Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Why Does It Have to Be This Difficult? Because...Otherwise It Doesn't Work"

The headline to this post is a quotation from award-winning Director Ang Lee.  It's part of his lengthier comments on the arduous, multi-year process during which he led 2,000 people to turn Yann Martel's Booker Prize-winning 2002 best-seller "Life of Pi" into what is expected to be an outstanding 3-D film.  Given Lee's previous achievements -- "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Brokeback Mountain" -- some expect "Life of Pi" to become a classic.

As testimony to the creative process required to make the movie, the comments are valuable in their own right.  But borrowing from Alfred North Whitehead's method of descriptive generalization, I would also like to note how they exemplify Whitehead's notion of creativity in general--and how, more particularly, they can teach patience and equanimity to those of us who are frustrated with the glacial pace of movements to reform the Christian churches.

Lee made his remarks in an interview with freelance writer Pam Grady, posted yesterday on the new "premium website" of the Houston Chronicle (www.houstonchronicle.com).  In comments toward the end of the interview, Lee notes how much of the movie's action takes place on water.  He notes that no one previously had much success capturing water in 3-D, then describes how hard they labored to overcome the challenge of water's reflectivity:

"You're so helpless... Water is really hard to deal with, especially a large quantity of water.  It's hard digitally when you're creating an image.   It's hard when you're shooting.  It's just very difficult.  Sometimes, between the 3-D and the water, we could spend 12 hours, all night long, and not get anything done.  You just curse and curse and curse, look up at God, 'Why?  I'm trying to make a stupid movie.  Why?'

"We sort of became the movie we were making...  It always happens that way, and I picked the hardest one, I think, this one.  You look up at God, 'Why does it have to be this difficult?,' but eventually God answers, 'Because it has to be that way, otherwise it doesn't work.'  You learn from those things, it's inspiring.  Everything goes, your imagination goes.  If it's too easy, it wouldn't be as provoking and solid as it should be."

To really understand how what Lee went through exemplifies Whitehead's creativity, I'll have to refer readers to my PhD dissertation, linked in the column to the right of these postings.  But in summary form:

Whitehead sees God offering each creature multiple opportunities to bring novelty to the universe and multiple means to give novelty life.  The process hinges on God's persistence in luring forth new creations, our creativity in responding to those lures, and God incorporating and harmonizing the results of our efforts into his ever-enlarging cosmic self.  Whitehead's capsule expression of this ultimate metaphysical principle appears at the very top of this blog:  "The many become one, and are increased by one."

Just before reading Lee's interview, I had read another article reporting that this week the Church of England is having a synod in London, where three houses (laity, priests and bishops) are being asked to decide if the Church of England will have female bishops.  The article prompted several emotions about the state of church reform.

One emotion is frustration that the Church of England is still struggling with this issue, when (unlike the Roman Catholic Church) it has no problem with women priests:  the article reports that already one-third of the Church of England clergy are females, as are one-half of candidates for the priesthood.  In addition, female bishops already exist in other national churches of the Anglican Communion, including the United States, where Kathryn Jefferts Schori has been the 26th Presiding Bishop since 2006.

However, several other considerations cushion the frustration.  Among them:  (1) unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, along with most of the churches of the Anglican Communion, believes that God does indeed call women to the priesthood; (2) thus the Church of England is much farther along on this issue than the Church of Rome, as well as some of the more right-wing fundamentalist churches in the United States; and (3) this allows God's Spirit to breath differently in different churches, perhaps thereby showing where all Christian entities are intended to be one day.

This last point is where I think Ang Lee's experience of creativity speaks most directly and most helpfully.  Lee reminds us that the creativity most worth achieving is rarely without tedious, painful, sometimes infuriating effort.  But especially in the context of Christianity, it also reminds us that the most sustained, reliable, predictable effort is God's own.  If some may say no to God's lures, God can be counted on to try others who might say yes.  When the Catholic Church, for instance, declares officially that God may not call women to holy orders, the experience of the Anglican Communion testifies that, au contraire, God certainly can and God certainly does.

So in the matter of trying to get the Christian churches to grow up and stop being obstacles to the realization of God's reign on earth, I think Ang Lee's experience of God and creativity provides a lot of perspective and encouragement.  "Why does it have to be this difficult?  Because...otherwise it doesn't work."

In the 1960s it was my firm conviction that the Spirit of God was trying to reform the Roman Catholic Church from within.  That appeared to be confirmed in many ways during the years of Vatican II.  However the curias of three subsequent apostate popes (Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI) certainly put the brakes on that.

But I need to be reminded of what I argued in my own doctoral dissertation:  where and how God's Spirit blows is not ours to predict or decide.  If some church officials close their ears and their hearts to the Spirit's promptings, there are other church leaders ready to take up the cause.  Throw up road blocks though we may, the Spirit of the Living God is endlessly active, and sooner or later God will lure forth the universe God craves.

So to learn from Ang Lee:  the Spirit of God will not take no for an answer.  If the barque of Peter develops too many leaks, it may well sink.  But we shall stay afloat in whatever lifeboats the Spirit of God has provided--from the Reformation churches, from other religions, and from the experience of decent people everywhere.  Amen.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Government for, by the Corporation: Why a Houstonian Dreads Citizens United

Most Texans think the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case was a perfectly fine idea.

Since it allowed mega-rich corporations the legal status of individual persons and afforded them virtually unlimited free speech rights, there is now nothing to stop such business entities from spending as much as they want to buy politicians who will do their bidding in office.

One Texan not among them, though, is Cele S. Keeper, a social worker, group therapist and writer who, in her 85th year, grasps quite lucidly that the decision enables a corporate takeover of government at any level the corporations choose.

She spelled out her dread of the decision in a recent essay on the editorial page of The Houston Chronicle.  She marshals several arguments against the wisdom of Citizens United, and makes it clear that, if the decision stands, the country cannot.

I would argue that, short of a future reversal by the Supreme Court, the nation requires a constitutional amendment:  it would say that (1) corporations (and churches and political parties and unions) are never individual persons, (2) the Bill of Rights does not apply to them, and (3) Congress has a duty to regulate campaign spending so that no entity can ever corrupt the electoral process or buy its winners.

