The pope, abortion, and the politicization of Catholic theology

Interesting news story yesterday about Pope Francis and abortion.  Having actually spent time among real people and the the problems they face, Pope Francis is going easy– relatively speaking– on those who have had abortions.

Pope Francis shook up the Catholic world — again — on Tuesday by announcing that all priests around the world will be authorized to forgive the “sin of abortion” during the church’s “Year of Mercy.”

Traditionally, Catholics knowingly involved in the procurement of abortion, condemned as a “moral evil” by the church, are automatically excommunicated and may be forgiven only with permission from a bishop.

I certainly like the tone he strikes:

The Pope’s new policy, which does not change church doctrine, technically applies only to the Year of Mercy, a centuries-old Catholic practice during which believers may receive special indulgences for their sins.

“The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails,” Francis said in a statement Tuesday. “Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option.”

“I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion,” the Pope continued. “I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision.”

So, I was surprised to learn this significant lacuna in my knowledge of Catholic theology.  I had not realized that there had been sins for which only a bishop could offer absolution.  I find that more than a little absurd, honestly.  But what I find really absurd is that this list of sins for “automatic excommunication” includes abortion, but not murder.  Burn a family, strangle a baby, throw a toddler against a wall, molest, torture, and murder a child and you are not automatically excommunicated and any old priest can offer you absolution.  But have an abortion– even under dire personal circumstances (e.g., extreme poverty, unwilling father of the child, etc.)– and morally speaking, the Catholic Church somehow think you are worse than a serial killer.

[And I don’t even want to address the moral silliness of the idea that this year only, a priest can absolve you, but next year, this sin is going to require a Bishop’s absolution again.  Seriously?!  There’s a reason indulgences make the Catholic Church a laughing stock.]

I did not find this explanation on-line, but the NPR story I heard today said that the sin was worse because the unborn child was the most defenseless.  As if an infant can really protect itself!  Please.  Much less an 10-year old against an adult.  But somehow, absolutely devastate a family, neighborhood, and community by murdering a 10-year old (and yes, that’s what happens, widespread devastation) and this is somehow a worse sin that taking the life of the unborn fetus potentially known only to the mother?!!   Yes, all life may be sacred, but when a beloved mother of five or a young child with all the world ahead of her is prematurely snuffed out, the harm to other humans and society is exponentially greater?  How can anyone possibly argue that abortion is somehow worse?  All I can suggest is that this really a political position, more than a theological one.  Maybe a theologian out there can enlighten me, but this strikes me as awfully similar to the fact that the church rails against abortion (which is politically safe for it), but essentially never raises a peep about the equally intrinsic evil (following church doctrine, that is) of destroying unused embryos from IVF (parents desperately trying to have children are pretty damn sympathetic).

I’m actually quite comfortable with the Catholic Church considering abortion to be a very serious moral sin.  What I hate is bending theology and morality beyond any reasonable interpretation to suggest that abortion is somehow far worse than all these things any sentient person knows to be otherwise the case.  [Or placing it as the sine qua non of Catholic belief and practice, for that matter.  Jesus seemed much more concerned with the poor and oppressed.]

Quick hits

1) I feel like I wrote something on the stupidity of American lawns pretty recently.  But given drought conditions in much of the country, lawns are dumber than ever.  And this is a nice story on it (that also links to a great 99% episode on the matter).

2) Speaking of wasting water.  Stop drinking bottled water.  Seriously.

3) And stop trying to be so original with your baby names.  Today’s uncommon may well be tomorrow’s top 10.

3) Re-thinking addiction not as a disease after all.  Really interesting take.

The title of his manifesto lays out Lewis’s basic argument, which he insists upon throughout the book. “I’m convinced that calling addiction a disease is not only inaccurate, it’s often harmful,” he writes (repeatedly). “Harmful first of all to addicts themselves.” The alternative, he asserts, is to call addiction what it is: a really bad habit caused by a constellation of variables and a brain that is receptive to compulsively reinforcing really bad habits. Most important, that habit is possible to break, not by becoming a “patient” getting medical attention in order to “recover” but by becoming a responsible adult with a solid vision of the future who has at last decided to break a destructive habit.

4) Destroying mountains for coal removal?  All good for this Southwestern, Virginia community.  “Ruining” the view with windmill farms?  Not so much.  Oh, and wasting an absurd amount of money to build a modern “technology park” in basically the middle of nowhere?  Oh, yeah, on that.  Tech workers love locating to extremely rural areas.  Surely a great way to attract business development.

