Reactions – Seamless Garment/Consistent Life Ethic

John 19:23

 Vulgate – Milites ergo cum crucifixissent eum, acceperunt
vestimenta ejus (et fecerunt quatuor partes, unicuique militi partem) et
tunicam. Erat autem tunica inconsutilis, desuper contexta per totum.

 NIV – When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them
into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining.
This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

 Response to my Atlantic essay has been interesting to track, if limited. One Irish blogger, a former journalist with Opus Dei connections tweets:

His argument here is that I’m right, they were inconsistent when ignoring life issues in the past, but the dissent over Notre Dame and now BC is a sign that things are improving – by getting more rigid.  This is consistent with Opus Dei perceptions, but it’s useful to see it laid out so clearly here.

On the article page itself, a commenter named Curt made this point:

A president has less influence on post Roe and post Casey abortion
than most people acknowledge. Obama is wrong on abortion, but we have
FIVE Catholics on the Court and yet Roe stands.
In contrast, a governor or president can personally commute a death
sentence, and by implication, not commuting an execution is to affirm
its moral rightness.
Accordingly I would hold a president or governor more accountable for
his capital punishment record than his abortion rights platform.

Curt’s bio on Disqus describes him as “politically conservative.” I’m pleased, as I tried to write this so that it would appeal across party lines. Curt strikes me as someone with whom I might not agree, but whose reasoning I can respect. I like that.

I’ve always been impressed with the unyielding notion of the seamless garment/consistent life ethic. The term was coined by Chicago’s former Cardinal Bernardin (a man much missed by many of the Catholics I most respect), and to me it makes a lot of theological sense. All life is sacred (as all beings are created beings, a notion Aquinas raises too), and if you take that seriously, you can’t subdivide between guilty and innocent, young and old, armed and defenseless. All[human] life. No seams. Full stop. But it’s hard to live up to, unless one is willing to become a pacifist, and the unrelenting focus on abortion at the expense of other life issues by the U.S. Catholic hierarchy has, I think, betrayed their positions as political creatures. Abortion is the life issue in the U.S., and the conservative hierarchy tracks that. As noted in this article, in 2011, some of the inflamed rhetoric claiming religious warfare about the Obama contraception mandate emerged from Texas, where the death penalty is king and injustices well-documented.

This has always been my stance – if you want me to respect an absolute pro-life, anti-assisted suicide and anti-contraception position, then you also need to be a pacifist and an activist against state-sponsored execution. I understand the theological arguments why only abortion and euthanasia (as they see it) are worse than executions and war, but I reject them a hair-splitting and arbitrary.

Which is, I suppose, the point of my essay. You can make an arbitrary judgment about what issues are important, but then we’re in the world of dialogue, debate, and compromise, not unyielding theological principle. So come to the table and let’s talk about complexity – AIDS vs Condoms, abortion to save a mother’s life, contraception vs poverty, legal abortion vs illegal abortion, sex ed., and so forth.

New Essay on “The Atlantic” – The Cardinal, the Prime Minster, and Abortion Politics

I have a new essay up here. In it, I talk about the decision by Boston’s Archbishop, Cardinal O’Malley, to boycott the graduation of Boston College. BC is honoring Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who is sponsoring an abortion bill back home. I work through some of the reasoning and the potentially inconsistent (or at least very arbitrary reasoning) used by O’Malley.

Finding a public voice – An introduction to my writing and this blog

I’ve built this site for three reasons:

1. Publish pieces that I can’t publish somewhere else (particularly when needing to get a piece out before an event or news cycle).
2. Publish half-baked ideas that aren’t ready yet (and may never be ready), brainstorm on issues, organize and store data, and otherwise chat about interesting non-essay-ready issues.
3. Stash all my essays (well, links) in one place (like that handy tab at the top of the page).

I started writing essays six years ago when a number of public figures started linking medieval interfaith conflicts to modern interfaith conflicts. I wanted to make one point in particular: Winners may write the histories, but losers hold the grudges. My close friend, Bruce Schneier, helped me take my inchoate ideas and hammer them into an 800-word or so essay, then gave me the contact information at the Star Tribune. They published it on the front page of the opinion section on a Sunday along with a picture of a knight/re-enactor and a title that I didn’t like. It’s not the essay I would write today, but it was a start.

I discovered two things: 1) Editors control titles (and layout, pictures, etc.), not writers, so I have to get over it. 2) More people perhaps read that piece then will likely read my scholarly writing (Sunday distribution was about 600,000. Let’s say 1% looked at the article on the front of the opinion section – I’d have to be pretty lucky to have 6000 people read my book or my essays, as I write for specialized audiences).

