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Catholics and Evangelicals Together Against the HHS Mandate
Wednesday, July 18, 2012, 11:25 PM

It’s big news that Wheaton College, my former employer, has joined the Catholic University of America in filing suit in federal court against the HHS Mandate requiring (among others) religious institutions to violate their consciences by funding what we regard as grave, send-us-to-hell-for-crimes-against-God-and-humanity evils. (Forgive me the excessive dashes; I’ve been translating German recently.) The Presidents of the two institutions — Phil Ryken of Wheaton and John Garvey of CUA — have an op-ed on the move in the Wall Street Journal, while Christianity Today has an interview with Dr. Ryken here.

Ryken and Garvey point out that this is a threat not merely to quirky religious institutions run by fundie nutjobs but to American principles and indeed the Republic: (more…)

POTUS Doubles Down on HHS Mandate
Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 10:35 AM

…and thus not only on contraception but also abortion and sterilization. But before I get to that, the details:

In an interview with New Orlean’s CBS affiliate, the President doubled down on the HHS mandate:

Channel 4 was one of eight stations invited to the White House to talk about issues that matter to our viewers. It was a five-minute opportunity to bring him your questions.

Many shared common themes, like this one from Michael Varino:

Swensen: “He describes himself as a Catholic voter and wrote ‘What can you say about a healthcare bill that’ll mandate insurance companies to provide birth control, sterilization, etc. to employees of Catholic universities, hospitals and churches since this goes against the Catholic religion?’ We know there is compromising language in place. Some say it doesn’t go far enough and that the real, the much bigger issue is religious liberty, not contraception.”

Obama: “Yeah. Well it’s absolutely true that religious liberty is critical. I mean that’s what our country was founded on. That’s the reason why we exempted churches, we exempted religious institutions, but we did say that big Catholic hospitals or universities who employ a lot of non-Catholics and who receive a lot of federal money, that for them to be in a position to say to a woman who works there you can’t get that from your insurance company even though the institution isn’t paying for it, that that crosses the line where that woman, she suddenly is gonna have to bear the burden and the cost of that. And that’s not fair.”


Reagan’s Brandenburg Speech at 25
Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 2:03 PM

Twenty-five years ago today, Reagan gave his famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate in still-divided Berlin, challenging Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

I post this not out of raw nostalgia for Reagan or the 80s (although it’s too bad the end of the Cold war meant the end of any decent Clancy novels), but more because of my existential perception of the historical distance (twenty-five years already!) from today back to what was a major and formative event in my life, and the lives of many of my peers, as I was a teen when Reagan issued this challenge, when the wall actually fell, and when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Growing up in Minot, North Dakota, in the 1980s (I was born in 1974) our eyes were always on the Cold War, as Minot Air Force Base (“Only the Best Come North”) was on the strategic front lines: long-range bombers and fighter escorts ready to go north over Canada to obliterate Moscow on the far side of the North Pole, if need be, and missile command ready to launch the nukes whose silos populated our farmers’ fields to do the same. (more…)

New Doctors of the (Catholic) Church
Monday, May 28, 2012, 10:33 AM

Pope Benedict announced yesterday that St. John of Avila and St. Hildegard of Bingen will be named Doctors of the Church:

[T]he Pope announced that on 7 October, at the start of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, he will proclaim St. John of Avila and St. Hildegard of Bingen as Doctors of the Universal Church. “These two great witnesses of the faith lived in very different historical periods and cultural environments”, he said. “Hildegard was a Benedictine nun during the height of the German Middle Ages, a true master of theology and a great scholar of the natural sciences and of music. John was a young diocesan priest of the Spanish Renaissance, who participated in the travails of the cultural and spiritual renewal of the Church and society at the dawn of the Modern Age”. (more…)

My Children Are My Books
Saturday, May 19, 2012, 11:31 PM

Academia and parenthood both demand significant time if one is to do either well, which explains, I think, why so many academics are single, or, if married, have few, if any, children. Indeed, over and over again among friends in academia I’ve heard the refrain, “My books are my children.”

It’s a painful refrain. Frankly, the humanities’ adoption of the model of the German research university has meant that there are ever more books being written of ever less value and truth, books with a short half-life which the author lists on a CV and which libraries dutifully purchase. It’s easier to evaluate someone based on quantity than quality, and so in the capitalist economy that contemporary academia has become, publications function as currency for jobs and tenure. Hence the pressure to “publish or perish,” perishing meaning getting a real job (as certain of my relatives would have it).

Nothing novel there, as it’s been pointed out again and again. But it’s disturbing, I think, to hear Christian academics talking about sacrificing children for the sake of publications. “Be fruitful and multiply publications on your CV” is the one instance of allegoresis I’ve seen tolerated and encouraged among those who otherwise insist on an exclusive reading of the plain, literal sense of Scripture. To me, it’s another instance of modernity capturing supposedly conservative Christianity. Many of us have surrendered our view and practice of family life to the demands of the marketplace, often preventing the miracle of procreation by means of the miracles of technology. (more…)

They Make a Desert and Call It “Renewal”
Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 8:00 AM

Essentially I’m ripping off the title from a post of Rod Dreher’s, wherein he discusses “a radical gay rights nun” and what such attitudes have done to religious life in the US in recent decades. Jeanine Gramick, the sister in question, says complying with the Vatican’s desired oversight of the LCWR “would be a repudiation of all the renewal that we’ve done in religious life.” One of Rod’s readers asks, rhetorically, “How can renewal be synonymous with the collapse of religious life?” And collapse it has, at least as measured in numbers. In 2007, there were 60,642 religious women, compared to 46,451 today in 2012. In 1965 there were about 185,000 religious women.

