In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Election Reflection

In 1790 political philosopher and British Parliamentarian Edmund Burke wrote his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he predicted that overthrow of the old order there by social radicals would soon result in terror, tyranny, and copious bloodshed. As it turned out, he was absolutely right. In the wake of last week's Presidential election in the United States, I'm beginning to think we may be witnessing our own disastrous revolution--for now somewhat quieter and gentler, but also pointing straight to national calamity. And in ours, even the counter-revolutionaries are helping out.

It's hard for me to make sense out of this election. The economy is still barely limping along; our national debt is beyond the stratosphere and climbing fast; civil liberties are shrinking steadily; illegal immigrants continue to flood in and burden public funds and services; foreign wars drag on; our embassies are under siege and diplomats left to die; our government is undermining allies and aiding our enemies . . . the list goes on and on. Pre-election surveys and polls generally indicated that most likely voters disapproved of Obama's job performance, agreed more closely with the Republican approach to national problems, and showed greater enthusiasm for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan than they did for the Democratic ticket. How is it, then that an apparent majority of Americans has voted to continue the march toward national oblivion?

There is always the possibility of vote fraud, intimidation, and suppression, but there hasn't been any concrete proof along this line apart from the scattered anecdotes usually encountered in high-stakes national elections. Diligent research may uncover more evidence, but I wouldn't count on the liberal establishment media reporting it, even if it's discovered.

Was it low turnout among the disaffected, perhaps combined with higher-than-expected turnout among the Obama regime's defenders? There is solid evidence that this had much to do with the outcome.  I'm mortified but not completely surprised, given the whining I've heard for many months from those who take a dim view of the President and his crowd, but seem to revel in criticizing the Republican Party generally (of which many are members) and Mitt Romney in particular: the party is too "right-wing" or not right-wing enough; Romney is "too liberal" or "too conservative"; he's too wealthy or too petty bourgeois; he's not "sympathetic" enough or not "tough" enough, etc. Many of these self-righteous complainers style themselves as "independents" or "moderates" who like to pontificate from a distance but won't risk commitment to a side they're afraid might not turn out the winner. Others think of themselves as sword-wieldinig conservative or libertarian revolutionaries who won't abide anything less that crystalline ideological purity in their candidate. And, I suspect, there were more than a few religious purists who couldn't bring themselves to associate with a Mormon (or even with his Roman Catholic running mate). This was widely deemed the most important Presidential election since at least 1932 (Hoover vs. Roosevelt), and perhaps since 1860, when the country was literally coming apart over slavery and secession, and Abraham Lincoln "won" with a distinct minority of the national vote.  Yet, the 2012 election  may have been effectively decided by sideline grumblers, nit-pickers, and tut-tutters unwilling to dirty their clothes on the playing field. In the further calamities to come I hope they remember the axiom that in a democracy, those who don't vote have no right to complain about the government.

As for those who did pony up and put their votes where their mouths were--God bless you!  Now we can only pray that we don't end up like ancient Christians huddled in a lion-filled Roman arena.

For a much more sinister message from this election--actually, from Obama's election in 2008--is that America is now ruled by a coalition of those who depend on government for all or much of their livelihood, either by benefit check or pay check, together with those in the media, academia, and big business establishments who are government's biggest promoters, servicers, and suppliers. This would seem to include most blacks and Hispanics (together about 28 percent of the electorate), as well as public employees, unionized workers, those employed in "bailed-out" industries, most college students, and recipients of welfare, food stamps, Medicaid/Medicare, federal disability payments, long-term unemployment benefits, and publicly-funded housing, health care, and day care. That's not to say that ALL of these people voted for Obama--for example, the elderly generally remain in the Republican camp despite their reliance on help delivered by or through government--but the vast majority of them almost certainly did. Add to this activist gays and most younger single women (read: abortion rights and "free" contraception), who feel more comfortable with morally relaxed Democrats than with straighter-laced Republicans, and you have the recipe for a huge--and growing--constituency.  That constituency and its interests are relentlessly promoted and insulated from criticism by an eagerly compliant media applying a doctrine of political correctness (vigorously cultivated in the academic/cultural/entertainment establishments) that deems any other interest or any resistance to theirs "racism" and "extremism."  How many people with fairly conservative "family" values (I'm thinking of Catholics and a goodly number of younger Protestants here) voted Democrat out of a good-faith, but misguided, sense of "charity" toward the "less fortunate"?  How many people not otherwise disposed to vote the Democrat ticket did so, or just stayed home, mostly because they felt "ashamed" to support two white, male, business-oriented Republicans?  And how many moderate-to-conservative people have now had their freedom and judgment compromised by at least partial dependence on a government subsidy, directly or through public support of their employers?

It's a simple application of the old saying, "He who pays the piper calls the tune." Or, "I owe my soul to the company store."  There's also the updated Democrat Party version, "Government is the only thing that we all belong to."  And now, it seems, a majority of Americans have come to accept that bondage, or have resigned themselves to it. Apparently they decided that Obama/Biden was more likely to keep the pipelines of government support flowing freely and amply than was Romney/Ryan. Evidently most of them now like the idea of a powerful state looking after their every need, birth to death, so they don't have to worry about things so much. They've forgotten, if they every knew, the late President Gerald Ford's sage observation that "A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have."

What they don't see, or don't care about, is what they--we--will have to exchange for the security they think they're buying.  No benefit comes without a price. Higher taxes are one obvious result, but then only half of us at best pay those, so what do the rest have to worry about on that score, right?  If they knew some history and a little economics they might realize that when the well runs dry because a dwindling group of producers has been taxed beyond its ability or willingness to support an ever-expanding welfare class, expropriation, tyranny, and wars to seize foreign resources usually follow in succession. More insidious and dangerous is the control over thought, speech, and action that indentured servitude to the government entails. Bureaucrats aren't going to continue supporting those who criticize or obstruct them. We have already seen this played out between the federal and state governments; the states surrendered control over their own affairs years ago in exchange for large-scale federal funding (for highways, education, public health, etc.) and now find themselves sued and deprived of the money they depend on for daring to pass laws on such issues as immigration, abortion, education, and the environment that the federal government decides are inconsistent with its policies de jour. What sort of leverage will the federal government have over individuals when it gains functional control of the health care individuals depend on for their very lives?