5) Bojack Horseman is my new TV obsession.  Season 1, down.  Starting season 2 tonight.  How can I not love comparing Bojack to Mad Men.

6) Donald Trump as the political equivalent of chaff.  Love it.

Donald Trump is the political equivalent of chaff, a billion shiny objects all floating through the sky at once, ephemeral, practically without substance, serving almost exclusively to distract from more important things — yet nonetheless completely impossible to ignore.

7) Speaking of Trump, nice take from Yglesias comparing him to the far right movements in Europe.

8a) So much wrong about college football (but I just keep watching it)

All of which makes Gilbert M. Gaul’s “Billion-Dollar Ball” a hard and challenging book, but one that I hope college football diehards will join me in reading. Gaul, a former reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post, forces us to confront what major college football has become. When we cheer for our schools and our teams, we’re also supporting a powerful and autonomous entertainment business that monetizes every aspect of the game, an operation that is not only divorced from the mission of higher education but that often undermines it.

8b) Much of which can be seen in Under Armour’s relationship with University of Maryland.

9) You’ve all read me brag about the great diversity in my kids’ schools, but sadly, Wake County is going in the wrong direction on this.

10) I hope some graphic designer was fired over this.

11) Nice essay on how we need to move past the idea that the ideal worker is one who sacrifices family life.

Mr. Groysberg and Ms. Abrahams found that “even the men who pride themselves on having achieved some degree of balance between work and the other realms of their lives measure themselves against a traditional male ideal.” They quoted one interviewee as saying, “The 10 minutes I give my kids at night is one million times greater than spending that 10 minutes at work.” Men who are counting their caregiving in terms of the last 10 minutes of a day are not playing a caregiving role on a day-to-day basis.

12) Time for the media to start treating the names of mass murderers like the names of rape victims?  There’s definitely something to be said for the idea.

13) Irony is when the guy wearing the “less government; more freedom” t-shirt has his butt saved by firefighters.

 

14) Love this metaphor in the case for teaching ignorance.

Michael Smithson, a social scientist at Australian National University who co-taught an online course on ignorance this summer, uses this analogy: The larger the island of knowledge grows, the longer the shoreline — where knowledge meets ignorance — extends. The more we know, the more we can ask. Questions don’t give way to answers so much as the two proliferate together. Answers breed questions. Curiosity isn’t merely a static disposition but rather a passion of the mind that is ceaselessly earned and nurtured.

Mapping the coast of the island of knowledge, to continue the metaphor, requires a grasp of the psychology of ambiguity. The ever-expanding shoreline, where questions are born of answers, is terrain characterized by vague and conflicting information. The resulting state of uncertainty, psychologists have shown, intensifies our emotions: not only exhilaration and surprise, but also confusion and frustration.

15) Not the least bit surprised that a documentary about the evils of sugar is chock full of pseudo-science (not to argue that sugar is all great shakes, but anytime something gets demonized like this, you should probably be skeptical).

16) The Duke freshmen who can’t read handle reading a book with lesbian sex(!!) in it need to get over themselves.  Local columnist Barry Saunders with a nice take.

17) I’ve been meaning to give this Ezra Klein piece on how conservative media helped the far right take over the Republican Party it’s own post for a long time.  I’ve failed long enough.  To quick hits it goes.  Read it.

Quick hits (part II– after all)

Ended up with a ton of open tabs this weekend.  So, here’s a late quick hits part II.

1) Is parenthood worse for your happiness than divorce or death of a partner?  The latest research says that at least during the first year of parenthood, this is the case.  In a less busy week, I would’ve read more of this because I am a bit skeptical of such a strong hit (though chronic sleep deprivation surely matters).

2) Fertility clinics destroy embryos all the time (much like an early abortion).  Why aren’t conservatives after them?!  Maybe something like this:

The disparity between how the law treats abortion patients and IVF patients reveals an ugly truth about abortion restrictions: that they are often less about protecting life than about controlling women’s bodies. Both IVF and abortion involve the destruction of fertilized eggs that could potentially develop into people. But only abortion concerns women who have had sex that they don’t want to lead to childbirth. Abortion restrictions use unwanted pregnancy as a punishment for “irresponsible sex” and remind women of the consequences of being unchaste: If you didn’t want to endure a mandatory vaginal ultrasound , you shouldn’t have had sex in the first place .

If anti-choice lawmakers cared as much about protecting life as they did about women having sex, they could promote laws that prevent unwanted pregnancy. Yet the same conservatives who restrict abortion also oppose insurance coverage for contraception and comprehensive sexuality education. They view contraception, like abortion, as a “license” to have non-procreative sex. Women, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee assures us, don’t need contraception — they just need to “control their libido.”

