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.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Gay Marriage ruling

I have not blogged on this here as yet. The issue has come up in the Catholic media and I have been commenting, but have not posted those comments on this site. It seems the main objection I hear to Judge Walker's ruling from Catholics (from my Pastor to Michael Sean Winters of National Catholic Reporter) is his finding that moral disapproval cannot be a source of law. You can read MSW's post at

I responded to Mr. Winters that he should be glad that the common law and the consitution allows the "privacy out" on such questions, as well as the freedom of relgions to do what they want. You would not like the alternative - for a state that is empowered to rule on the wrongness of homosexuality would also be able to rule on its rightness and impose that ruling on the Churches.

By the way, the Church's teaching on this issue is not consistent with any natural law reasoning that does not seek refuge in scripture and theism. That's not my view, its the view of the author of Fagothy's Right and Reason, which is the ethics book used in Catholic minor seminary.

The teaching that homosexuality is disordered is a band-aid. Prior to that teaching, which is recent, the church was on the road to teaching that homosexuals were wonderfully made and that sexuality is a gift from God. Put the two together, and you have to concede gay marriage and the licitness of homosexual sexuality. JPII, assisted by the current Pope, attempted retrenchment - but it won't last.

Traditionally, Catholic teaching on marriage has followed the lead of the state and in some nations, marriage and its sacramental blessing are still separate acts. This presents a problem for the Church, which can be solved in understanding Torah teaching on what happens in marriage, which Christ echoed when addressing the question of divorce. When someone gets married, the leave their families and cling to their spouse and the two shall become one. That is as much about legality as sexuality and it is true regardless of the genders of the parties involved. What was disturbing was the parents of gay children excluding their life partners in times of medical crisis and the state not recognizing their rights in relation to the rights of the family. This had to be corrected and marriage corrects it. Celebrating weddings in the Catholic Church is a way for families to recognize that the familial dynamic has altered. To not celebrate gay weddings is to deny Catholic families with gay members the chance to come to grips with the transition, which comes when one person promises fidelity to another - which is the essence of sacramental marriage and does not depend upon either priest nor witness (as I was taught in both marriage prep and Catholic H.S.).

On the question of moral disapproval, it could have easily been written as moral scorn - meaning that moral scorn is no more an actionable right under the freedom of religion (demanding conformity by society, such as outlawing the marriage rights of others or their right to serve in the armed forces) than yelling fire in a theater is a legitimate application of the freedom of speech. This protects the Church in areas in the south where the prominent domination still holds to and teaches the belief that the Pope is the anti-Christ. You cannot have it both ways.

I suspect gay marriages in the Catholic Church in the not too distant future, since often the Sacrament follows the lead of civil law. As far as the Commonwealth of Virginia's marriage amendment, it is all but toast. It was unconstitutional on its face because it violated the private contract rights of gays and lesbians for now valid reason, since the Commonwealth has no interest in interfering with who has medical power of attorney, control over visitation and who inherits the property of gay people. Its only role in settling estates is as a neutral arbiter, it cannot outlaw an individual's desires for the distribution of his or her property just because that person is gay. I suspect that worries about the Richmond Circuit are why this has not been challenged before, although it could be that no one has come forward to challenge such arrangements when they do occur and are executed. Either family members have not objected or Courts have ignored the constitutional provision. Now that there is federal precident going the other way, any attempt to enforce the Virginia Amendment would be problematic, although I expect it to eventually occur.

The New Roman (Catholic) Missal

America Magazine, and I am sure the rest of the Catholic media as well, are reporting that the new English translation of the Roman Missal has been approved (with minor changes at the end). The new translation will be used exclusively starting at the begining of Advent 2011. You can read the story at

This will lead many parishes who abandonned the use of Missalettes to bring them back, which is probably a good thing for those who wish to read the scriptures as they are proclaimed - however it will be costly. Those parishes who use hard copy missals will need to replace them, which will be very costly and may not happen in time, considering that service music is still being adapted.

Music ministers will probably take the lead in some of the cathechises, since many things which are sung will be changed, like the translation of the Sanctus. I suspect that in many parishes, the Pastor will be glad to let the Cantors take the lead in this instruction.

As I have written previously, this could go well or it could be the straw that breaks the camels back regarding the American and English speaking Church's relationship to Rome. Creation of a new Great Church, or rather a revitalization of the ancient Galatian Church (which was Gallic, i.e., made up of people with blond or red hair and blue or green eyes) is a real possibility - and plays right in with Benedict XVI's new dialogues with His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome (which is a claim of petrine descent). If the Galatian Church decided to create its own Patriarch, it could also establish its own Rite and Missal. Because of the ancient origins of the Galatian Church, such an action would even be scriptural. Indeed, other Churches could, and likely will, follow suit, if the American bolt from Rome.

Personally, I like the Roman Rite and find it discordant that the lapsing translation was so different from the Latin. This new translation is not too different than my feeling about the Extraordinary Rite, which is that it should be celebrated in both Latin and in the Venacular. I suspect that the new translation is the halfway point between the lapsing translation and a Venacular Extraordinary Rite - and if we continue in union with Rome, this is likely a good place to end up, although abandonning such union certainly opens the door to a reconsideration of certain other issues which may be beneficial in the long run - i.e., married priests, female priests, openly gay priests and openly gay married female priests (whose marriages could be celebrated with the pagentry of the Extraordinary Rite, just to add a note of irony that will drive some Traditionalists absolutely crazy).