In short, we're seeing a fundamental shift in the values subscribed to by a majority of Americans. Now security and collective interests are more important than individual freedom and the opportunity to better oneself--more important than freedom of conscience and expression, more than the sanctity of life and of marriage, more than international peace and the stature of America and its allies in the world. We're headed down the same dead-end socialist/secularist road as European countries like Spain, Greece, and even Britain and France, a road that leads only to national bankruptcy on spiritual as well as material levels. And most of us, preoccupied with bread and circuses, seem OK with that.

Meanwhile, counterproductive squabbling has broken out among various Republican/conservative factions and commentators, each blaming the others for Romney's loss. Some complain that he focused too exclusively on jobs and the economy, and ignored "social" issues like abortion and same-sex marriage that might have attracted family-oriented blacks and Hispanics. Others say that the party emphasized social issues TOO much and thereby alienated single women and "moderates." Still others contend that he failed to connect with "middle class" voters numb to old slogans about free enterprise, and whose concept of Romney was based mainly on Democrat propaganda about his fondness for the "rich," to which he responded timidly or not at all.

I'm not sure who is right. I'm inclined to think that Romney's pro-life, pro-family stance should have figured more prominently in the presentation of his message, integrated with his economic message so as to show how healthy families are vital to a prosperous, strong America. But I suspect that Romney was counseled by his advisers not to unduly emphasize "values," lest the media frame him as an extreme anti-abortion, anti-gay zealot--like they did to Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann during the Republican primaries. The Obama campaign relentlessly painted Romney that way during the main campaign as well as the primaries, so perhaps he would have been better off not to dilute his best themes in pursuit of "independent" votes that were less likely to be his in any event. And maybe he could have done more to expose the hypocrisy of obscenely rich "progressives" castigating his wealth, as well as to highlight Obama's dangerously inept and irresponsible foreign policy.

I question whether a decisive number of minds could have been changed by a more effective Republican campaign among those otherwise inclined to vote for Obama, or who entertained the slightest possibility of doing so. Given the patent corruption of this administration, its failure to restore a vigorous economy, its foreign misadventures, its open disdain for the Constitution, and its willingness to undermine family life by promoting things like gay "marriage" and abortion on demand, anyone who would seriously consider voting for its continuation would almost have to be so deeply compromised by the Obama personality cult and its faux populist rhetoric that any amount of eloquent persuasion on the part of Romney/Ryan would be unlikely to produce a conversion, or even to keep that person home on election day (or season, now with "early voting").

More troubling is the attitude and behavior of those with moderate to conservative leanings and a sensibly critical view of the Obama administration--and who nevertheless did stay home on election day. The explanation now widely touted is that Romney/Ryan failed to "energize" moderates or the Republican base, to convince those folks that they were genuine, or to "connect" with middle-class voters.

In my view, none of that--even if true, which is highly debatable--excuses the failure of these people to do their civic duty and cast votes against the incompetence and the evil that they saw. Did they really think it was better to hand the country back to Obama & Co. for another 4-year nightmare, by default, than to support a man who--though professing better principles and a more sensible, Constitutional approach to government--did not inspire in them as much confidence and excitement as they would have liked? Just having to ask this question suggests that a majority of Americans have bought into the media-promoted notion that a Presidential election is some kind of personal performance art, in which the victory should go to the more sympathetic character, the more convincing actor (see my previous post in this connection focusing on the debates and pre-election hype).

If everyone who felt this country was on the wrong track and ascribed much of the blame to Obama & Co. had come out and voted for Romney, he would have carried the day. By failing to do so these people put their personal preferences and refined political sensibilities ahead of their country's welfare, and so are just as responsible for ushering in the "dismal revolution" we now face as those who voted for Obama.

Media distortions aside, politics ultimately takes place in the real world and involves real, inescapably fallible people. More often than not, the only choice open to us is between relative evils. No matter how much we may hope otherwise, no one is going to descend from the clouds and lead us to certain victory, solving all our problems with one mighty swing of his/her Sword of Truth. Instead, we have to do our best to make things better with the tools at hand, ill-suited though they may be in many respects, and apply ourselves in that work day in day and out. To shirk that responsibility and let plainly bad people hold sway, while we stand on the sidelines waiting for the perfect candidate to come along, is just plain treachery.

I'd just like to close by observing that while I and my family are very much in the middle of the "middle class" and grew up in its even lower strata, we had no trouble "connecting" with and supporting Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan--and doing so enthusiastically. I believe they are men of integrity, good judgment, and solid conservative principles, and that they love this country more than life. Their program could not be more starkly different than or superior to Obama's, if you bothered to research the candidates' positions and didn't rely exclusively on network news video clips. They may not have wrenched this country around 180 degrees in their first days in office, immediately healed all our divisions, nor ushered in some kind of conservative Camelot. But they certainly would have pulled us up short of the left-wing "transformation" cliff Obama has us hurtling toward, and pointed the nation in a different, better direction.

That prospect was "energizing" enough for me. Why not for those millions of others who see where the Revolution is taking us?

Friday, September 21, 2012

On Caring, and Thinking for Ourselves

Everything I hear lately about the November election, from the mainstream media to my liberal friends, carries the theme that one shouldn't vote for Mitt Romney because he doesn't "understand" average people, doesn't "care" about the middle class, isn't "sensitive" to the poor, and isn't as "likeable" as Barack Obama. He's "gaffe-prone," they say. Others complain that he's too "slick," or that he's "wooden" "aloof," or "not genuine."  My response: I don't care. And neither should anyone else.

Should we really be making sympathy and style the primary criteria by which we judge candidates for the highest office in the land, and the most powerful one on earth?

I'm sure that would please an incumbent President whose principal boasts are multiplying an already obscene national debt, conning/intimidating Congress into passing a coercive, unpopular, and impossibly expensive health care law, and overseeing the dispatch of one miscreant on the other side of the planet. The economy has been stagnant for years now, work force participation is plummeting, real household income is declining, food stamp and welfare rolls are burgeoning, and the Middle East is in chaos and our embassies and diplomats are under siege, thanks to Obama's meddling. His requirement of insurance coverage for abortion and birth-control has alienated the large and influential Catholic population, Mormons, and most evangelical Protestant denominations. His advocacy of same-sex marriage has put him at odds with most of those groups as well as many black and other ethnic minority Christians. His federal government is at virtual war with the states over health care, illegal immigration, environmental regulation, Planned Parenthood funding, and a host of other issues. A considerable majority of Americans continue to believe that the country is "on the wrong track."