Keeper's excellent essay follows:

Foreboding thought for today: The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision may herald the unraveling of our precious democracy.

Now well after midnight, it certainly is keeping me awake. I'm trying to get my head around the idea that a corporation is a person who can buy chosen candidates to further its agenda and therefore buy duly elected representatives and senators who will then pass legislation that makes that agenda into law. That sounds not like a government takeover, but a takeover of government.

The Citizens United decision held that corporations are people and, thus protected by the majority's (5-4) interpretation of the freedom of speech clause in the First Amendment, are permitted to have a voice not unlike that of any individual voter.

Further, the court gave permission for the formation of Super PACs that can lavish money upon a candidate provided he or she has no contact with the chosen candidate's campaign apparatus. (That was a joke.)

Living in a perpetual conundrum in my 85th year, I love politics and loathe most politicians. In addition to the falsifying, denying, conniving, exaggerating, manipulating, self-serving diatribes to which they subject us while attempting to procure our votes, they are now (thanks to the Court's outrageous ruling) loaded up with gazillions of dollars supplied by corporations that need not disclose their identities and whose agendas are promoted by self-interest (read: influencing, even writing legislation.)

My single vote (and yours) has little or no influence beyond my family and friends. Although, of course, I can work with groups of like-minded folks to urge the election of a favored candidate.

But while earnest neighbors are walking the blocks in their precinct, knocking on doors, or addressing flyers and licking envelopes, a single TV ad by a Super PAC can be repeatedly pounded into the eyes and ears of thousands or millions of potential voters. Such ads are paid for by gobs of money channeled from outside the state in which the election is being held into a particular race to take down or propel a targeted candidate out of or into office.

If all of that's not bad enough, forget about accuracy, which is in short supply in the cacophony of babble on our television screens. Allegations, accusations, character assassinations are there for all viewers to gobble up. The credo of the spinmeister reads: "Never let the facts spoil a great ad."

And if I should be a stockholder (or more particularly, a board member) in a corporation that is pouring money into a Super PAC for its chosen candidate, what if its candidate and mine are not the same? Have I simply been outvoted?

Have I no recourse? Or does the board even participate in these decisions?

Give it some thought: "Government of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation." I just don't like the sound of it, so I will now join that exasperating bunch of people who tell us they know exactly what the Framers thought. Although all wealthy landowners, I simply don't believe these wise souls could foresee a corporate takeover of governance.

Further, have we citizens no recourse to get rid of this democracy-shattering decision?

And oh yes, sleep well.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Invited Episcopal Bishop of California Barred from San Francisco Bishop's Intallation

I did not become aware until this morning, but the National Catholic Reporter informed us on October 5th that, the day before, the Very Reverend Marc Andrus, the Episcopal Bishop of California, was refused admission to the installation of San Francisco's new Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone--even though Andrus had been formally invited to attend.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said the slight was unintended, claiming it happened because Andrus arrived late.  In fact, however, Andrus arrived early and was prevented from joining the entrance procession by an archdiocesan employee who seemed to be in charge.

Speculation was that Andrus was kept out of the interfaith event because he publicly disagrees with Cordileone on gay rights and marriage equality--both of which Cordileone opposes.  If true, the incident would be yet another instance of the U.S. Catholic Bishops insistence that their religious freedom gives them a right to impose their teachings on adherents of other faiths.

The following is the text of NCR's report by Dennis Coday:

Bishop Marc Andrus of the Episcopal diocese of California, an invited guest for the installation of San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, was not allowed to be seated for the service, according to a report by Pacific Church News, the news service of the Episcopal diocese of California.

Andrus, who three days earlier had written a letter pledging to work with Cordileone but remaining firm in supporting gay rights and marriage equality, which Cordileone opposes, was escorted to a basement room at St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral and “detained by an usher until the time the service began, whereupon Bishop Andrus left the cathedral,” according to the report.

The spokesman for the Catholic archdiocese told the Associated Press that Andrus’ exclusion was due to a misunderstanding. Spokesman George Wesolek said that Andrus had arrived late and missed the procession of interfaith clergy.

Church staff, said Wesolek, were looking for an opportunity to bring the bishop in without disrupting the service. "We had no intention of excluding him at all," Wesolek said. "If he felt like because of the wait that was insulting to him, we certainly will apologize."

Andrus, however, said that he was not late. In a statement released on his blog this morning, the Episcopal bishop said he waited in the basement with other invited interfaith dignities. When Andrus attempted to enter the church with the other dignities, the bishop claims, he was stopped.

“An archdiocesan employee attempted to escort me upstairs with the Greek Orthodox group, but was stopped from doing so by the employee to whom I had first identified myself.

This person, who appeared to be in a superior role, instructed another employee to stand with me,” Andrus’ statement reads.

“At this point no other guests remained in the downstairs area. The employee and I chatted while waiting. I began to wonder about the time holdup. I checked my phone; it was 1:50 PM. I asked the employee standing with me if the service indeed started at 2, which she affirmed.”

“At 2PM, when the service was to begin, I said to the employee, 'I think I understand, and feel I should leave.' Her response was, 'Thank you for being understanding.' I quietly walked out the door. No one attempted to stop me. No attempt was ever made to explain the delay or any process for seating. I arrived early, before the time given my assistant, and waited to leave until after the service had begun.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lutheran Bishop: Catholics Have No Right to Prevent Gay Non-Catholics from Marrying

Thanks to Dennis Coday of the National Catholic Reporter for focusing national attention on a Lutheran bishop's argument that Catholic bishops have no right to impose their official opposition to gay marriage on non-Catholic citizens of the United States.

The specific context for the Lutheran bishop's argument is a proposed amendment to the Minnesota state constitution that would outlaw same-sex marriage.  It is, of course, one of such measures up for a vote in several states on November 6th.

The Lutheran bishop who opposes the amendment--and the Catholic bishops' right to support it--is not just any Lutheran bishop.  He is Herbert W. Chilstrom, former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA).

His argument takes the form of a "Dear John" open letter in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The John being addressed is Catholic Archbishop John Nienstadt of St. Paul-Minneapolis. At one point in his letter, Bishop Chilstrom contrasts Nienstadt's theology and politics with that of "Raymund Lucker, your predecessor as bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm..." who "clearly understood that one could be a good Roman Catholic and still be open to change."