Embryo decision

Today, as reported by the AP, Federal Judge Joyce Lambert banned new regulations allowing the destruction of blastocysts to do stem cell research, in response to a suit from a lab that only does adult stem cell research, which argued that it could not ethically do both kinds of research and that this puts them at a competitive disadvantage in competing for NIH research grants, and that harvesting cells from embryos is a violation of federal law. You can read the story at

While I disagree with using the law to protect grant seekers from more competition, per se, the problem is not with the ruling but with the underlying law - which confuses a pre-Gastrulation blastocyst with a developing embryo.

The part of the blastocyst that is destroyed to harvest stem cells becomes the afterbirth. Indeed, stem cell research shows that after harvesting, such cells are no different ontologically than adult cells - except for the fact that cells that have not gone through gastrulation may not be viable in the first place. The value of this research is not the cells themselves, but the process by which eventual therapeutic cloning can take place in order to go from extracted DNA to a whole organ or nerve fiber. Of course, use of organ cartilage and adult stem cells seems to do this adequately anyway, so therapeutic cloning does not appear to be necessary. As to the ethics of this, it’s not a child until it is an organism, with differentiation, bodily integrity (meaning if you remove a cell, you lose an adult structure), influence from the genes of both parents, and no possibility that the genes from a non-human parent are effecting development. That point is gastrulation, not fertilization.

I suspect that the underlying law will be changed shortly.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

SECDEF speculation: General Wes Clark

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has announced that he will be retiring at the end of the year. Speculation is already abounding on who will fill that job. Some are thinking that another Republican should take the seat. I am pretty sure that this is not essential - indeed, it would be the death knell for their political career if they did, especially in this highly partisan atmosphere (although it would be nice to pick off an entrenched Senator - although a vulnerable one may be better). I don't expect something so Byzantine. What I suspect is Byzantine enough.

I remember back at the Denver Convention that a group of retired generals took the stage. Among these, and probably organizing them, was former presidential candidate and NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark. Until he spoke the truth about Senator McCain's lack of command experience while in military service, General Clark was considered Vice Presidential material. We didn't see much of him after that.

General Clark was considered a candidate for Secretary of State, however President Obama instead called on Hillary Clinton for that post and she has performed well. He was also a possible presidential candidate last time and it would be expedient if the war in Afghanistan goes badly to keep him out of the race next time. The surest way to do that, and to make sure that the war does not turn out badly, would be to appoint General Clark as the Secretary of Defense. This could not happen earlier, as retired generals are not allowed to serve as SECDEF for a number of years after their military service. That number of years has about concluded. The timing suggests that Secretary Gates was keeping the seat warm for General Clark. His experience in negotiating the Dayton accords, which stopped the Serb genocide of Bosnian Muslims, gives him the credibility to oversee a negotiated settlement of the Afghan occupation. If he can pull it out, the issue is neutralized from both left and right for 2012. Given his general health and fitness (Wes is an avid runner), a 2016 Clark run of a different kind is not out of the question.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Cuccinelli and despotism

The Washington Post reports that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has ruled that police in the Commonwealth can already ask people for their immigration documents. You can read the story here. This ruling is at the request of a Prince William County member of the House of Delegates, Bob Marshall, likely in defense of the county’s immigration law, which are along the same lines as the recently defanged Arizona statute. Passing an Arizona style law is impossible in Virginia, since the Democratic Senate would never allow it. Instead, Cuccinelli is resorting to tyranny by decree.

This story has gotten me thinking about how much of both law and libertarianism has been used of late to enshrine despotism. Indeed, the tension within the Tea Party movement seems to be between those factions which are authentically upset at both sides and those who are defending the economic advantage of big business. Immigration is a key example. Turning up the heat on the topic makes compromise elusive, keeping the status quo in place. The status quo consists of illegal migrant workers laboring on farms and in factories - primarily in the food industry - with few rights and the constant threat of deportation. It is the ultimate in despotism for these workers. Legalization, whether it be by a path to citizenship, by straight out amnesty or by the repeal of immigration and right to work laws altogether would end the ability to treat these people as slaves, thus keeping food cheap in this country. No progress on the issue stops any change, and keeps meat cheap.

The food industry does not want to give these jobs to Americans. Americans would demand safe working conditions and higher pay. Legal immigrants would soon want the same thing. Only illegality preserves the status quo of corporate despotism - which is why I wonder whether food industry money is being used to fan the flames of xenophobia in the Tea Party movement so reform becomes impossible.

In terms of the culture theory of Mary Douglass and Aaron Wildavsky, this is a move by some libertarians into the “high grid” zone of fatalism, or as it has been called more recently, despotism. In despotism, the despotic few are free to act, but the many are both bound by rules and isolated from group activity. Illegal immigrants are prime candidates for participation in a despotic culture, especially in right to work states, so that they have no refuge in either governmental action or unionization. Indeed, in some places, the local sheriff will prevent them from fleeing, so their only alternatives are acceptance and escapism through alcohol and drug abuse. Keeping them outside the law and resisting immigration reforms that would grant them status only further the status quo. Cuccinelli, who is Catholic, should be ashamed of himself, since the bishops are very clear that the status quo should not be maintained.