I also think it is largely simply politically untenable to attack fertility clinics (as I’ve mentioned in the case of the Catholic Church leaving the issue alone despite the clear, strong violation of Catholic teaching).

3) Less than a decade ago, Republicans seemingly favored voting rights.  What happened?

4) Hopefully you know about the mindset research of Carol Dweck.  If not, John F. recently shared this excellent summary.  Honestly, I feel like I’ve done pretty well in life for having a fixed mindset.

5) Think it is barbaric to lock human beings in solitary confinement.  Even better, many states regularly do this with juveniles– “for their own protection.”  Certainly not the protection of their sanity.

6) A solid majority of Americans under 50 think they will not get a social security benefit.  That’s nuts.  They will.  At worst, it will be somewhat reduced.  In other news, most Americans under 50 don’t really understand social security or American politics.

7) I cannot even imagine working at Amazon.  Fascinating workplace culture.

8) I doubt that Obama will finish all these books on his vacation.  But I love his love of good books and reading.

9) Should have been a few more, but one of the kids closed all my open tabs– despite repeated admonitions not to do so– and I swear some were missing from my history.

Jehovah’s witnesses and American religious diversity

Got a link to this analysis of racial/ethnic diversity in American religions from Pew in my facebook feed (headlining Catholic diversity) and I was so excited to look up Jehovah’s Witnesses.  What these people believe is nuts (seriously, no celebrating of holidays or birthdays??!!  Not to mention they are just a modern-day version of the Arian heresy), but one thing I’ll say for them (they knock on my door about one Saturday a month and they have a church just down the road) is that they sure have this diversity thing down.  Of course, all I had was my own observations of mixed-race groups nearby, but thanks to this chart, I can see that they are, in fact, among the most diverse of religions in America.

How Racially Diverse are U.S. Religious Groups?

But come on– no holidays and birthdays?  It’s a wonder any kid growing up in this faith would ever choose to continue.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Bill Ayers on Greece:

I don’t see a similar discussion with regard to Greece. There is plenty of agreement that the Greeks have borrowed way too much money, and plenty of finger-pointing at them for having done so. But who lent them that money? At what point did those lenders cross the line between responsible and irresponsible lending? The IMF apparently figured out that Greece will never be able to repay all of its debts; where were the other lenders when that calculation should have been done? It’s easy to point fingers as the “lazy” Greeks, but somebody (mostly Germany, by most accounts) lent them the money. What responsibility do lenders have to do their homework and lend responsibly?

2) John Oliver talks and New York listens.  Okay, not really the causal chain, but great to see NY embracing much-needed bail reform.

3) Jimmy Carter is done with oppressing women in the name of Christianity.

4) There’s been a lot of attention in NC to whether magistrates would have to marry same-sex couples.  According to Republicans, to do so would violate their religious freedom.  Now that they can opt out, only 14 of nearly 700 have done so.

5) Not that they can do much but complain, but the Louisiana Supreme Court is not happy about same sex marriage.

6) Seth Masket on why Bernie-mentum is not all its cracked up to be:

This doesn’t mean that Sanders can’t actually make a difference in this contest. He may well win a few important primaries and caucuses, and he may play an important role in the nominating convention next summer. But everything we know about the way presidential nominations work says that Hillary Clinton has a bigger advantage than anyone ever has who wasn’t an incumbent president.

7) Drum points out that not only are we willfully ignorant as a society about GMO food; the same goes for irradiated food.  This could do wonders to reduce food-borne pathogens, but everybody is too freaked out about “radiation!”

8) Baltimore police– not so great even if you are a white Baltimore resident. These guys need to try harder.

9) This is not anything new for the Catholic Church, but it is nice to see Pope Francis state it so plainly:

Francis explained that both scientific theories were not incompatible with the existence of a creator – arguing instead that they “require it”.

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” Francis said.

10) Really interesting piece on the rising concern over “micro-aggressions” and how this reflects differing views of “moral culture.”

We can better understand complaints about microaggression and the reactions to them if we understand that each side of the debate draws from a different moral culture. Those calling attention to microaggressions have rejected the morality dominant among middle-class Americans during the 20th century — what sociologists and historians have sometimes called a dignity culture, which abhors private vengeance and encourages people to go to the police or use the courts when they are seriously harmed. Less serious offenses might be ignored, and certainly any merely verbal offense should be. Parents thus teach their children to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

Microaggression complaints make clear that this is no longer settled morality. Those who see microaggressions as a serious problem and who bring up minor and unintentional slights reject the idea that words can’t hurt, that slights should be brushed off, that even overt insults should be ignored. This attitude reveals the emergence of a new moral culture, one we call victimhood culture, since it valorizes victimhood.

