What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

Ten years ago, on this day, Baghdad fell to coalition forces.

As U.S. troops were closing in on the city, Iraqi Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Saha (M.S.S.) had the job of keeping the Iraqi people “informed” of how the war was going. M.S.S.’s boss, Saddam Hussein, didn’t want the Iraqi people to know just how badly the war was going for the regime, so M.S.S.’s press conferences consisted of half-truths, distortions, and blatant lies.

As the war continued to go badly for the regime, the press conferences became more laughable, earning M.S.S. the nicknames of “Baghdad Bob” and “Comical Ali”. He was captured after the war and now lives in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

We haven’t heard much from Baghdad Bob in the past ten years, but studies have shown own supposedly “free” press was little better in the lead up to the Iraq War. The media largely followed a pro-war storyline, even when the facts didn’t match what the Bush Administration was saying.

In the leadup to the Iraq War, the press was more interested in telling a story than in reporting facts. But this isn’t journalism, this is propaganda.

Today, we are seeing the same “selective reporting” in stories about abortion. Members of the media largely support legalized abortion, and this is reflected in the stories they chose to cover and those they choose to ignore. Stories that make people more sympathetic to liberal abortion laws are promoted, such as the unfortunate death of Savita Halappanavar, while stories that make people more supportive of abortion restrictions, such as the trial of Kermit Gosnell for the death of multiple newborn babies and a woman, Karnamay Mongar.

Important

Important

Not Important

Not Important

Some of the coverage would make Baghdad Bob proud. This from the Huffington Post:

In court Monday, Gosnell defied that crude image, appearing poised, elegantly dressed and oddly relaxed. He warmly greeted a local TV reporter by name, as he has done in the past.

Gosnell, the only child of a gas station operator and government clerk, had been a top student at the city’s prestigious Central High School. He became an early proponent of abortion rights in the 1960s and `70s, and returned from a stint in New York City to open up a clinic in the impoverished Mantua neighborhood, near the working-class black neighborhood where he grew up.

His Women’s Medical Center treated the poor, immigrants, teens and others without regard for their ability to pay, Gosnell has said.

I’ll spare you the gruesome details of the trial, but Google is your friend. Tip: Don’t read while eating.

Blogger Ace of Spades has an insightful take on all of this.

Unlike in Iraq, the government isn’t forcing the media to cover the story a certain way. Nor do we have, like in Britain, an unashamedly partisan press. (Everyone in the UK knows The Guardian is left-leaning and The Daily Telegraph is right-leaning.)

Instead, Ace hypothesizes that the media manipulates its coverage for what they believe is the greater good. They see themselves as educated and enlightened, and the rest of us, especially in the Deep South or the Central Time Zone, as a bunch of dangerously uneducated savages.

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Kind of Like This.

You see, we can’t know about the Gosnell trial, because that might make us think abortion is bad, and such thinking Is Not Allowed. On the other hand, we must know about Savita and we must know that the Catholic Church is to blame (even though neither Irish Law nor Catholic teaching would have prevented her from getting the care she needed) so that we will know that abortion is necessary and good and that those crazy Catholics have no business in medicine or politics in a “civilized” society.

Or as Ace of Spades put it:

By deliberately misleading the public, you see, they’re protecting the world.

From us.

They have taken the exact opposite side of the proposition this nation was founded upon. Far from a well-informed citizenry being necessary for a free democracy, they’ve decided a well-informed citizenry is a deadly threat to it.

Don’t worry, though. They’re working their level-best to end that threat.

Truth does not control information. Truth is liberating. Truth is unbiased. Truth answers the questions instead of silencing the debate.

But those only concerned with their own power find truth a threat or an inconvenience. In a world without truth, all that is left is power.

Or as one famous politician put it: “Truth. What is the truth?”

Love and Marriage

I have written quite a bit about sex, but I haven’t written anything about homosexuality.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis talked about why he did not address the issue of gambling:

Ever since I served as an infantryman in the First World War I have had a great dislike of people who, themselves in ease and safety, issue exhortations to men in the front line. As a result I have a reluctance to say much about temptations to which I myself am not exposed. No man, I suppose, is tempted to every sin. It so happens that the impulse which makes men gamble has been left out of my make-up; and, no doubt, I pay for this by lacking some good impulse of which it is the excess or perversion. I therefore did not feel myself qualified to give advice about permissable and impermissable gambling: if there is any permissable, for I do not claim to know even that. . . . I did not think it my place to take a firm line about pains, dangers and expenses from which I am protected; having no pastoral office which obliged me to do so.