Yet, up to this point, the President seems to have suffered little politically from all this. His overall job approval ratings have varied only a few percentage points--mostly in the mid-40 percent range--despite the dismal economic and foreign picture, and the unpopularity of his polices among so many people. How is this possible?

I think Obama's "teflon" character owes much to how he and an eagerly cooperative mainstream media complex have managed public perceptions and thinking ever since he took office, and especially during this election campaign. They generally proceed along this continuum: (1) ignore or casually dismiss the bad things; (2) spin them into something that sounds downright positive; and/or (3) obfuscate or flat-out lie--see Libya consulate attack--until they can (4) change the subject by trumping up some distracting issue, usually a remark by their opponent (in this case, Mitt Romney) that they seize on and paint as embarrassing or scandalous, regardless of its meaning or intent. Establishment figures eager to placate the social/political/media elites they depend on play into this game by expressing embarrassment and disapproval, distancing themselves from the "offender," and spreading defeatism. A public more interested in bread and circuses than real issues, and long conditioned to swallow everything dished up by the likes of Katie Couric and David Letterman, mindlessly accepts the theme so artfully spun for them.

A serious, thinking citizen will not participate in charades designed to manipulate lazy, shallow-minded people and their votes. The "beauty contest" approach to Presidential elections is meant to focus public attention on things that are at best secondary, and mostly irrelevant, to the momentous choices facing voters between the liberal/welfare state (Democrat) and conservative/individualist (Republican) systems of values and policy. It is meant to confine public thinking to matters that the media and its political allies can control. To prevent them from virtually dictating the outcome of this election, millions of people will have to shut off their TV sets and refuse to play this game. They have to recognize that their choice isn't really between two men, but between fundamentally different visions for the future of America.

Viewed in that light, such personal qualities of the candidates as demeanor, likeability, wit, style, and even public speaking skill pale to insignificance. Adolph Hitler could be charming when he wanted to be, and his oratorical skills are legendary. On television, he probably would have blown both Obama and Romney away.  This is especially important to remember for the upcoming "debates"--which of course aren't really debates, but extended sound-byte-and-gotcha fests controlled by the media who put them on and profit from them. Within moments of their conclusion the talking heads will tell us who scored and who missed, who "won" and who "lost." People, please ignore this cr_p!  Why not just mail your ballot to Brian Williams and let him cast your vote?  If stage performance was a valid measure of Presidential ability, we could simply make the election an episode of "American Idol" and be done with it (we might even get to see a grown man break down in tears as the other one is declared the winner!).

Perhaps even more important, people have to let go of the identity politics that the elites use to divide the public into contending classes and groups, and manipulate voting by casting the candidates as closer or further away from them. We have to stop thinking in personality-centric terms of which candidate is more like "me" and, presumably, can be expected to more slavishly serve "my" interests. We need to do the hard work of studying the candidates' philosophies and positions on the issues, weighing the possible effects of their policies, and deciding for ourselves which course would be better for America.

Personally, I don't care whether a Presidential candidate is, or ever has been, rich, poor, or in between. I don't care what gender or color he/she is, what part of the country he/she is from, what degrees he/she has, or even what church, if any, he or she attends (all right, I'd be leery of a serious atheist). I don't expect him or her to identify with me (or my group), "understand" me, "care" about me, or "feel my pain."  I don't need a sugar-daddy in the White House.  A President has to serve everyone--even "the rich"!--and only God can understand and care for everyone. What I am interested in is whether his or her values and policies can be expected to produce a free, strong, and economically healthy country. One doesn't have to belong to any particular class to know what those would be.

Paying attention to the caricatures drawn by a biased media won't help me with this. Nor will they help one reliably discern those personal qualities that are most important to being a good President, especially honesty, integrity, prudence, patience, self-discipline, tact, and--faith.  Only a careful study of the candidate's past life, challenges, and accomplishments can give one a fair inkling of those things.

I am a middle aged, "middle class" person who supports Gov. Romney. Why would I do that? To hear the pundits tell it, he doesn't care about me; only about the rich!  He wants to gut the health care, Medicare, and Social Security benefits I'll need before long!  Well, I don't listen to the media and their prepackaged versions of the candidates. I've done my homework and base my decision on what principles they embrace, what they've done, and what they promise to work for. I vote for fiscal responsibility over entitling everyone, because I believe it will make my future and ours more secure, not less. I vote for personal choice in health care, because I believe it will prove cheaper and protect each of us better. I vote for state and religious rights regarding abortion and the definition of marriage. I vote for respect of the Constitution and of Congress. I vote for immigration policies that put America and its legal citizens first. I vote to support Israel, the last bastion of civilization in the crucial Middle East, rather than pander to its radical Muslim adversaries. These are things I learned and decisions I made without any reference to the latest babble in the mainstream media.

For the sake of our country, it's time to declare our independence from the self-appointed oracles, think for ourselves, and focus on what really matters.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

True Colors

Who would have thought that an important role
in defending liberty and the family would be played by
. . . chicken sandwiches?

In the vanguard of modern culture's assault on the institutions of marriage and family is the small (only four percent of adult Americans) but vocal group of people who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, together with their activist allies in the political, media, academic, and entertainment spheres. Due to the wealth and prominence in high social circles many of them enjoy, and their proximity to the levers of cultural and political power, the gay community wields an influence in our society out of all proportion to their numbers--and despite the adherence of most Americans to traditional standards. This can be credited in no small measure to their tactic, in recent years, of characterizing their cause as one for tolerance and justice--things generally acknowledged as good--and against hatred and abuse--things everyone regards as bad. In their crusade to undermine Judeo-Christian values in public and private life, they have staked out what they believe is the moral high ground, or at least what passes for it today, and--with the help of an eagerly compliant media establishment--have been wrapped in the aura and the rhetoric of the African-American civil rights movement. The recent controversy surrounding national fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A, however, exposed for all to see just how misleading that posture is.

It all began in early July when the company's president and COO Dan Cathy, son of its founder S. Truett Cathy, was interviewed by the Christian news organization Biblical Recorder and answered a question about the company's support of the traditional family.  "We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit," Cathy said. "We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.  We give God thanks for that. … We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families." If you read the full interview (reprinted by the Baptist Press) you'll see that Cathy was never asked and never brought up the subjects of homosexuality or "same-sex marriage"; his remarks concerned exclusively how the company works to strengthen family life in general and that of its patrons and employees. Cathy said later in a radio interview that, “as it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ . . . I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about.”