But it’s not just Catholic religious life taking a numerical hit. Catholics in general are declining as well; from 2000-2010, active Catholics declined by 5%. In Buffalo, New York, Catholic numbers have dropped by somewhere between 19% and 35%, depending on who’s doing the numbers. The mainline Protestant decline has been well-documented. Meanwhile, Mormon numbers have increased by 50% in the US since 2000.

Joe Biden Speaks the Truth
Monday, May 7, 2012, 3:52 PM

In coming out in favor of gay marriage on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden said:

And by the way, my measure, David, and I take a look at when things really begin to change, is when the social culture changes. I think ‘Will & Grace’ probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done.

Biden’s right about that last part. For those who don’t know, Will and Grace was a wildly popular sitcom airing on NBC from 1998 to 2006. Its three main characters were Grace, a Jewish interior designer, a Will, a fetching gay lawyer, and Jack, their gay friend played to stereotype.

Readers of Mere Comments are in all likelihood different from the general population in that we attempt to engage the fundamental questions of what it means to be human, what it means to seek goodness, beauty, and truth, what our common life together should look like, and so on. But most people don’t really engage in that quest, I think, even among our best and brightest in our most elite institutions, whether ecclesial or secular. Most of our leaders are simply given over to utilitarianism and pragmatism; at best we can hope for a stodgy, quaint Kantian to make a stand every now and then.

Sure, everyone has deep existential moments of angst and sturm und drang as well as deep joy, especially as we come of age, and asks questions about God, nature and humanity. But while these moments can lead to the sustained pursuit of truth, for most people it goes away when they become part of the machine that is Western life, where existence is (to quote Bridget von Hammersmark, a character from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds) reduced to the fundamentals of “smoking, drinking, and ordering in restaurants.” (more…)

Paul Ryan, Thomist
Thursday, April 26, 2012, 9:08 AM

It’s a common misconception on the left and on the right that Congressman Paul Ryan, architect of the GOP’s de facto budget and entry on every pundit’s vice-presidential short list, is a devotee of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of “objectivism.”

Were this true, it would be deeply unsettling, given that Rand’s philosophy (such as it is) is desperately wicked. As Whittaker Chambers wrote in National Review in 1957, “From almost any page of [Rand’s novel] Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber — go!'” Rand’s ultimate hatred of the human race should have no place in the governance of the nation.

But it’s not true that Ryan follows Rand. National Review Online reports on a conversation with Rep. Paul Ryan, in which he disowns her (having never really owned her) and speaks of his devotion to Thomas Aquinas: (more…)

Yahoo Headline: “Nebraska Couple Watches Their Baby Die Because of New Law”
Monday, April 16, 2012, 11:44 AM

Well, that’s dramatic isn’t it? From the headline on this Yahoo piece, you’d get the idea that somehow Nebraska effectively murdered the child and forced the parents to watch.

Nope. Actually, the law in question is Nebraska’s new law forbidding abortion after twenty weeks gestation except for particular circumstances.

The story is heartbreaking. The mother’s water broke at just past 20 weeks gestation, and doctors told her it was “unlikely” the baby would live. And so the parents decided they wanted a “termination,” but given the new law, couldn’t get one: (more…)

Bishops Issue Call to Action on Religious Liberty
Friday, April 13, 2012, 12:39 AM

It’s April, but it’s not too early to gear up for some real spiritual warfare, officially starting June 21, as the USCCB calls for “A Fortnight of Freedom” from June 21 to July 4, the former being the vigil of the feast of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, the latter being of course Independence Day.

Fisher and More were of course beheaded for opposing Henry VIII’s takeover of the Church of England. (Fisher dies nobly here; More here.) Very interesting that the USCCB, led in this instance by Bishop William Lori, Archbishop-Designate of Baltimore, brings Fisher and More to bear on the issue. For a couple years now, since Notre Dame awarded POTUS an honorary doctorate of law (can that be revoked? Please, Fr. Jenkins?), certain Catholics have compared our current situation to that of 16th-century England, allowing for the obvious differences. No one is facing the block or Tyburn just yet, laus Deo, but given that POTUS has failing pretensions to theological competence as pastor-in-chief and given that the whole HHS mandate fiasco seems directed to splitting the Catholic Church, pitting Sr. Carol Sheehan against the bishops, comparisons with Henry VIII, mutatis mutandis, are not inappropriate. I mean, what politician, whether here in the US or China, doesn’t attempt to co-opt the religious? In any event, let us pray, and fight:

The U.S. bishops have issued a call to action to defend religious liberty and urged laity to work to protect the First Freedom of the Bill of Rights. They outlined their position in “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.” The document was developed by the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), approved for publication by the USCCB Administrative Committee March 13, and published in English and Spanish April 12.

The document can be found at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/our-first-most-cherished-liberty.cfm.


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