrong and DADT must be repealed this year.

Welcome to Lent

Lent is upon us. As probably everyone knows, it is one of the two penitential seasons set aside by the Church for spiritual renewal – the other being Advent. Now that the storm season is over in the Washington area (at least, I hope and pray it is over), I will be providing you with essays on the Mass readings for each Sunday. I won’t provide you with Ash Wednesday reflections, however, since I never attend Ash Wednesday services. The reason I do this is that one of the three readings in the cycle says that when we fast, we comb our hair and do not put ashes on our foreheads to draw attention to ourselves. You can usually tell the practicing Catholics at work because they have smudged foreheads. This makes the custom of ashes a nice expression of cultural solidarity, but doing so negates any real spiritual value.

It is worth noting here that the Church has used Lent for more than just spiritual purposes. When most of Europe was starving during the period of minor glaciations from the twelfth centuries to the mid-nineteenth century (global warming is likely a good thing by comparison to that period), food was scarce – especially when agriculture was mostly about growing cereal grains, which were prone to famine in bad years – and there were many bad years. A Lenten fast made sense in those years, since failure to do so would lead to Mass starvation. Life was less compartmentalized then, so the line between everyday life and religion was less bright. Indeed, for much of that period the Church was the prominent institution in people’s lives. Abstaining from meat on Fridays (now in Lent, but formerly year round) was also economic at the behest of Italian fishermen. The penitential meaning was an ad-on.

Penance is essential for most people, although not for the reason you think. In modern times, most people are fairly comfortable. Indeed, they are so comfortable, it is hard for them to cultivate poverty of spirit – which is considered blessed. This is especially the case in modern America, and most especially in this area, which is economically well of and politically powerful. While some people, through addictions or other personal tragedy, experience poverty in spirit in due course, most do not. Lent allows them to feel the pain that their lives don’t otherwise grant them. This type of pain is essential for spiritual development in much the same way that alcoholics must first hit bottom before going on to lead recovered and spiritual lives.

This is in contrast to other interpretations of Lent and suffering, which imply that God needs us to suffer for his own purposes or to pay off some spiritual debt. This is really not the case. If God needed something from us, He would not really be God. I reject such a codependent deity. Lent is for us to get out of our comfort zone and get into service to someone besides ourselves. As such, Lent is actually a progressive enterprise. Indeed, unlike those in recovery from addiction, if you are in a Church with a social policy, which the Catholic Church is and remains (especially with the promulgation of Caritas in Veritate), you have a special responsibility to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth. In these times the need is great. To see the need, one must become poor in spirit - and to do that, the practice of Lent is essential. Therefore, I say to all of you, have a blessed Lent.

DC Catholic Charities ends family services

On December 3rd of last year, I reported that Catholic Charities was playing hardball on gay marriage, saying that it would have to ratchet back services in the District if the bill passed. You can see the essay at The Council then passed the bill anyway and the Mayor signed it. For a while, it looked like Charities was bluffing. It turns out now that they were not. On Wednesday, the Post reported that Charities has transferred it District operation to another provider root and branch (all foster families, children and staff) to another provider, the National Center for Children and Families. You can view the story here (which seems to have overshadowed by other news – like the blizzard and the Olympics): A lesbian friend of mine has quipped that the Church is giving up helping children for Lent. I will agree that the timing is unfortunate.

I have fiver thoughts about these developments.

First, not providing services because you might have to hire gay foster parents or place with gay parents seeking to adopt is not news in Catholic circles. The Archdiocese of Boston did it first and I expect others to follow – especially if the challenge to Proposition 8 succeeds and gay marriage goes national as an equal protection right.

Second, this is a regrettable development, and I regret to announce that when our family is again in a position to donate to charitable causes, Catholic Charities of Washington, who my wife has a long relationship with, will not be on our list. I promised this in my December article and if they won’t back down, neither will I, nor I suspect other donors who know that there is nothing to fear from gay and lesbian parents.