Put me on the side of dominant middle-class culture.

11) Can’t say I was really all that surprised on the massive failure of American efforts to build schools in Afghanistan, but it is depressing.  And some surprisingly strong reporting in Buzzfeed, of all places.

12) Onion on the pros and cons of flying the confederate flag– pure awesomeness.

13) Just in case you didn’t know, that whole crack babies thing is a myth.  A great example of spurious correlation.

14) Paul Krugman on how Republicans want to bring all the policies of the Greek disaster to America.

15) The piece on autism in the last quick hits led me to this older, but better, look at understanding the rising prevalence of autism (short version: whatever environmental factors contribute, they are a small part).

16) I loved this eulogy for the epistolary email, as it so reflects my own personal experience.

17) New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe on El Chapo’s latest escape.

18) If somebody suggested a story about two sets of identical twins that were switched at birth and raised as two sets of fraternal twins, chances are you would say it is too outlandish to be believed.  But it happened and it’s an amazing story.  It’s long, but I guarantee you won’t regret reading it.

Quick hits (part I)

Didn’t blog much at the beach, but still read lots of good stuff.  Many quick hits coming at you.

1) Really liked this perspective on Galileo— he was not as right as you think nor his critics as wrong.

2) Nice N&O Editorial on the latest example of NC Republicans deciding that local government is best– except when it is electing Democrats.  When Jesse Helm’s chief adviser says you’ve gone too far, you’ve probably gone too far.   And Thomas Mills on the travesty that is the NC Senate:

House Speaker Tim Moore came to power promising to show that the GOP could govern. Unfortunately, it’s not to be. The ideologues in the Senate are too busy micromanaging local governments and sticking square pegs into round, free-market holes to pay attention to what’s working and what’s not. They don’t seem to care whether policies are good for the people or the state. They only care that they fit into their narrow ideological box.

3) On the science behind “Inside Out.”  And seriously, if you haven’t yet, see this movie.

4) Nice piece from Bill Ayers on using the language of religious rights to deny rights:

As one lawmaker put it in North Carolina, “Just because someone takes a job with the government does not mean they give up their First Amendment rights.” A cake baker has apparently also decided to take his case to court, lest he be sanctioned for discriminating against gay couples in the making of wedding cakes.

I find this argument deeply troubling on many fronts. It strikes me as a species of other arguments people make which use the trappings of commonly-held values (in this case, the language about rights and freedom) to advance the opposite

5) Enjoyed this Slate piece on how Carli Lloyd and other US women soccer stars were rejected from youth teams and how that helped lead to their greatness.

6) I hate felony murder charges.  No, you should not rob somebody trying to sell you marijuana.  But when that goes wrong and the marijuana dealer falls off the truck and dies as it pulls away (and you are sitting in the back seat!) in no way are you a murderer at all.  Except, of course, under felony murder laws.  If I were on a jury for this case there would damn well be some juror nullification.  (Interesting that it happened at the park I visit every week with Sarah while Evan has his piano lessons).

7) A urologist argues in NYT that we need to bring back more prostate screenings.  This was a great example of smart commenters that you actually see in the NYT as they were all over the problems in this argument.

8) Apparently Amy Schumer’s jokes really are racist.  I, however, am not persuaded.

9) The best stuff I read on Germany and Greek debt last week.  Thomas Piketty on how the Germans are hypocrites. NYT’s Eduardo Porter makes a similar point.   And Harold Myerson.  Not like Greece doesn’t have plenty of blame to go around, of course.  For example, their crazy pension system.

10) I hate the tendency towards over air-conditioning in the summer.  I’ve been known to run my space heater in my office in the summer.  What a waste of energy.

11) I think I’m going to have to read this book on how over-parenting is ruining our kids.  I’m definitely no helicopter parent, but I fear I am not doing enough to make my kids learn tough life lessons on their own.

When parents have tended to do the stuff of life for kids—the waking up, the transporting, the reminding about deadlines and obligations, the bill-paying, the question-asking, the decision-making, the responsibility-taking, the talking to strangers, and the confronting of authorities, kids may be in for quite a shock when parents turn them loose in the world of college or work. They will experience setbacks, which will feel to them like failure. Lurking beneath the problem of whatever thing needs to be handled is the student’s inability to differentiate the self from the parent.