Bishop Chilstrom challenges his counterparts on constitutional and religious grounds, and both arguments are important for the ongoing concerns of this blog.  What I find most significant about Bishop Chilstrom's stance is that it basically enlists the First Amendment to argue that no group of church leaders have the right to impose their church's moral position on members of other religions and citizens of no religion at all who are not governed by the church's beliefs.

Bishop Chilstrom's open letter follows:

Dear John:

Having served as a Lutheran bishop in Minnesota and then as the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), I write as one who stands on level ground with you. Like you, I have a deep sense of call to the ministry of the Gospel.

On the marriage amendment, you are described in the media as having "drawn the line."

In my judgment, you have drawn the line at the wrong place.

I recognize your authority in formulating positions for your own flock in Minnesota. That is one thing. But for you and others to campaign for an amendment that imposes your stance on all citizens in Minnesota, including other Christians, believers of other faith groups and nonbelievers, is overstepping your bounds.

History is our teacher.

Eight hundred years ago, Pope Innocent III presided over church and state in most of what is now Western Europe. He left no room for dissent. Non-Catholics, including Jews, Muslims and nonbelievers, were even required to wear clothing that distinguished them from the church's faithful.

Several centuries later, John Calvin held monumental sway over society in Switzerland, fostering regulations that prescribed much of daily life.

For years kings and heads of the churches in Scandinavia allowed only Lutherans to hold worship services. Believers who gathered without the presence of a clergyman were imprisoned.

Since Israel became a sovereign nation after World War II, some Orthodox Jews have tried to form a government ruled by religious law. They have been firmly resisted.

But in neighboring Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is now attempting to force Islamic law on every citizen.

As these efforts have failed in the past, I believe they will fail in the future as well.

The genius of America is that we separate church from state. As we say in our Pledge of Allegiance, we are committed to our flag "and to the republic for which it stands." As any dictionary will tell us, a republic is "a nation in which citizens elect representatives to manage the government." By placing the marriage amendment on the November ballot, our legislators in St. Paul have ducked their responsibility. They have already enacted a statute that forbids same-gender marriage. Attempting to embed it in the Constitution is simply wrong.

By word and action, you leave the impression that there is little room for dissent in your church. Yet many of us recall that Raymond Lucker, your predecessor as bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm, challenged your church to begin thinking about the need for married men and, yes, even women, to be ordained as priests. He clearly understood that one could be a good Roman Catholic and still be open to change.

In our ELCA, we engage a wide spectrum of clergy and laity in developing statements to guide us in our thinking about complex social issues. When those statements reach our national assembly, they require a two-thirds vote for approval. But no one's conscience is bound by those statements. Dissent is fostered and welcomed.

This raises the question: If there were a call from Roman Catholic members in Minnesota to vote on an issue of significance, would you allow for such a vote? And if a simple majority voted in favor, would you accept that vote as final? It's clear that such a vote would not even be permitted in your church.

Why then have you worked so hard and spent so much of your church's resources to bring this issue to a vote in Minnesota, where the vast majority of us are not even members of your church?

As private citizens, you and I have the right to put forward our opinions on the marriage issue. Beyond that, we should trust our legislators and judges to enact and guard laws that are for the good of all the people. If we like what they do, we can keep electing them to office; if not, we can vote them out. That's the republic for which I stand.

There is evidence that many in your church will vote "no" on this amendment.

I stand with them and with all who will vote "no."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The "47%" Are Not Freeloaders, and the Top Bracket Gets a Lot More Tax Breaks

There have been plenty of responses to Mitt Romney pronouncement that half of all Americans are freeloaders.  Just about all have said that Romney is wrong.  (Well, there's Rush Limbaugh.  But as usual, he's the exception that proves the rule.)

I want to publicize one response in particular, because I think it does an outstanding job explaining not only why Romney is way off-base about the "47%," but also why Romney is wrong about the rest of the populace who do pay income taxes.  The content of the response is precise and well documented.  But what's most significant is who's making it:  Loren Steffy, the business columnist for the Houston Chronicle.

What I like about Steffy is that, even though he's unquestionably a business Republican, he's generally quite careful to separate political dogma from economic facts.  In this case, the economic fact is that the "47%" pay no federal income taxes because Congress has created tax breaks that allow low-income households to reduce their taxable income to zero.  This does not mean that these households pay no sales taxes or payroll taxes or, in many cases, real estate taxes.  It simply means that as a matter of national policy we have decided as a country that some incomes are too low to tax without creating economic hardship.

Moreover, Steffy is excellent at pointing out the self-serving hypocrisy of Romney's position.  That is revealed by this contrast:  those in the very bottom tax brackets get to take advantage of only about 20% of the tax breaks available in the Internal Revenue Code; but those in the top tax bracket get to utilize about 60% of the tax breaks.  So if someone wants to say that the poor, the sick, the elderly and the under-employed are coddled by the tax code, how much more is that true for the well-off?  Romney, in short, needs to be candid:  the rich get a lot more government welfare than the "47%" do!

The ultimate point, of course, is that all of us are so under-taxed that the federal budget cannot be balanced, even with draconian cuts to domestic services and defense.  How to fix that without damaging the vulnerable even more is the great moral challenge of this decade.  Here's Steffy's column:

The 47 percent may not be who you think.

A video released Monday shows Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, speaking at a private fund raiser in Boca Raton, Fla., citing an often-used statistic that 47 percent of Americans don't pay federal income tax.

Romney went on to imply that all of them are likely to vote for President Barack Obama because they people who "are dependent upon the government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them ..."

In other words, almost half the American people are freeloaders.

I'll leave it to my colleagues on the Opinion page to assess any political fallout from this statement, but the issue of those who don't pay taxes is an important economic problem that transcends politics.

First, Romney's numbers pertain to 2010. In 2011, the number dipped to 46 percent. Also, he's talking only about those who don't pay income tax; he wasn't saying they pay no taxes at all. Many still pay payroll and excise taxes, sales tax and so forth.

The Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, dug into the issue last year.

The center's study found that about 78 million Americans didn't pay federal income taxes, and more than 70 percent of them earn less than $30,000 a year.