 Dan Cathy, President of Chick-Fil-A
None of these remarks included a condemnation of gay people personally, advocated their mistreatment, or purported to be a statement of official Chick-Fil-A policy. Nevertheless, they were seized upon by gay leaders and the mainstream media, and twisted into a corporate declaration of war against them (several commentators have noted CNN's overt mischaracterization of the original interview as having mentioned "gay marriage"). Almost immediately the Jim Henson Company, which created toys for the chain, backed out of the partnership and pledged to donate money the company had received from Chick-fil-A to a gay rights organization.

Predictably, grandstanding politicians sought to capitalize on the gay community's "outrage."  Without any evidence that Chick-Fil-A refuses either service or employment to gays, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sent Dan Cathy a letter accusing the company of "discrimination" and warning that its efforts to locate in that city would be resisted by local authorities. San Francisco mayor Ed Lee tweeted: "Closest Chick-fil-A is 40 miles away and I strongly recommend they not try to come any closer."  Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel declared that Chick-fil-A did not represent "Chicago values," and voiced support for a city alderman's intent to block construction of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in his district. Another alderman demanded that Mr. Cathy stop associating with groups that oppose same-sex marriage as a prerequisite for a business permit, and a councilman in New York made a similar threat.  Some college students even launched a campaign for the closure of Chick-fil-A restaurants on their campuses.

This assault on freedom of speech and commerce prompted quick, loud, and suprisingly universal condemnation in newspaper and magazine editorials around the country (google "Chick-Fil-A editorials"), and even by some gay bloggers. It moved former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to call for Americans to stand with Dan Cathy and his company by patronizing his stores on "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," Aug. 1. In response, millions of people flocked to Chick-fil-A outlets that day, enjoying their chicken sandwiches and waffle fries as a way to show support for the restaurant and for the freedom to express Biblical values. Most stores were packed and in many waiting lines snaked out the door; in some, the food ran out well before closing time. Chick-fil-A sales that day beat previous records by as much as 50 percent, and it has been estimated that the chain booked almost $100 million in sales in just one day. The controversy bought Chick-Fil-A more free, positive publicity than it could have ever purchased with money.

Perhaps stung by the unexpected outpouring of support for their foe, gay allies vandalized a Chick-Fil-A store in Torrance, California by spray-painting "Tastes Like Hate" on the side of the building, and bullied a Chick-Fil-A employee at a drive-through window. The young lady later publicly forgave the man who had berated her.

Several days later the gay community tried to mount a demonstration of support for its cause at Chick-Fil-A stores, in the form of a "kiss-in" featuring same-sex couples publicly smooching. It was sparsely attended, and barely registered as compared to traditional marriage proponents' Appreciation Day.

On top of all this, on August 15, one Floyd Lee Corkins II, a strong supporter of gay rights who worked at a Washington, D.C. community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, entered the headquarters building of the conservative Family Research Council--which has steadfastly supported the president of Chick-Fil-A and his opposition to same-sex marriage--and shot a security guard after stating, "I don't like your politics," or words to that effect.  At the time he was carrying a backpack full of Chick-fil-A sandwiches. After the wounded guard took away his gun, Corkins said,"Don't shoot me, it was not about you, it was what this place stands for."

In a nutshell, the whole Chick-Fil-A affair has turned out badly for the gay community and its allies. Their "leaders," especially the politicians, did them a great disservice through their intolerance and "bullying"--the very sins of which they accuse people of faith. This, and their effort to demonize and punish any differing viewpoint or speaker, have exposed gay activists as would-be brownshirts--the nickname for SA street thugs in Nazi Germany who intimidated Jews and socialists (and homosexuals, coincidentally), and enforced boycotts against Jewish-owned businesses. This doesn't look much like Martin Luther King and his civil rights hosts peacefully marching and singing "We Shall Overcome."

At the heart of gay activists' problem is their own program to equate, in the public mind, Biblical faith and traditional moral and family values, on the one hand, with "bigotry," "intolerance," and "hatred" on the other. These words, of course, are now deeply associated in the American consciousness with racial prejudice and discrimination--things generally understood in civilized society as contemptible, illegitimate, and even illegal.  For one who accepts this equivalence, even unconsciously, it follows that such faith and values--especially with respect to the definition of marriage, the gay cause de jour--are likewise beyond the pale and socially unacceptable. For the same reasons, anyone who adheres to or expresses agreement with such faith and values is necessarily a bigot or "homophobe," today's version of a "racist."  The clear intent in popularizing these notions is to delegitimize Biblical concepts of morality and family, and those who espouse them, thereby undermining their political influence and encouraging their banishment from public life. By this means the public is "softened up" to accept gay marriage and behavior as entitled to at least equal dignity within society and before the law, and removes political roadblocks to implementation of the activist gay agenda. It also serves to wear down resistance among Christians themselves. No one wants to be thought of or publicly denounced as hateful and abusive toward others, or associated with those who are; certainly not serious, reflective Christians. So they relent, through a combination of guilt feelings and social intimidation, and buy into the concept that a Christian acceptance of gays as people must carry with it acceptance of their activist leaders' political and social demands.

Notwithstanding the success of this program for activist gays and their allies in some parts of the country, the Chick-Fil-A controversy has shown its very serious flaws. One is that the activists' heavy-handed tactics have prompted a backlash by millions of religious believers fed up with being painted as hateful and equivalent to racists, and fearful that, unless they forcefully respond, their beliefs, values, and freedoms will be suffocated to death by the new "religion" of political correctness. Politicians and policy-makers cannot ignore the vast numbers in which believers turned out to support Dan Cathy and Chick-Fil-A, or the increasingly united front that people from diverse faith traditions are presenting to exert their influence and expound their common principles through such efforts as the Manhattan Declaration.