Likewise, Lewis did not address homosexuality for the exact same reason—the behavior never interested him. As I have no interest, inclination, or temptation to homosexual activity, I am not qualified to write about whether it is right, wrong, or otherwise. Nor am I qualified to give persons struggling with same sex attraction any sort of useful advice on the matter.

The Meaning of Marriage

I am not gay, but I am married, so I do have something to add to the gay marriage conversation.

My belief about marriage is that God intended for marriage to be between one man and one woman. You can read Theology of the Body, or other sources about marriage to get an understanding behind the theological reasons for why the complimentary nature of the male and the female are an essential element to marriage.  “Complementary nature” does not refer to legalistic rigid gender roles, but more in the sense of the French phrase “vive la difference“, which celebrates the qualities that make the sexes unique.

At the most concrete, physical level, the complementary nature of the sexes is necessary to have sexual intercourse and to have children together. Our experience is that there is nothing more intimate than sexual intercourse and nothing that has had a greater impact on our marriage than having children. Our children are, in a very real sense, the product of us and our union: One daughter looks like her and acts like me, the other looks like me and acts like her. I find this incredibly amazing.

A gay couple can do sexual things, but they cannot have intercourse. They can adopt children or use assisted reproduction, but they cannot have children with each other. (As for infertile couples, those struggling with infertility know more about the difficulties this causes than I could ever write.) While marriage is about far more than sex and reproduction, my own experience is that if these things were missing from our marriage, it would be would a bit like a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips.

The Matter of The Law

There is, as I see it, a difference between “what God intended marriage to be” and “what relationships the law should recognize”. God “hates divorce”, but the law allows it. Even the Law of Moses allowed divorce, despite God’s opinion of it. C.S. Lewis addressed the difference between Christian marriage and legal marriage in his native United Kingdom on the issue of divorce:

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The conception of marriage is one: the other is the different question – how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.

My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.

The purpose of legal marriage, as I see it, is to encourage a stable, healthy society. It is about more than reproduction, otherwise, there would be an age cutoff. Likewise, if marriage were about reproduction, the minimum age for marriage would be puberty, not legal adulthood.

The law encourages marriage and discourages divorce. Even with “no fault divorce”, in my state, it takes 24 hours to get married and one year to get divorced, unless evidence of fault is proven. The law encourages relational stability: North Carolina still has Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation laws, where an aggrieved spouse can sue a third party “homewrecker” for breaking up their marriage. Stable families create a stable society. Monogamy and fidelity prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The state has good reason to encourage marriage for reasons beyond reproduction.

So, where do gay couples fit in?

Some have argued that gay people have the same right to marry a member of the opposite sex as anyone else. I know several gay people who have married opposite-sex friends. Nearly all of them eventually divorced. Encouraging gay people to marry friends they aren’t sexually attracted to isn’t exactly a recipe for relational and social stability.

Others have argued that gay relationships are less stable than heterosexual relationships. Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is true, the issue in allowing gay couples to marry isn’t preferring same-sex relationships over heterosexual relationships, but preferring stable same-sex relationships over unstable transient ones.

Still others make a quasi-theological argument based on Natural Law. They argue that gay sex is unnatural and harmful, therefore society shouldn’t recognize same-sex relationships. The problem with this line of thinking is that if such activity is indeed harmful, then gay marriage opponents should be able to provide clear evidence of the harms to those who choose to engage in them vs. those who have the inclination to pursue them, but choose not to. Arguments based in the Natural Law must be supported by nature, otherwise, they are merely arguments from authority in disguise. In this case, the evidence that most people with same sex attraction are worse off in a committed gay relationship instead of attempting a heterosexual relationship or remaining celibate is scant. The argument is philosophically sound, but the facts to support it are lacking.

Others make the argument that “marriage” means something. I irritate those on both sides of the debate by disagreeing with this assertion. I do not care if legal recognition is called “civil union” or “civil marriage”. Words describe principles and concepts, they do not have “inherent meanings”. I doubt that many gay marriage opponents are fighting for the “one man, one woman, children optional, for as long as we feel like it” that is the reality of civil marriage.

Finally, some argue that gay marriage will have all sorts of negative consequences for adoption law and for religious freedom. Both of these issues are legitimate concerns, but they are best dealt with separately. In the case of adoption law, adoption law is based on the best interest of the child, not the rights of the parents. If children are indeed better off with a heterosexual couple than a same-sex couple, then you are going to have to show that this is so and convince society to make sure that adoption laws reflects such findings.