12) I’m glad I don’t have to rely on public schools in Texas to teach my kids history:

THIS FALL, Texas schools will teach students that Moses played a bigger role in inspiring the Constitution than slavery did in starting the Civil War. The Lone Star State’s new social studies textbooks, deliberately written to play down slavery’s role in Southern history, do not threaten only Texans — they pose a danger to schoolchildren all over the country.

On a related note, here’s some excerpts from a 1970’s Alabama history text.

13) Maybe autism is so more prevalent now because earlier clinicians actively worked to not diagnose it.

14) John Oliver on bail is, of course, excellent.

15) The most common reasons behind unfriending on FB:

In a 2014 study, Christopher Sibona, a researcher at the University of Colorado at Denver, actually pinpointed the four types of content that are most likely to prompt an unfriend:

  1. Frequent/unimportant posts
  2. Polarizing posts (politics and religion; liberals are, for what it’s worth,more likely to unfriend over political views)
  3. Inappropriate posts (sexist, racist remarks)
  4. Everyday life posts (child, spouse, eating habits, etc.)

Also, HS friends are most likely to get unfriended.

16) Iron Giant is going to be re-released on the big screen.  So going to take all the family to that.

17) I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but it never hurts to mention how near-useless the BMI is for addressing the health of individuals (there is some value as a population statistic).

18) A nearby public library that is actually inside a local HS is set to close.  Why?  People are worried about security:

The school system and Wake County partnered in the early 1980s so the Athens Drive High School library served students while also doubling as a public library.

But times have changed in terms of security at schools, said Ann Burlingame, assistant library director in Wake. High schools need to monitor who comes on their campuses, she said.

“We need to have a regard for the children and their safety,” Burlingame said…

No major security issues have been reported at the west Raleigh school. But Simmons said some parents have complained that it’s easy for library visitors to access the main part of the building.

Got that?  No actual issues in decades of use, but parents are worried.  So frustrating when the overly-fearful get to make public policy.

19) I had no idea about putative father registries.  Pretty interesting account of the laws and one disturbing case in South Carolina–yes, there are racial overtones (and the author was a friend of mine back at Duke).

 

Pet dinosaurs

So, a former student’s FB post about attending the Creation Museum inspired me to check out their website (of course, I’ve long-known of their existence, just never really investigated).  I was most fascinated to learn how they have simply decided to adopt dinosaurs and the fossil record and explain that they are just looking at it through a bible-based perspective rather than a science-based perspective.  They are proud of their fossils and have all sorts of pseudo-scientific explanations for how they are right and the scientists are wrong about evolution, natural selection, etc.  I ended up at the Answers in Genesis site where they proudly proclaim, “We’ve Invaded Their “Temple”! Humanists Are on Notice: We’re Taking Dinosaurs Back!”  Watch out you secular humanists!!

And, what is some of the air-tight logic upon which they are reclaiming dinosaurs?

And no, it’s not ridiculous to believe dinosaurs and people lived at the same time (as the Bible makes very clear)—it’s ridiculous and illogical not to! Consider the two signs pictured from one of Australia’s wildlife sanctuaries.

Think about it: according to evolutionary time, crocodiles have been around since the time of the dinosaurs1—and yet, humans live with crocodiles today. So why is it ridiculous to think humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time?

Sign from one of Australia’s wildlife sanctuaries

But it’s not just crocodiles—there are many other examples. On AiG’s website, there’s an article that quotes a leading evolutionist who said that finding a certain tree in Australia was like finding a “live dinosaur.” The article explained

This is because the tree, nicknamed the Wollemi pine, is known from fossils classed as so-called Jurassic age around 150 million years ago, but not from fossils in rocks of later periods.

Humans and the Wollemi pine tree live today, and yet from an evolutionary perspective, the Wollemi pine dates back to the “time of the dinosaurs.” That’s why the evolutionist called it the “dinosaur tree.”

While we don’t find fossils of the Wollemi pine tree and humans together, we do know they live together—because both are alive today.

WTF?  I can’t even get around the logic of how that all means humans, dinosaurs, and crocodiles are all only 6000 years old. But don’t worry, it’s science:

Nothing in observational science contradicts the obvious conclusion based on the Bible’s history:

  • Dinosaurs were created alongside man around 6,000 years ago.
  • Representative kinds of them were on Noah’s Ark.
  • Most dinosaur fossils are from the Flood (about 4,500 years ago).
  • Dinosaurs lived beside man after the Flood, but like lots of other animals and plants, have become extinct since that time.

Ouch, the stupid!

And, sure, it’s fun and easy to pick on the creation museum, but this is serious stuff.  Last year’s Gallup poll:

Trend: Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings?

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