Those same demonize-and-punish tactics exemplified in the Chick-Fil-A affair also tended to paint gays and their allies as enemies of free speech. Citizens and commentators theretofore ambivalent about same-sex marriage, or even generally in favor of it, were brought out in support of Dan Cathy's and other believers' constitutional right to express their views without government retaliation. In this respect the gay community should take a lesson from history: in the 1830s- and -40s, many thousands of people in the northern United States, who had been indifferent to slavery or even sympathetic to Southern interests, were won over to the abolitionist cause when hostile mobs in the North, egged on by local politicians and civic leaders, invaded churches, assaulted abolitionist speakers, and trashed or tried to shut down businesses owned by abolitionists or free blacks. Many thousands more fence-sitters rallied to the abolitionist cause after 1850 when the new Fugitive Slave Law authorized federal officers to force any citizen, anywhere in the country and regardless of his convictions about slavery, to help capture and re-enslave runaway bondsmen. As one historian observed, "[w]hites who wavered on the question of abolition could be drawn to [its] support . . . if they became convinced that the long arm of slavery was reaching into their personal lives, whether by mob action, economic threat, free speech and free assembly restrictions, opposition in churches, or denial of the right to petition the government." [Milton C. Sernett, North Star Country: Upstate New York and the Crusade for African American Freedom, p. 52 (Syracuse University Press, 2002)]

Moreover, the demonization of Biblical views about marriage and family has so corrupted the thinking of political leaders, some of them sporting law degrees, that they failed to appreciate the foolishness of making plainly unconstitutional threats against a legal business merely because its owner expressed opinions with which they disagreed--threats from which they were soon forced to retreat in confusion. If they thought it was the right thing to bar Chick-Fil-A from Chicago or Boston because its owner's relgious views were inconsistent with local "values," were they going to then going to expel from their cities the Roman Catholic, Mormon, evangelical Christian, orthodox Jewish, and other religious organizations and their members, or businesses associated with them, because their beliefs and opinions are consistent with those of Chick-Fil-A's owner?  Would they start burning Bibles? Again, this resembles less a civil rights crusade than the portent of a modern-day Kristallnacht (the night in 1938 when Nazi brownshirts attacked Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues).

Open and honest debate about marriage and family issues, and their just resolution through democratic processes, are impossible to the extent either side tries to gain political advantage by demonizing the other and discouraging or obstructing the free expression of its views. If either seeks the moral high ground, it must accord people who hold different beliefs as much tolerance, respect, and acceptance as they demand for themselves. Religious believers and others who oppose the "gay agenda" should remember that most gays are not fanatical activists but people just trying to live their lives, and learn to interact with them in the respectful, considerate way they would like others to treat them. They should accept gays as fellow children of God, errant though they may be, and refrain from speaking to or about them in contemptuous epithets. And, if believers are to be credible and persuasive advocates for Judeo-Christian family values, they must condemn and avoid heterosexual misbehavior (including adultery and pornography) at least as forcefully as they do homosexual conduct. For their part, gays must respect others' right to express views different from, and even contrary to, their own. They need to accept that one can disapprove of their behavior or lifestyle, or or oppose their political agenda, without being a bigot--and can even accept them as people.

And, everyone needs to acknowledge that the defense of traditional marriage and family life, against efforts to redefine them for the benefit of gays or any special interest group, is a legitimate point of view backed by thousands of years of teaching and social experience in all cultures--not an expression of hate justifying its demonization. Dressing up suppression of this point of view in the guise of a crusade for "civil" or "human" rights is simply a perversion of those terms, and won't change the fact that it is as least as much bigotry as is "homophobia."

POSTSCRIPT:  On a short road trip this past weekend, my family was privileged to have lunch at a Chick-Fil-A near Cleveland, Ohio--our first visit to one (living in Western New York, the closest stores to us are in Erie and Scranton, PA). What a marvelous experience! The store was clean and nicely decorated; the food was hot and delicious; and the staff was incredibly helpful and friendly. They came around repeatedly and filled our water cups, even though we hadn't even paid for the drinks!  The wall decorations included boards that explained the company's charitable, leadership, and family-building programs. The manager was floating about helping the staff with various chores, and he chatted with us for several minutes (and gave us a small bag of their scrumptious barbecue sauce packets to take home). If you've never visited a Chick-Fil-A, give them a try next time you're near one!

Sarah and Todd Palin at Chick-Fil-A

MORE FUN:  Think that one-man/one-woman marriage, and the freedom to advocate it, is an exclusively Christian matter?  These things are also important to conservative and orthodox Jews, as demonstrated by this delightfully tongue-in-cheek article by rabbi and businessman Yaakov Rosenblatt called My Beef With Chick-fil-A.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

My Better Half

Today is my darling wife Melany's birthday (thoughtlessly, I almost mentioned the number, but caught myself at the last moment--a mistake like that could be fatal!  ;-)  I don't think I've ever expressed, in a public forum, just how wonderful this lovely lady is and how much she means to me. We've been married 31 years, and I'm still learning from her--and all good things, too.

It was on a Saturday night in September, 1976, at someone else's birthday party in our apartment complex near Michigan State University, that we first met. As I recall she was sitting on the floor with a plate of cake in her lap, chatting with whoever was around. I was immediately attracted by her radiant smile and cheerful, easygoing manner, and sat down on the floor next to her--pretty uncharacteristic for a buttoned-up bookworm like me. We had a nice conversation about something since forgotten, and then--being the selfless, generous person she was and is--she introduced me to another young lady. She's often told me since that she instantly regretted doing so. No lasting harm done; after a few weeks' diversion, we both had to admit that our initial instincts were best, and we started over. Before my graduation that June, we had an "understanding," as folks used to say. But first I had to finish law school--and then there was a year of work to accumulate a nest egg. More hesitation, then commitment--for good! We got married on the Fourth of July, so we'd always have fireworks on our anniversary!

The years since then have been a daily revelation to me of God's wondrous grace and providence. There's no "rational" explanation for why an introverted, skeptical boy from western New York and an outgoing, optimistic girl from central Michigan would somehow find each other, be mutually attracted, and yoke their whole futures together--and stay together--despite all the forces of geography, destiny, personal predilection, and life challenges that would buffet them over the years. How has she found it in herself to put up with all my shortcomings and grievous mistakes, and all the disappointments and unrealized dreams that marriage inevitably entails? Only the merciful and miraculous will of God, and the bountiful guidance of the Holy Spirit, can explain these things. What other force could enable us to have and raise three wonderful children to maturity, and them to stay in the path of righteousness and safety in the face of all the physical and moral dangers confronting them in this modern world?