As for religious freedom, if gay marriage has a negative impact on religious freedom, then the problem is that protections for religious freedom are too weak across the board. The controversy over religious groups providing contraceptive coverage has everything to do with religious freedom and absolutely nothing to do with gay marriage. (What do gay couples need with contraceptives, anyway?) If religious freedom is ignored over gay marriage, it will probably be ignored in many other areas, and the problem should be recognized for what it really is.

Faith and Reason

People on both sides of the debate are very sure of themselves, but this issue isn’t an easy one. Especially for heterosexuals who really can’t understand what it’s like to have same-sex attraction.

There can be no conflict between true faith and sound reasoning. True faith leads to truth; sound reasoning leads to truth; truth cannot contradict truth.

If faith appears to contradict reason, the problem must be either mistaken faith or flawed reasoning. Truth is not hidden—it wants to be found. What is true in faith will be confirmed by reason and the natural world, but if the natural world contradicts what the faith believes (such as the case of the theology of the Ptolemaic solar system) then we must re-examine our faith to see if we have misunderstood something.

To say something is “natural” or “unnatural” requires an understanding of nature and while nature doesn’t change, our understanding of it does.

As for the politics, my own prediction is that in the broader view, gay marriage is much ado about nothing. The most stable gay couples will take advantage of it, heterosexual couples will marry (and unfortunately, divorce) like they always have, and life will go on. It is neither the “Civil Rights Movement of our era”, nor the end of Western Civilization.

Question

I was writing a nice long post about how I really liked being Catholic, but I don’t completely agree with everything the Church teaches. Which led to the question of exactly how much can I disagree with and remain a “faithful Catholic” (on my own terms, not judging what being a “faithful Catholic” means to anyone else) and at what point should I just admit I’m a Protestant at heart and become an Episcopalian.

Then I read Calah Alexander’s post.

Seeking Truth

Calah had a fantastic quote from Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being:

I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.

What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.

To Calah, being Catholic is so much less stressful than her non-denominational Baptist-y background. Even if she does worry about constantly being “barefoot and pregnant”, she doesn’t have to worry about going to hell for getting things wrong:

I don’t have to defend the faith on all sides lest it collapse; it won’t collapse, because it is truth. Most of all, though, I no longer have to be afraid of finding truth outside my own belief system. There is truth everywhere, in all religions. God loves us so much that he reaches out to us in every way he can. I believe that Catholicism is the most fully realized, most complete path to Christ on this earth, but I also believe that truth is not confined to one set of doctrines, one branch of Protestantism, one prayer that must be prayed to achieve salvation. It cannot be, or it would be nothing more than Flannery’s electric blanket, keeping a select few warm, requiring nothing from them, and leaving all the rest out in the cold. Truth is so much larger than that. God is so much vaster than we imagine. And we are not passive vehicles in the terrible drama of redemption, dung-hills being covered by Christ just because.

The Catholic Church teaches that there can be no conflict between faith and reasoning. Faith leads to truth and reason leads to truth and truth cannot contradict truth. Any apparent conflict must be due to misunderstood faith or improper reasoning.

Honest Mistakes vs. Sins

But we are human. We misunderstand faith and reason improperly ALL. THE. TIME. We get it wrong. We strike out. We screw up.

Sin is not a mistake. Sin is a deliberate choice. A failure to love. An act of rebellion and disobedience. It is choosing Lucifer’s “Non serviam” over Mary’s “fiat.” It is an inversion of the obedience of Jesus—the insistence that “My will, not thine, be done.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”

1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.” Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,” knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.

The Catholic Church teaches that our consciences tell us whether something is right or wrong. Our duty is to follow our consciences and do the right thing. Our natures are generally good, if imperfect, not totally warped and depravedIt is not a sin to make an honest mistake.

Such mistakes, however, may arise from other failings. We have an obligation to inform and educate our consciences about what God wants, and remaining in willful ignorance is a sin. And even an honest mistake has negative consequences.

This belief in truth and in the human conscience has saved Catholics the some of the rather bizarre debates I have seen on Protestant sites. (Many Catholics are incredibly naive about how some, shall we say, “very conservative” Protestants can interpret Scripture.) The Catholic Church teaches that our salvation depends on the status of our souls, not on the status of our doctrine.

It’s also what keeps the large, dysfunctional Catholic Church family together. When a headline on an evangelical blog warns of the “The Coming Evangelical Split”, my Catholic mind can only reply “Again?”

A “Faithful Catholic”

So, I think I have my answer about what it means to me to be a “faithful Catholic”.

To be a “faithful Catholic” does not mean that one must blindly obey the Pope. Instead, it means that one must constantly seek God, who is Truth. It means recognizing that the Magisterium of the Church is a valuable teacher, from whom we can learn much about the truth, but it also means recognizing that we can learn truth from other sources.