Third, as I said in December, it is not up to the Church to judge between types of marriages, especially as a civil employer. It is equally immoral for Catholics to get married before civil authorities without getting the marriage blessed by the Church or having a Church wedding presided by or witnessed by a Catholic Priest. If the Church were that upset by immoral marriages, it would inquire ask employees for marriage certificates. If it does not see fit to do that for heterosexual marriages, it cannot judge the quality of gay marriages either.
Four, eventually gay Catholic couples whose families donate will demand that the marriages of their gay children be blessed. I suspect that the Church will not be able to ignore the groundswell, which explains the frontal attack.

Lastly, I am not sure that getting the Church out of the family services business is a bad idea. Many believe it is too much in favor of adoption rather than family restoration (particularly for cherubic white children). As I stated in my book, Musings from the Christian Left, children alone should not be fostered. Where possible, parents should be under foster care as well – especially where youth or addiction are issues. Maybe, in the end, getting the Church out of family services is a good thing.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Future of the Tea Party

Jack Cafferty asks the question on his CNN blog about the future of the Tea Party. I was just about to blog about that and see no reason not to post a paragraph on his blog and more on this one. The Tea Party, at least at the leadership level, is Republican astroturf goaded by one of your main competitors. It was never anything but a GOP activity designed to rally the base, especially the economic conservatives. The poll should have asked what Republican party offices activists have held in the past if you really wanted to know the true nature of the "movement." Now, there is a thread of people who want both more economic justice and less government who the movement was gunning for, but the reason they were being mobilized was to revitalize the GOP, not form a third party. Time will tell whether the GOP gets them or not.

Carl Milsted believes that the most fertile ground for a new party are members of the Christian Left and people that can be classified in his political matrix as "Left Leaning Freedom Lovers" which would support a mix of libertarian and democratic policies, as well as "Social Liberals", which favor a mix of Libertarian, Green and Democratic views. When I took his political quiz, I lined up right on the line between these two groups, neither of which is really represented by either party. From its stated positions and past support for Constitution Party folks, it is more likely that Tea Partiers would fit in Carl's Economic Conservative category, which is quintessentially Republican (although many hard core Republicans are in his Social Conservative area - however these care less about taxes than abortion, gays and immigration).

My bet is that many of the people who are liking the Tea Party (outside its Republican organizers) want more economic freedom but are not necessarily happy with the Republican social conservatives. The Republican Party will never be a home for these people, although they may vote Republican if Obama does not get the economy back on track soon. Of course, if the immigration debate comes to a head, they may just stay home if the Republican social rhetoric gets ugly (which it likely will).

The recent losses in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachussets did not come because the Republicans are gaining in popularity, but because the new Obama voters stayed home or have moved, graduated or were not mobilized on election day. In time, these voters will turn out more frequently while the older Tea Partiers continue to die off (sometimes in a blaze of infamy). Anchor babies will also soon age into the voting population, even without immigration reform. I doubt they will vote with Republicans who wish to deny them their natural born citizenship.

Indeed, freedom lovers will tell you that the best way to reduce immigration is to quit restricting the ability of immigrants to work. They will then become less attractive to American employers because they cannot be exploited if they no longer need documentation (or if they, gasp, join the Union like American workers).

The Tea Party may force a third party, but only because they contain enough anti-immigrants to make the GOP look like the KKK, while at the same time radicalizing people who want both more freedom and more justice (the Christian Left and Christian Libertarians). Even if the Christian Left does find a home in the Democrats (like we did in 2008), we won't stay there and the Democratic Party and the ranks of the independents will eventually get too big to not lead to a third party by 2016, except that this "third party" will likely be a second party by then. It all depends on the positions held by the two top contenders to replace Obama that year. Whoever loses the nomination may take their marbles and go found a second party. My bet is that the Democrats will fracture on corporatism vs. populism, what to do about the deficit and abortion. That's 2016, however, not 2010.