But God didn't act alone in producing this miracle. More than anyone else it has been Melany through whom He worked. Her example of patience, kindness, diligence, faith, and good cheer continues, every day, to be a wonder and an inspiration to me and the children. She brings out the best in us and has made us far better people than we could ever have been without her. Our family and all that we, our children, and our grandchildren will ever be and accomplish in this life, are her eternal monument. May God bless her abundantly and keep us all together, for long years and forever, in the palm of His hand.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Faith on a Wire

I've been wanting to post about the June 15 high-wire walk across Niagara Falls by Nik Wallenda, but as always, my insanely busy schedule has kept me from doing so in a timely manner. Patience and persistence usually win out in the end, however. Mr. Wallenda has proved that.

Some months ago I heard about New York and Ontario authorities dispensing with their century-long ban on daredevil stunts at Niagara Falls so as to allow the 33-year-old Wallenda,of the famous "Flying Wallendas" family of aerialists to attempt a crossing of the Niagara Gorge directly over the brink of the Falls. I took a rather dim view of that action at the time, wondering what other silliness local authorites would stoop to promoting in order to generate a few dollars to prop up their ailing economy. More recently, I heard that the "event" would be televised, but didn't make any special plans to watch it, as I regarded the whole thing as roughly equivalent to the second coming of that 1970s oddball Evel Knievel.

But with Friday evening winding down and a little free time on my hands before retiring, I decided to check out the broadcast. I grew up just a few miles from the Falls on Grand Island, New York, and worked in the Niagara Falls State Park for two summers during college, so I'm quite familiar with all parts of it and thought it might be a hoot to see all the commotion and circus atmosphere there on TV.  I had heard that Wallenda had been required to use a safety tether to prevent a fatal mishap, so I didn't have to worry about having to witness something like that (I might be a little more squeamish than the average person). I wasn't quite prepared for the experience I was about to have.

I tuned in just a few minutes before Wallenda started his walk, so I didn't see any of the lead-up coverage. It was interesting indeed to see the area at the head (or is it the foot?) of Goat Island I had walked through countless times brilliantly illuminated, jammed with people at 10 o/clock at night, and being  televised around the globe. Suddenly the camera focused on Wallenda, who climbed up onto a 2-inch metal cable stretched across the precipice of the Horseshoe Falls and the yawning Niagara Gorge into Canada, balanced a long pole between his outstretched hands, and began stepping, ever so sedately, down the wire.

In moments, Wallenda was beyond land and suspended above the raging rapids of the Niagara River as they approached the brink of the Falls. I was transfixed. The aerialist was walking ramrod-straight, atop a wire narrower than an infant's foot,  perfectly focused and calm--even talking casually with reporters and his father by microphone--as the angry torrents rushed past beneath him. Soon he was at and then across the edge of the cliff itself, while thousands of gallons per second of frigid water hurtled over with a deafening roar, into a churning maelstrom 174 feet below (this is not hyperbole; I've spent countless hours at this place myself and can attest to the fantastic power and violence of all that water). The photography during this part of the show was breathtaking, as it focused on the tiny figure traversing the almost-invisible wire while dwarfed by the mighty Falls behind him.

But that was hardly the most difficult part of the walk. Wallenda kept going, robot-like, into the swirling clouds of mist above the center of the "horseshoe."  "Mist" is a misleading word; the flying water here is actually equivalent to a cold, driving rainstorm, whipped about by fierce and ever-shifting winds (if you've ever taken a ride on the Maid of the Mist boat near the base of the falls, you've experienced this for yourself). Yet, through all the breathtaking ferocity about him, soaking wet and perched precariously where the water below is deeper than the Falls themselves are high, Wallenda never faltered, or even paused. His moccasin-clad feet seemed to be small machines unto themselves, advancing in short, careful steps with an amazingly precise rhythm that never varied during the entire almost-half-hour of the walk, regardless of the elements hurling against their owner's body.  Again, the video was amazing; despite the swirling mist, Wallenda (and his incredibly calm, focused gaze) was so clearly visible to the camera I felt almost as though I were walking backwards on the wire just a few feet ahead of him, through the eerily backlit cloud.

The most amazing feature of the event, however--at least for me--was hearing Wallenda, over an open wireless microphone, thanking and praising God and Jesus Christ (for example, "Thank you Jesus, my righteous king . . ." "Thank you, Lord God.  Thank you, Jesus." ) as he stepped relentlessly along the wire. It was electrifying to hear a famous, accomplished person, at the moment of his greatest trial and his greatest triumph, extolling our Lord and giving Him all the glory. I had no idea at before then that Wallenda was a Christian, but learning so at that moment and in that way put the whole event in a new, positive perspective for me. I want to thank ABC for not shutting off Wallenda's mike in secular embarrassment at this flagrant display of religious faith.

Perhaps it's only natural that someone who makes a career out of risking his life would get into the habit of praying, mostly to be spared sudden, violent death. But Wallenda didn't seem to be praying for deliverance so much as thanking God in advance for success and for the opportunity to glorify Him in front of millions of people. There wasn't a trace of fear in his voice, only exultation.

Some people have criticized the feat as a pointless, self-glorifying stunt that only "tempted" God even as Wallenda was flaunting His name. Others have suggested that Wallenda's prayers were but a cheap play for sympathy, approval, and even money from a gullible public. I can't see into another person's soul--no one can--so I couldn't pass judgment on Wallenda's motives. I can only judge what I witness, and what I saw Friday night was an intensely focused, remarkably calm, utterly confident man who--for all the world to see and hear--committed his every step in absolute trust and gratitude to his Savior.

Wallenda's "stunt" seems much less crazy and irresponsible when one considers the combination of personal and spiritual elements that made it possible: ambition, resolve, tenacity, self-assurance, self-sacrifice, patience, relentless preparation, carefully cultivated skill, and, perhaps most of all, faith: faith that it could be done, that he could do it, and that the Lord would sustain him and see him through to success in the end. Maybe the act of walking on a wire over rushing water does not, of itself, substantially benefit anyone. But the fact that Wallenda could do such an improbable thing and the way he did it, despite the laws and elements of nature and all the challenges that would have defeated a less stalwart man (like me), serves as a compelling model for all people of the faith it takes to realize a seemingly "impossible dream."  Wallenda's feat maifests the truth of what Christ himself said: "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26) The formula: strive to and beyond what you think are the very limits of your capability, and then, when you have done all you can do, trust the rest--and yourself--entirely to the Lord. That's what Wallenda did up there on that wire a week ago Friday night.  As he explained in a post-event interview: "Faith plays a huge role in what I do," Wallenda said. "I believe God has opened many doors for me in my life and this is one of them. To inspire people around the World, let them know the impossible is not so impossible if you set your mind to it."