If it takes a Jewish feminist to teach me about the truth of our sexuality, or pop psychology to understand the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, so be it.

Seeking the truth means always questioning. And there is a tremendous amount of relief in realizing that it is OK to question because the answers are all around us. God is not hiding the truth from us or making us search it out like a hidden treasure. He is broadcasting it to the world and guiding us to it through the Holy Spirit. God wants us to question because He wants to lead us to the answer.

Therefore, the answer to the question “How can I question and still be a faithful Catholic?” is “How can I not question and still be a faithful Catholic?”

Both Sides Now

New Year’s is coming and the new year is a time for resolutions.

I was partway through drafting what was becoming a tedious and forced New Year’s resolution post, when I found this fantastic article by Ross Douthat in my twitter feed.

In the article, Douthat urges his readers to not read people who they agree with, but to branch out and read articles from the other side.

If you are a liberal, read conservative publications. If you are a conservative, read liberal ones. If you are a libertarian conservative, read what the social conservatives have to say and vice-versa.

Douthat urges his readers to expand their horizons.

As one of the few conservatives in the liberal leaning New York Times newsroom, I’m sure Douthat’s own perspectives have been widened by his colleagues. I’m also sure that Douthat has widened the perspectives of his colleagues.

More than Just Politics

Douthat’s column is primarily about political issues, but I think reading things that you disagree is helpful in all walks of life.

For Catholics, read both the conservative National Catholic Register and the liberal National Catholic Reporter. Read Protestants (of all denominations), non-Catholics, and even Atheists.

Listen to music that you don’t normally listen to. I’m still not a fan of Country music, but I found that I really like “Alternative Country”. Apparently, it’s what they call “Southern Rock” these days.

Read authors you usually don’t. Read blogs from perspectives different than yours. Take on something new and push your comfort levels.

The Advantage of Expanding Your Beliefs

Besides simply learning new things, reading those you disagree with gives you several specific advantages over just reading people like you.

  1. You can better see the strengths of other beliefs.
  2. You can better see the weaknesses of other beliefs.
  3. You can better see the true strengths of your own beliefs. It might not be what you think.
  4. You can better see the weaknesses of your own beliefs. You might have missed something.
  5. You may learn a better way of thinking about what you belief. You might not have the best explanation.
  6. You can see what is really important to the other side.

This last item is particularly important. Frequently people who disagree are talking past each other. They have different values and priorities, but assume the other side has the same priorities they do.

In the book “Getting to Yes“, William Ury tells the story of two sisters who were arguing over how to split an orange. Eventually the girls agreed to divide the orange in half. One girl ate half the orange and threw the peel away. The other girl needed orange zest (the peel) to make a cake and threw the fruit away.

Both girls lost because neither took the time to understood what the other wanted.

If you are trying to persuade someone or work an agreement with someone, then knowing what the other side values and believes allows you to craft your message in away that will be better received. Seek to understand so that you can be understood.

Maybe Congress could learn a thing or two.

Opening Your Mind Key to Seeking Truth

Looking at things from different perspectives isn’t just to help you build a better case or make you more persuasive or a better negotiator. It is critical part of seeking the Truth. As one blogger writes:

The way I see it is this: Every person in the world believes something different. There may be vast amounts of overlap in two people’s beliefs, but there will always be some way that their understanding or their interpretations or their manifestations of those interpretations differ in how they live their lives. So what are the chances that every single thing in your unique belief system is 100% accurate?

. . .

For those who point to a religious belief system as the source of all Truth, I ask, is God so very limited that it is impossible He would reveal Himself in new ways? Does He care so little for me that it is impossible for the Holy Spirit to be guiding my heart?

I reject the notion that all Truth is already known, revealed, understood, and explained in a singular belief system. This is why I think of myself as a Truth-seeker and not a Truth-knower. Because I know that I will always be operating on incomplete information and that I need to be open to new knowledge and new revelation. I need to continually re-evaluate my beliefs in light of not only my own experiences but those of everyone I know, and as I re-read the Bible, and as science discovers new things.

To my mind, I can never get closer to Truth and to living the life that God wants me to lead if I think that I already have all the answers and I ignore everything that doesn’t fit with those beliefs.

I don’t always agree with this blogger. But I enjoy her blog, and no matter what I think of what she posts, she always makes me think. And yes, she has changed my mind about a few things and opened my eyes to perspectives I hadn’t considered.

Which brings me closer to Truth and gives me a better idea of how best to live my life.

And makes me a better blogger. 🙂

So, what have you experienced that has expanded your horizons or made you think in a new way?

– James