Of those who didn't pay, about half simply didn't earn enough to pay income taxes using the standardized deduction. For example, the center found that a couple with two small children earning less than $26,400 paid no income tax last year because they get a standard deduction of $11,600 and four exemptions of $3,700 each.

"The basic structure of the income tax simply exempts subsistence levels of income from tax," the study said.

Seniors and the poor

Of the other half, most took advantage of tax provisions that benefit senior citizens and the working poor, such as child care tax credits, and extra deductions for the elderly. The center found these types of deductions were most widely used among households that earn less than $50,000 a year - the same amount that each plate cost at Romney's fund raiser.

Children and education

The remainder of those who didn't pay taxes include households that earned between $50,000 and $100,000 but reduced their tax bill primarily with credits for children and education.

The problem, then, isn't that almost half of all Americans are deadbeats and freeloaders.

The biggest cause behind the 47 - or 46 - percent that Romney cited is income that is too low and the long-standing practice, favored by both parties, of administering social programs through the tax code.

The tax code is chock-full of benefits such as deductions for mortgages, interest for college loans and contributions to retirement accounts, just to name a few.

Rather than increase federal spending to pay for these benefits, Congress chose to build incentives into the tax code.

Many of these credits provide even bigger benefits to higher-income households, the Tax Policy Center found, measured both by dollar value and share of income.

For example, the few households that earn more than $100,000 a year and don't pay income tax benefit the most from itemized deductions and lower tax rates on capital gains and dividends, the center found.

The rich, of course, have long used tax shelters and loopholes to avoid paying their full amount of taxes.

Benefits at the top

About 60 percent of all tax benefits built into the tax code go to the top income bracket, which isn't a surprise. By comparison, only 20 percent of the tax benefits are enough to zero-out lower-income earners.

All of which makes a strong case for sweeping tax reform.

Romney, of course, wasn't at a political fundraiser to discuss tax policy. But rather than writing off 46 - or 47 - percent of the population as freeloaders, he'd be better off focusing the discussion on tax overhauls that would bring more of them back into the tax-paying fold.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

U.S. and Egyptian Coptic Officials Repudiate Makers of Anti-Islam Commercial

Citing reports from Religion News Service and Catholic News Service, the National Catholic Reporter says that the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Southern California and Hawaii, and Egypt's Roman Catholic Vicar for Latin-Rite Catholics have repudiated the three self-styled Copts who claimed responsibility for the anti-Islam YouTube commercial that has led to violent demonstrations in a score of Islamic countries.

NCR's article follows.

Coptic Christian leaders in the United States distanced themselves from an anti-Muslim film that has sparked protests in more than 20 countries, and denounced the Copts who reportedly produced and promoted the film.

“We reject any allegation that the Coptic Orthodox community has contributed to the production of this film," the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of America said in statement Sept. 14. "Indeed, the producers of this film have taken these unwise and offensive actions independently and should be held responsible for their own actions.”

Joseph Nassralla Abdelmasih, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Morris Sadek - all Coptic Christians who live in the U.S. - have emerged as the producers and promoters of the anti-Muslim film. Called “Innocence of Muslims,” the crude film depicts Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a bumbling sexual pervert.
Protests against the film began in Egypt Sept. 11 and have since spread to nearly two dozen countries, including Libya, Yemen, Bangladesh, Sudan, Qatar, Kuwait, Indonesia and Iraq, according to international reports. Four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed in Libya last Tuesday. The Obama administration is investigating whether that attack was tied to the film.

Joseph Nassralla, as he is known, heads a Christian charity, and Nakoula is a convicted felon. Both live near Los Angeles, according to reports. Sadek is an incendiary activist who lives near Washington. Coptic leaders said they are investigating what ties - if any - the men have to mainstream Copts in the United States.

There are about 300,000 Copts in the United States, most of whom live in California and the Northeast. Copts in Egypt, where the faith was born, regularly face discrimination and violence at the hands of the Muslim majority, according to the State Department.

Since the film is associated with the Christian West, Copts and other Christians in Muslim countries can become possible targets of extremist behavior.

"What happens outside the country is very dangerous for us because it is perceived to be related to us inside," said Bishop Adel Zaki of Alexandria, Egypt's vicar for Latin-rite Catholics.

The film was released in July but went almost completely unnoticed in the Middle East until a preview of it was translated into Arabic.

In an interview at his Cairo residence, Zaki told Catholic News Service that Egypt's Catholics condemned defamation of other religions, in line with what he called "the Vatican decree which commands respect for those of other faiths."

But when products or policies deemed anti-Arab or anti-Muslim surface in the U.S. and in other Western countries, Egypt's Christians, who account for about 8 million of the country's more than 82 million people, often feel the brunt, he said.

People in other countries "should keep in mind that there are repercussions for Christians here. The level of fanaticism grows," he said.

Newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a conservative Muslim, has decried the short film, saying "Egyptians reject any kind of insult against our Prophet," but he also called for restraint and protection of the country's "foreign guests" and embassies.

Despite the tension over the film in Cairo and other parts of the Middle East, Fr. Fady Sady, a Coptic Catholic priest, said he did not expect trouble in Egypt's South, where he lives and serves.

"(Muslims) know those who made the film are not from Egypt, so there will be no problems," he said by cell phone from the city of Nagada. But he added that "when anything contentious" like this film appears abroad, Christians in Egypt go on alert.

"Perhaps someone not very educated could use the event to make an operation," he said, referring to attacks on churches that have occurred in the past.

In Cairo, Mohammed Abdu, a 22-year-old Muslim taxi driver, said he was angered by reports of the film but even more upset by the protests at the U.S. Embassy, saying they would further damage Egypt's already challenged economy, due to dramatic losses in tourism and other business since the 2011 overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime.

"Had (the protesters) been quiet and ignored (the film), it would have disappeared, but now it is famous. When people start climbing walls and attacking embassies, the people who made the film get the attention they wanted," said Abdu, who drives a rented cab 12 hours a day to save enough money to get married.

Internationally, religious leaders from across the spectrum were quick to condemn the hate message of the anti-Islam film and the wave of violent attack it supposedly provoked.

The Vatican condemned the attacks in Libya, saying there was no justification for such violence.