As another perceptive commentator has observed:
What Wallenda taught us as he walked across the Falls was the power of awe.  He taught us the power of worship.  Intensely concentrating in order to maintain his balance and composure, Wallenda's mind was on His God who had given him the incredible ability to pull of this stunt and who had created wonders of creation such as Niagara Falls.  And so he gave witness to Christ all the way across the Falls.
* * * * * 
One other thing about this event merits discussion. Wallenda expressed some embarassment and annoyance both before and during the walk at having to wear a safety line that secured him to the cable, which was required by ABC, and perhaps local authorities, as a condition of getting permits and TV coverage for the act. While that might have been an "insult" to Wallenda professionally, I am SO glad he used it and didn't take it off during the walk, as some people predicted he might. Wallenda has a wife and small children, all of whom were present at the event.  It's unthinkable what they and we would have had to witness had he not worn the safety line and fallen from the wire, all the more with such a tragedy being broadcast on television around the world. In my personal opinion, we don't need any more obscene violence, or threatened violence, for people to watch as "entertainment."  Enough with degrading voyeurism!  That this wasn't necessarily a "death-defying stunt" (it still might have been; safety devices don't always work, as parachutists know all too well) didn't detract one iota from its power for me; in fact, I wouldn't have watched it otherwise. It was enough to see whether such a feat was humanly possible. That he did it, regardless of the harness, thrilled me and millions the world over to no end. If Wallenda attempts a wire crossing of the Grand Canyon, as apparently is his plan, I pray he uses (or is made to use) a safety tether again. If so, I'll watch and be thankful to him for the faith he's so boldly modeled for all, whatever the outcome.

SEE FOR YOURSELF!  Click here to see the complete Niagara Falls high-wire walk program from ABC (including pre-event coverage, with commercials). For raw video of the walk itself (no audio), click here.  For highlights of the walk itself (without commercials), click here.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day: Mansions of the Lord

He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth;
he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder;
he burneth the chariot in the fire. ~ Psalms 46:9

Tomorrow, May 28, is Memorial Day in the United States. On this day we remember and honor those men and women in the Armed Forces who gave their lives in service to our country. Today, for those who have never lost a close relative or friend serving in the military, Memorial Day seems to mean little more than an extra day off from work and an occasion for picnics and used car sales. But for those who have borne such a loss, or who have simply made it their business to honor our fallen heroes and support their families, Memorial Day is a profoundly moving time.

But not always a somber, wretched time. Perhaps because Memorial Day falls in the fullest flower of spring, it has always cast for me a ray of light and hope, just behind the dark wall of painful remembrance. As a child I would go with my grandmother every "Decoration Day"--as it was then called--to the cemetery behind our family's church, where we laid a pot of flowers at my long-departed grandfather's grave and with Grandma would say a brief, silent prayer. I recall it as always being sunny and warm. All the veterans' graves were adorned with colorful flags. Yes, we often had a family picnic too, but it was always preceded by that quiet remembrance.

This bonding of grief and hope, sadness and peace is reflected in a moving contemporary hymn to fallen servicemen called Mansions of the Lord. The text was composed by Christian songwriter, screenwriter, and director Randall Wallace, and the music by English film score composer Nick Glennie-Smith.It was sung by the U.S. Military Academy Glee Club during the closing credits of the 2002 film We Were Soldiers, which chronicled the November 1965 Battle of Ia Drang in Viet Nam. The hymn also served as the recessional in the 2004 funeral of President Ronald Reagan.

The text consists of three short stanzas that dwell not on war and death, but on the eternal peace of Heaven--the "Mansions of the Lord"--to which a fallen soldier (or sailor or airman) is commended by his comrades, who promise to stand guard and remember him always. The hymn reminds us that in that blessed place there is no more war, no fear or pain, no anguish or loss--just "divine embrace, eternal light." The music is likewise simple, dignified, and uplifting, and reinforces the text's message of hope (as the hymn is not in the public domain the sheet music can't be reproduced here, but if you'd like to view and download it for a fee, click here).
To fallen soldiers let us sing,
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing,
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the Mansions of the Lord.

No more bleeding, no more fight,
No prayers pleading through the night,
Just divine embrace, eternal light
In the Mansions of the Lord.

Where no mothers cry and no children weep,
We will stand and guard though the angels sleep,
All through the ages safely keep
The Mansions of the Lord.

  Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Washington, DC, USA

The presentation below is the original version of the hymn sung in We Were Soldiers by the Cadet Glee Club of West Point, along with a stirring orchestration and a moving video tribute to fallen warriors and their families:

You'll notice that this presentation includes a solo voice portion not part of the hymn itself, excerpted from the lament "Sgt. MacKenzie" by Joseph Kilna MacKenzie, as sung in a Scottish dialect and with a "translation" to standard English:
Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun
Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

Ains a year say a prayer faur me
Close yir een an remember me
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone

Once a year say a prayer for me
Close your eyes and remember me
Below is another presentation, also sung (I believe) by the Cadet Glee Club but without orchestration--except for a very poignant bugle introduction--and is accompanied by another very moving video.

The video below presents the Cadet Glee Club itself performing Mansions of the Lord, with an introduction that provides some very thought-provoking information on just how many men and women have given their lives in America's service in the last hundred years:

War, though sometimes necessary in the defense of truth, justice, and national survival, is perhaps the greatest scourge in human experience. The believer--especially the believing soldier and his or her family--longs and prays for the day when war and conflict are no more, and we rejoice eternally, together, in the presence of our Savior and Heavenly Father.  It is this hope that we share with departed loved ones, and which, perhaps, inspired these beautiful passages from Scripture:

[T]hey shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore. ~ Isaiah 2:4

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;
and there shall be no more death,
neither sorrow, nor crying,

neither shall there be any more pain:
for the former things are passed away. ~ Revelation 21:4

May the soldiers, sailors, and airmen of today live to see it,
and lock arms with their departed comrades once more.

NOTE: This post was adapted from another on my blog Songs of Praises, which features the best in hymns and sacred music.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Angel(s) of Mercy

It's been far too long since I posted here, and to those (few) who follow this blog, I apologize. Most of my posts involve a certain amount of research, and I simply haven't had time to do much of that lately, what with unusual pressures at work and many family adventures (most of them delightful) at home. Political controversies, battles in the culture wars, and other momentous events have come and gone without comment from me. How can humanity cope?