I wrote a few more essays over the following years, including one in reaction to the discourse of Down syndrome after Palin was nominated, a teaching essay for the Chronicle of Higher Ed, and what I think is my most important essay to date: On disability and language – “The Angel/Retard Dialectic.” Suddenly, this spring, two things happened: I shipped my book monograph to my press (currently under review) and the Pope resigned. After publishing three essays on the pope, a teaching piece on using Facebook in the classroom, and more pieces to come in the next few weeks, I’ve realized that writing for the public can be part of my professional life.

I plan to try and publish at least one essay a month, concentrating on issues relating to Down syndrome, religion in American life, and the ways that history helps us understand contemporary issues better – and better often means with more complexity.

I will be doing a certain amount of self-promotion as I try to become more established as a voice on key topics and I hope it never becomes too annoying. Please share this blog, my Facebook page, my twitter handle, and my essays, if you are so inclined.

Most of all, thanks for reading. I always want to hear your comments and criticisms.

American Theodicy

Theodicy is the theological practice of trying to make sense of why bad things happen to good people. It was coined by the famous German polymath Leibniz, but was a common practice throughout the history of medieval thought as well in various ways. I am working on an essay on the topic of American theodicy. Here are some examples I’m currently considering. There are countless more.

1. Michelle Bachmann:

It’s no secret that our nation may very well be experiencing the hand of
judgment. It’s no secret that we all are concerned that our nation may
be in a time of decline. If that is in fact so, what is the answer? The
answer is what we are doing here today: humbling ourselves before an
almighty God, crying out to an almighty God, saying not of ourselves but
you, would you save us oh God? We repent of our sins, we turn away from
them, we seek you, we seek your ways. That’s something that we’re doing
today, that we did on the National Day of Prayer, it’s something that
we have chosen to do as well on another landmark day later this year on
September 11. Our nation has seen judgment not once but twice on
September 11. That’s why we’re going to have ‘9/11 Pray’ on that day. Is
there anything better that we can do on that day rather than to humble
ourselves and to pray to an almighty God?

2. Michelle Bachmann

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the
politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said,
‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American
people because the American people are roaring right now. They know
government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the
spending,” Bachmann said in Sarasota on Sunday

Bachmann’s campaign said she was just joking.

3. Family Research Council

The scourge presently upon our nation – wars, devastating weather,
acts of terrorism, confusion and failure among our government leaders,
spiritual confusion in many of our churches, decimation of the family,
economic decline, government oppression, advancing socialism, government
promoted and protected abortion, homosexualized politics, etc., are all
the fruits and consequences of individual and collective sin and a
departure from the God of the Bible.

The Apostle Paul warned us plainly that God’s righteous wrath is the
result of willful disobedience: “all unrighteousness, fornication,
wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness… envy, murder, debate, deceit,
malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud,
boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without
understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable,
unmerciful, who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit
such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure
in them that do them” (Romans 1:14-32). Unfortunately, all these evils
are now woven into our popular culture. The church has not been as
bright and salty as we’ve needed to be. But a tremendous opportunity
lies ahead of us, if we will but humble ourselves and pray!

 4. Pat Robertson

I was reading, yesterday, a book that was very interesting about what
God has to say in the Old Testament about those who shed innocent blood.
And he used the term that those who do this, “the land will vomit you
out.” That — you look at your — you look at the book of Leviticus and
see what it says there. And this author of this said, “well ‘vomit out’
means you are not able to defend yourself.” But have we found we
are unable somehow to defend ourselves against some of the attacks that
are coming against us, either by terrorists or now by natural disaster?
Could they be connected in some way?
And he goes down the list of the things that God says will cause a nation to lose its possession, and to be vomited out.

The link goes to other examples of this kind of rhetoric in the context of Katrina.

5. (updated) James Dobson

I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist, or
he’s irrelevant to me and we have killed fifty-four million babies and
the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete
redefinition.  Believe me, that is going to have consequences too.
And a lot of these things are happening around us, and somebody is
going to get mad at me for saying what I am about to say right now, but I
am going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back
on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed
judgment to fall upon us.  I think that’s what’s going on.

Updates – Fall, 2013:

“Ex-transgender” speaker Grace Harley:

Moments later, Harvey said that Obama has “homosexual orientation tendencies,” proving that we are in the Last Days: “The spirit will not dwell with us too much longer because we truly are in the End Times. Any time you have the head of a country with homosexual orientation tendencies, and I say that because Jesus said, ‘if you look at a woman with lust you have committed adultery,’ if you have the heart of the homosexual in your heart and your mind then you are without even committing the act, you are there. We have countries, or America—it’s devastating what’s going on.”

And Michele Bachmann again:

“the U.S.’s funding of al Qaeda in Syria] happened and as of today the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists, now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the End Times scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history. Rather than seeing this as a negative, we need to rejoice, Maranatha Come Lord Jesus, His day is at hand. When we see up is down and right is called wrong, when this is happening, we were told this; these days would be as the days of Noah.”