After protests in Pakistan gathered momentum, Catholic leaders in Faisalabad condemned the film. A church official said leaders hoped to avoid possible anti-Christian backlash.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders who work with religious institutions as well as heads of local churches issued a joint statement Sept. 15 deploring "those who abuse free speech to offend the religion and religious beliefs and symbols of others."

The leaders also condemned "those who use violence in reaction instead of peacefully protesting against such abuse."

Israeli Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson told the Hebrew edition of Ha'aretz daily newspaper that the content of the film was "beneath contempt" and "vile."

Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii said he “strongly rejects dragging the respectable Copts of the Diaspora" into the controversy.

“The producers of this movie should be responsible for their actions,” Serapion said in a statement. “The name of our blessed parishioners should not be associated with the efforts of individuals who have ulterior motives.”

School Vouchers ≠ Less Government, REPUBLICAN Warns the Radical Right

In an op-ed piece in today's Houston Chronicle Ronald L. Trowbridge warns radical right Texas officials that vouchers for private schools will lead to more government, not less.  And for good measure, he argues that the vouchers will cause private schools, including religious schools, to lose some of the freedom they now enjoy.

The radical right will, no doubt, dismiss his advice.  But what is remarkable is that Trowbridge is what was formerly known as a conservative Republican, having worked for President Ronald Reagan and served as Chief of Staff to Chief Justice Warren Burger.  So when Trowbridge urges these Tea Party darlings to reject school vouchers, you know they've really deluded themselves.  Maybe at least Trowbridge can keep them from deluding the rest of us.  Here's his op-ed column (along with the links in the Chronicle's web posting):

As one who worked for President Ronald Reagan, then later was chief of staff to Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger, I wish to explain why I believe that Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Education Commissioner Michael Williams and state Sen. Dan Patrick are misguided on public vouchers for private schools.

Giving government money to private schools would inevitably make them government schools, as political strings always come attached with government money.

It defies history and logic to assert that a permanent firewall can be built between government grant givers and private grant recipients. Moreover, such a wall would be a bad idea because state legislators have a fiduciary responsibility to require accountability for public funds given to the private sector.

It is in this area of accountability that political interventions can be mandated. Whether one favors it or not, the "10 percent rule," mandating college admission to all students who graduate in the top 10 percent of any Texas high school, is an example of political intervention. I can easily envision that the Texas Legislature will one day mandate that private schools receiving public vouchers must make demonstrable efforts toward diversity. Republicans focus on efficiency and productivity; Democrats on diversity and social justice.

Many argue that government grants and loans should be directed to parents or to students themselves and that therefore schools would not be recipients of government money.

Not so. In l984, the Supreme Court ruled in Grove City v. Bell that federal aid directed to students or parents, then passed on to a schools, made that school "a recipient of federal financial assistance" and therefore required to comply with certain government regulations.

In l988, Congress, under the Civil Rights Restoration Act, broadened the term "recipient" to include an entire school. This rule would apply to any "local educational agency, system of vocational education or other school system." Note that this would include elementary and secondary schools.

The same applies to state financial assistance, making a school subject to state regulations - which can indeed be political.

To be sure, private schools do not have to take public vouchers. But we know through research that most private schools would take the money. Under a present plan recommended in Texas, a government/taxpayer stipend of $5,143 per year would be given to each student attending a private school.

Private schools will become heavily reliant upon these large government stipends and will not be able to do without them, making them government schools.

Many object to government money going to the private sector, that is to the private schools. Many also object to government money going to religious schools; 80 percent of private schools are religious.

My larger objection is that throughout the history of this country, there has been a slow expansion of government power and control, as it reaches and grabs control in every nook and cranny. There is now less freedom, especially freedom for the talents and creativity of the individual, than ever before in the history of this country.

The supreme irony here is that government vouchers to private schools will expand that government power and control.

If private schools take government vouchers, they will have to trade their souls in the bargain.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Why So Many Horrific Gun Killings in the U.S.? Because It's Too Damn Easy to Get Guns

In a column slated to appear in the August 20th print edition of Time Magazine, Fareed Zakaria explains that we have so many more horrific gun killings in the United States than any place else on earth -- not because we have more crazy people but because we make it easier than any other country for just about anyone to acquire a gun.

And we make it so easy for two reasons.  First, in  the face of this obvious causality, otherwise intelligent people abandon thought in favor of mindless political dogma.  Second, the gun lobby has sold the public on an interpretation of the Second Amendment that is a bogus departure from how the country controlled guns from the earliest days of the Republic.  As conservative Chief Justice Warren Burger put it after he retired, "one of the greatest pieces of fraud--I repeat the word fraud--on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."

Zakaria's excellent column follows.

After the ghastly act of terrorism against a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Aug. 5, Americans are pondering how to stop gun violence. We have decided that it is, in the words of New York Times columnist David Brooks, a problem of psychology, not sociology. We are trying to fathom the evil ideology of Wade Michael Page. Only several weeks ago, we were all trying to understand the twisted psychology of James Holmes, the man who killed 12 innocents at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Before that it was the mania of Jared Loughner, who shot Congresswoman Gabby Giffords last year.

Certainly we should try to identify such people and help treat and track them. But aside from the immense difficulty of such a task--there are millions of fanatical, crazy people, and very few turn into mass murderers--it misses the real problem.

Gun violence in America is off the chart compared with every other country on the planet. The gun-homicide rate per capita in the U.S. is 30 times that of Britain and Australia, 10 times that of India and four times that of Switzerland. When confronted with such a large deviation, a scholar would ask, Does America have some potential cause for this that is also off the chart? I doubt that anyone seriously thinks we have 30 times as many crazy people as Britain or Australia. But we do have many, many more guns.

There are 88.8 firearms per 100 people in the U.S. In second place is Yemen, with 54.8, then Switzerland with 45.7 and Finland with 45.3. No other country has a rate above 40. The U.S. handgun-ownership rate is 70% higher than that of the country with the next highest rate.

The effect of the increasing ease with which Americans can buy ever more deadly weapons is also obvious. Over the past few decades, crime has been declining, except in one category. In the decade since 2000, violent-crime rates have fallen by 20%, aggravated assault by 21%, motor-vehicle theft by 44.5% and nonfirearm homicides by 22%. But the number of firearm homicides is essentially unchanged. What can explain this anomaly except easier access to guns?

Confronted with this blindingly obvious causal connection, otherwise intelligent people close their eyes. Denouncing any effort to control guns, George Will explained on ABC News that he had "a tragic view of life, which is that ... however meticulously you draft whatever statute you wind up passing, the world is going to remain a broken place, and things like this are going to happen." I don't recall Will responding to, say, the 9/11 attacks--or any other law-and-order issue for that matter--with a "things happen" sentiment.

The other argument against any serious gun control is that it's unconstitutional, an attempt to undo American history. In fact, something close to the opposite is true.

Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, documents the actual history in Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. Guns were regulated in the U.S. from the earliest years of the Republic. Laws that banned the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813. Other states soon followed: Indiana in 1820, Tennessee and Virginia in 1838, Alabama in 1839 and Ohio in 1859. Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas (Texas!) explained in 1893, the "mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man."

Congress passed the first set of federal laws regulating, licensing and taxing guns in 1934. The act was challenged and went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1939. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's solicitor general, Robert H. Jackson, said the Second Amendment grants people a right that "is not one which may be utilized for private purposes but only one which exists where the arms are borne in the militia or some other military organization provided for by law and intended for the protection of the state." The court agreed unanimously.

Things started to change in the 1970s as various right-wing groups coalesced to challenge gun control, overturning laws in state legislatures, Congress and the courts. But Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative appointed by Richard Nixon, described the new interpretation of the Second Amendment in an interview after his tenure as "one of the greatest pieces of fraud--I repeat the word fraud--on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."

So when people throw up their hands and say we can't do anything about guns, tell them they're being un-American--and unintelligent.

Restore the Constitution? By All Means -- To Before It Was Mangled by Scalia et al

In an August 2nd article on the results of the July 31st Texas primary runoff, the Houston Chronicle noted that while Ted Cruz's win as Republican Senate nominee was the most conspicuous success of the Tea Party PACs that deluged the state with anti-government TV commercials, long-term Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst was not the only experienced Texas conservative that the Tea Party managed to unseat. In fact, the Chronicle reported, "Dewhurst was one of seven Republican candidates on Tuesday who fell victim to their office-holding experience."

One of the more tiresome themes repeated ad nauseam in Cruz's commercials and most of the other victorious Tea Baggers' was that they were determined to "restore the Constitution."  This, of course, is code for the claim--which no political fact checker or court has ever found grounded in reality--that President Obama is a socialist who has departed from the Constitution in several significant ways, especially in riding roughshod over states' rights.  The remedies they envision include defeating Obama and repealing the Affordable Care Act.  But in Cruz's case, as Houston Chronicle Columnist Lisa Falkenberg pointed out today, additional moves necessary to "restore the Constitution" include proposals to "abolish the Departments of Education, Commerce and Energy, the Transportation Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service in one fell swoop."

Yet the need to "restore the Constitution" is undeniably pressing.  But it has nothing to do with the Tea Party's imaginary grievances.  What it does involve is restoring the majesty and clarity of the Constitution before Scalia et al did so much to muddle and mangle it.

So by all means, let us restore the Constitution.

First and foremost, let us restore the militia clause to the Second Amendment.  All of the Supreme Court justices who ruled on the Second Amendment acknowledged that the militia clause was stubbornly there -- and that it was the crucial element distinguishing various models of the right to bear arms which the Framers considered and rejected, from the wording they actually adopted.  However, the majority followed Scalia in ignoring the militia clause and finding an obscenely expansive right to bear arms which the Framers never claimed.

Then let us restore the Constitution's understanding that it is individuals who have rights like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion -- and never corporations. The lie that corporations are persons in the sense that individuals are was at the heart of the insane Citizens United decision, and its insane consequences are nowhere more clearly evident than in the results of the Texas primary -- where unfettered, unaccountable rich people disguised as "non-partisan" Political Action Committees bought seven elections with massive amounts of cash.

Then let us restore the right of Congress to tell states they cannot receive federal funds extracted from all U.S. taxpayers without following the rules Congress sets up for those funds.  The assumption that taxpayers from other states should give Texas or Louisiana or other social justice backwaters carte blanche funding to spend however they damn well please has nothing to do with states' rights -- apart from the rights of states whose citizens don't want their money used in that fashion.  We are returning to the disarray and chaos of the Articles of Confederation if the federal government can have no say in how funds it apportions among the several states are spent.

And finally, let us restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land.  Never before in American history has a ruling by the Supreme Court been so thoroughly undermined by states who disagree with it.  Women and hospitals and doctors who tried to follow the ruling meticulously have been vilified and criminalized without cease.  And the federal government and the Supreme Court itself have allowed this flouting of the law.  It is long past time for the authority of the ruling to be upheld in practice.

So yes, let us restore the Constitution.  And let's stop the silly pretense that President Obama has done anything to the Constitution that needs to be reversed.  But do let us clean up the mess that Scalia et al have made of our most treasured national law.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

It Was True in 2006 and It's Still True Today... "The NRA: A Criminal's Best Friend"

In an editorial this morning the National Catholic Reporter reminds us why in 2006 "An elaborate report by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence" was entitled "The NRA: A Criminal's Best Friend" -- and why it is still true six years later: in its demonic effort to undo every reasonable effort to control firearms, the National Rifle Association is complicit in the 30,000 gun deaths perpetrated in the United States every year.

And that, as one analyst notes, is "far more than anywhere else in the world that is not a war zone."

NCR also quotes the E.J. Dionne column I posted yesterday, and agrees with it wholeheartedly.

Isn't it time we stopped rewarding the NRA for intimidating reasonable people and responsible politicians?

NCR's editorial follows:

If the popular definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results -- applies in the matter of shooting massacres, then we have reached a dangerous level of cultural madness.

Adhering to what has become near ritual in these killings, President Barack Obama traveled to Colorado to console the victims of the July 20 movie theater massacre, promising them they won't be forgotten; news anchors did their solemn duty to acknowledge the inconsolable loss of victims to their families and friends; religious people held public prayer rallies; and we wondered endlessly in our living rooms at another public display of demented behavior, this time by a man who allegedly booby-trapped his apartment with explosives before taking off with his newly -- and legally -- acquired assault weapon and his thousands of rounds of ammunition (some allegedly acquired online) to mow people down at the local cinema.

Hour after hour we pick through the details of the tragedy, lamenting our inability to do anything in the face of such evil and grieving the loss of another place of innocence -- we've already seen the madness in high schools, colleges and places of work -- to the crazed random violence of a heavily armed, disturbed loner. What is shoved to the background, however, by the candidates and the respectable news anchors and most of the endless talking heads is the searing reality that in these massacres as well as in nearly 30,000 per annum killings, we have become, as a society, victim of an unrestrained, out-of-control gun culture.

It is futile, of course, to try to enter the tortured psyche of such an actor as the man charged with killing 12 and injuring 58 in Aurora, Colo. At the same time, it is essential to realize that while he might have been alone in his conception of this violence, he was not alone in acquiring the means to pull off the horror.

Standing squarely behind him, assuring him access to whatever means and level of gun violence he might wish to get his hands on, is the National Rifle Association, a lobby that holds an entire country hostage to its twisted notions of freedom and security and its agonized interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The power of both its money and its propaganda is again evident. It has intimidated otherwise responsible and reasonable public servants into silence in the face of gun laws that are patently absurd in their lack of oversight.

The NRA loves to pose as a protector of constitutional rights and friend of law enforcement. In fact, however, since the first meaningful federal gun control legislation passed in 1968, the lobby has repeatedly and effectively interfered with law enforcement, backing measures that have seriously handcuffed the ability of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to investigate and prosecute crimes involving gun dealers and gun owners.

An elaborate 2006 report by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence -- "The NRA: A Criminal's Best Friend" -- details the lobby's efforts to counter the most reasonable restraints on sales of weapons and ammunition and to hamper the ability of federal authorities to track gun sales and to prosecute violations of whatever remnants of gun control statutes remain.

The NRA is beyond extreme in its efforts to allow virtually anyone to buy any manner of weapon and ammunition at any time, endangering not only the public but also law enforcement officers who have nationally opposed many of the NRA's initiatives.

Following the killings in Colorado, gun advocates, taking up the NRA strategy, immediately denounced any suggestion that we might, as a society, raise the issue of gun control anew by claiming that such talk was "exploiting" the tragedy and its victims.

As Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne pointed out: "Nobody who points to the inadequacy of our flood-control policies or mistakes by the Army Corps of Engineers is accused of 'exploiting' the victims of a deluge. ... Nobody who lays part of the blame for an accident on insufficient regulation of, say, the airlines or coal mining is accused of 'exploiting' the accident's victims."

Health care writer Rob Waters, on the Forbes magazine website, cited gun violence as a major public health issue, noting, "In the 10 years from 2000 through 2009, more than 298,000 people died from gunshots in the U.S. [far more than anywhere else in the world that isn't a war zone], about 30,000 people a year." Excluding natural causes of death, guns constituted the second-leading cause of death, behind only car accidents, which killed 417,000 people in those 10 years.

During that same period, two-thirds of the 179,000 homicides in the United States involved a gun.

The gun control debate can become complex in its finer points and as the talk runs to smaller arms and those used for sport and hunting. There is little danger that those privileges, indeed rights, will ever be infringed.

No rationale exists for anyone, save law enforcement officers and members of a "well-ordered militia," to own an assault rifle and hundreds, even thousands, of rounds of ammunition. To allow another gun massacre to go by with nothing more than hand-wringing and empty words is not being considerate of victims. It is rather buying into a culture-wide denial and giving assent to the insanity. We need to talk seriously about gun control.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gun Massacre: Shock and Mourning Are Bogus, Until We Outlaw Assault Weapons

So far there are only a few lone voices with the guts to say out loud what everyone knows about recent gun massacres:  our shock and our mourning are self-serving, hypocritical shams, as long as we allow ourselves to be duped by the National Rifle Association's ridiculous argument that every American adult who can fire a gun has an absolute right to possess and use assault weapons.

The NRA, unfortunately, has gotten traction with this argument over the last decade -- and so the gun lobbyists have repeated it after every major firearms fiasco --including the Virginia Tech massacre, the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords and her constituents, and now the Aurora, CO, monstrosity.

Among the few who are not political cowards:  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Tom Menino -- whose courage is abetted by those increasingly rare citizens who are bright enough and honest enough to understand how stupid and self-destructive the NRA position is.

Another is Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr., who refers to both mayors in his July 20th column.  Dionne points out that we would not buy the NRA's insane, sleazy argument in the face of any other controllable disaster or corporate negligence.  It is only in our unbridled idolatry of firearms that anyone takes such a dogma seriously and gets away with imposing it on the rest of us.  Dionne's column follows:

For all the dysfunction in our political system, a healthy pattern usually takes hold when a terrible tragedy seizes the nation’s attention.

Normally, we engage in a searching conversation over what rational steps can be taken by individuals, communities and various levels of government to make the recurrence of a comparable tragedy less likely. Sometimes we act, sometimes we don’t, but at least we explore sensible solutions.

Unless the tragedy involves guns. Then our whole public reasoning process goes haywire. Anyone who dares to say that an event such as the massacre at a Colorado movie theater early Friday demands that we rethink our approach to the regulation of firearms is accused of “exploiting” the deaths of innocent people.

This is part of the gun lobby’s rote response, and the rest of us allow it to work every time. Its goal is to block any conversation about how our nation’s gun laws, the most permissive in the industrialized world, increase the likelihood of mass killings of this sort.

First, the gun lobby goes straight to the exploitation argument — which is, of course, a big lie. You can see this because we never allow an assertion of this kind to stop conversation on other issues.

Nobody who points to the inadequacy of our flood-control policies or mistakes by the Army Corps of Engineers is accused of “exploiting” the victims of a deluge. Nobody who criticizes a botched response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to a natural disaster is accused of “exploiting” the victims of a hurricane or a tornado. Nobody who lays part of the blame for an accident on insufficient regulation of, say, the airlines or coal mining is accused of “exploiting” the accident’s victims.

No, it’s only where a gun massacre is concerned that an absolute and total gag rule is imposed on any thinking beyond the immediate circumstances of the catastrophe. God forbid that we question even a single tenet of the theology of firearms.

The lobby then goes to its backup moves. The problem, it insists, lies in the failure to enforce existing laws — conveniently ignoring that the National Rifle Association’s whole purpose is to weaken the gun statutes we already have.

The worshipers of weapons also lay heavy stress on the psychological disabilities of the killer in a particular incident to create a sense of futility and resignation. Crazy people, they say, will do crazy things, and there is nothing we can do about this. Never mind that more rational laws would help keep guns out of the hands of people with a history of mental illness. Never mind that it’s harder to get a license to drive a car than it is to own a gun. Never mind that even a Supreme Court ruling that gave an expansive reading of the Second Amendment nonetheless acknowledged the right of the people through their legislatures and Congress to enact sensible gun regulations.

Oh, yes, and then there is the trump card: We’d all be safer, says the gun lobby, if every last one of us owned a gun.

Why is there so little pushback against assertions that are so transparently designed to prevent rather than promote dialogue? The answer lies in a profound timidity on the part of politicians in both parties. The Republicans are allied with the gun lobby, and the Democrats are intimidated.

Sure, there are some dissenters. Many of the nation’s mayors, led by Mike Bloomberg of New York and Tom Menino of Boston, have tried to organize a push for carefully tailored laws aimed at keeping guns out of the wrong hands. But they are the exceptions. President Obama has done little to challenge the NRA, and yet it attacks him anyway.

There are many reasons for this politics of timidity, not the least being a United States Senate that vastly overrepresents rural voters relative to suburban and urban voters. (The electoral college overrepresents rural voters, too.) Add to this a Republican Party that will bow low before any anti-government argument that comes along, and a Democratic Party petrified of losing more rural support — and without any confidence that advocates of tougher gun laws will cast ballots on the basis of this issue.

So let’s ask ourselves: Aren’t we all in danger of being complicit in throwing up our hands and allowing the gun lobby to write our gun laws? Awful things happen, we mourn them and then we shrug. And that’s why they keep happening.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Catholic Theological Society of America Says Vatican is Wrong About Theologians' Job

The National Catholic Reporter says that the Catholic Theological Society of America, "the largest membership organization of U.S. theologians," has started it's annual four-day conference (this year in St. Louis)--and that the first order of business was for its Board of Directors to issue a statement defending Sister Margaret Farley against Vatican criticism that her popular book on sexual ethics does not reflect official teachings.

The statement notes that Professor Farley is a past president of the CTSA and a recipient of its John Courtney Murray Award.  NCR reminds us that at its conference last June, the society issued a similar defense of Sister Elizabeth Johnson, whose book Quest for the Living God had been criticized by the U.S. bishops in March 2011.

John Thiel, CTSA president, told NCR that the society's main concern regarding Margaret Foley was to dispute and challenge the Vatican's position "that the role of authentic Catholic theologians was simply to repeat what the magisterium teaches."

Against the Vatican's view, the CTSA's statement declares:

"Professor Farley's purpose in her book is to raise and explore questions of keen concern to the faithful of the Church.  Doing so is one very legitimate way of engaging in theological inquiry that has been practiced throughout the Catholic tradition."

As I point out in my doctoral dissertation (link at right), the church would have no official positions unless theologians had argued the issues first.  And the only way the limits of the official positions can be discerned is for theological analysis and discussion and debate to continue.  The Vatican, of course, would like us to forget how its teachings became official and how, inevitably, every official position superceded a previous one.

The text of the CTSA's statement and a list of signers follows:


On June 4, 2012, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a "Notification" entitled "Regarding the Book Just Love:  A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Sister Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M."  The "Notification" judged that, in a number of respects, Professor Farley's book presents positions on matters of sexual ethics that are contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium.

We, the undersigned members of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America, wish to note that Professor Farley is a highly respected member of the theological community.  A former President of the CTSA and a recipient of the Society's John Courtney Murray Award, she has devoted her life to teaching and writing on ethical issues and has done so in ways that have been reflective, measured, and wise.  Her work has prompted a generation of theologians to think more deeply about the Christian meaning of personal relationships and the divine life of love that truly animates them.  The judgment of the "Notificaition" that a number of Professor Farley's stated positions are contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium is simply factual.  In our judgment, however, Professor Farley's purpose in her book is to raise and explore questions of keen concern to the faithful of the Church.  Doing so is one very legitimate way of engaging in theological inquiry that has been practiced throughout the Catholic tradition.

The Board is especially concerned with the understanding of the task of Catholic theology presented in the "Notification."  The "Notification" risks giving the impression that there can be no constructive role in the life of the Church for works of theology that 1) give voice to the experience and concerns of ordinary believers, 2) raise questions about the persuasiveness of certain official Catholic positions, and 3) offer alternative theological frameworks as potentially helpful contributions to the authentic development of doctrine.  Such an understanding of the nature of theology inappropriately conflates the distinctive tasks of catechesis and theology.  With regard to the subject matter of Professor Farley's book, it is simply a matter of fact that faithful Catholics in every corner of the Church are raising ethical questions like those Professor Farley has addressed.  In raising and exploring such questions with her customary sensitivity and judiciousness, Professor Farley has invited us to engage the Catholic tradition seriously and thoughtfully.


John E. Thiel, Ph.D.
Fairfield University
Fairfield, CT

Susan A. Ross, Ph.D.
Loyola University
Chicago, IL

Richard R. Gaillardetz, Ph.D.
Boston College
Chestnut Hill, MA
Vice President

Mary Ann Hinsdale, I.H.M., Ph.D.
Boston College
Chestnut Hill, MA
Past President

M. Theresa Moser, R.S.C.J., Ph.D.
University of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA

Josef D. Zalot, Ph.D.
College of Mount St. Joseph
Cincinnati, OH

Michael E. Lee, Ph.D.
Fordham University
Bronx, NY

Kathleen McManus, O.P., Ph.D.
University of Portland
Portland, OR

Judith A. Merkle, S.N.D. de N., Ph.D.
Niagara University
Niagara, NY

Elena Procario-Foley, Ph.D.
Iona College
New Rochelle, NY

June 7, 2012