So, before this blog is entirely forgotten, I'll post about the one subject on which no research is needed--my family! And at this time one member in particular, who gives so much of herself to others day in and day out: my sister Patti!

We grew up together in Grand Island, New York with our two other brothers and, of course, Mom (Gail) and Dad (John) Fleming. Patti (at left in high school) was special as the "baby sister," but she didn't let it go to her head too often--she just suffused our family with her sweet glow!  Mom and Dad moved to Jacksonville, Florida (where Mom grew up) in the mid-80s, and Patti followed a few years later. There she met an exceptional gentleman named Jason, and they were married. Not long after that, they were blessed with a son, Jonathan, who's now a fine young man working his way through college. In recent years Patti has shared countless sewing and craft-making secrets, as well as whimsical thoughts and pearls of wisdom, on her blog It's a Wonderful . . . 

This sounds like a "happily ever after" story, and in a way it is--but only part of it.  The other part consists of Patti's tireless efforts for people outside her home. She works at the Women’s Help Center in Jacksonville, providing pregnancy tests and sonograms, counseling in favor of life and against abortion, and generally offering guidance and support to women and couples facing the most important choices in their lives.

Most important, she--with Jason's tireless help--constitutes Mom and Dad's lifeline in their later years. Patti helps nurse them through health challenges and drives back and forth to hospitals and doctor's offices. She and Jason have put in many hours keeping Mom and Dad's computer up and running so they can stay connected with the digitized members of the family. Other errands and chores Patti and Jason have done for Mom and Dad are countless, and all without a moment's hesitation. I and my brothers, who live too far away to provide that support, only wish we could pitch in more and lighten their load. For now, I can at least pay them a little tribute in a public place and express our thanks for all that they do to help Mom and Dad (and others) live "happily ever after"!

 Patti today in downtown Jacksonville

Jason with our grandson Liam

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Family Values

One of the saddest things one sees these days--and regrettably, one of the most prevalent--is the disintegration of families. In western countries divorce is now rampant, to the point that stable, long-term marriages are a distinct minority of adult relationships. But even in "whole" families it is disturbingly common to see parents, children, and siblings (even as adults) deeply alienated from each other, always squabbling over things great and small, and doing their best to avoid meaningful contact. I know too many members of other families who live right around the corner from each other but haven't spoken in years, and some in which a sibling left home at the first opportunity and was never heard from again. In how many others do family members share little more than a mailing address, all caught up in personal pursuits and rarely, if ever, really communicating with each other or chatting around the dinner table?

God instituted the family for many reasons, not least of which is to provide us with guidance, support, and comfort in times of trial, or just to enrich our day-to-day lives here on earth and make us happy. Family is where we are meant to teach, learn and practice commitment, caring, self-sacrifice, patience, faith, and love--all of which are vital to reaching our full potential here on earth, and to attaining eternal life with the Lord and each other in Heaven. Indeed, we should strive to make our families a microcosm or preview of Heaven itself--especially since, if you believe as I do, that we'll still be together as family in that beautiful world! Our material circumstances in this life may be meager, but our lives can be richer than any king's if we share love one with another.

Certainly this is not an easy task, but how could we grow without challenge and perseverance? No two or more human beings can live together in a small space without friction and some conflict. We're weak and fallible beings, and are bound to say and do things, now and then, that may hurt or disappoint our loved ones. So, repentance, patience, and forgiveness become a way of life in strong families. For them, love means ALWAYS having to say you're sorry--and always saying, "That's OK--I forgive you." Faith and prayer are indispensable for all family members, and when shared hold them together like nothing else.

Scripture is such an important and inspiring guide in this work. The Bible is permeated with wisdom concerning families and their generations, and how family members should live together (see, for example, Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Peter 3:1-7). This wonderful passage condenses it into a nutshell (Colossians 3:18-21):
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.
Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
These lines immediately follow Paul's characterization of a true Christian (Colossians 3:12-17):
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
This is the formula not only for a strong faith community, but for making and keeping a strong family!

I was immeasurably blessed to have grown up in a loving, resilient family. Working together peacefully could be difficult, and we often had to ride out storms of conflict. But thanks to the teaching and good example set by our parents, we hung together and grew in love over the years. We learned what a strong family looks like and how to build and maintain one, and hopefully are modeling those things to our own children so they can have the same blessings. My siblings and I are scattered about the USA now, but we've never been "closer" to each other.

If your family is less than what it should be, start rebuilding it TODAY: recommit to your spouse, reconcile with your children and with your own parents and siblings--don't let ANY past wrong or hurt stand in your way. With a contrite heart ask their forgiveness, and forgive them freely and eagerly. Involve yourself actively in their daily lives. Make the tent as big as possible, and welcome grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins under it. Find humor and the joy of discovery in everything. It's never too late to start over, on the right road. For the road to Heaven is paved with family love.

NOTE: This post was adapted from another of mine on Faithful Feet, a collaboration of people from around the world dedicated to sharing the Good News and simple insights into a life of faith and joy.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Infanticide: The New Abortion

"Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not."
Matthew 2:16-18 (referring to the Massacre of the Innocents, when Herod the Great ordered the slaying of all young male children in the village of Bethlehem after the birth of Christ)

A few days ago I read an article that made me literally sick to my stomach--and genuinely frightened for the future of mankind. In the early 21st century, Western "civilization" seems to be reaching levels of depravity not seen since the hideous Nazi regime of the 1930s and 40s. I didn't live in Germany back then, but I've read enough about it to understand something of the moral wasteland that produced such demented monsters as Adolf Hitler and Dr. Josef Mengele, the "Angel of Death" at Auschwitz--and that it's in the process of happening again today, on a global scale.

The very title of the article, published February 23 in the Journal of Medical Ethics, makes the blood run cold: After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live? The authors, medical "ethicists" Alberto Giubilini of Monash University in Melbourne, Austrailia and Dr. Francesca Minerva at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne, take the position that in circumstances in which the abortion of a fetus would be legal, what is termed "after-birth abortion" should also be permissible, even where the newborn is perfectly healthy. In other words, whenever it's all right to kill a fetus, it should be all right to kill a newborn baby. Consider this chilling explanation in the authors' own words:
A serious philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would have justified abortion become known after birth. In such cases, we need to assess facts in order to decide whether the same arguments that apply to killing a human fetus can also be consistently applied to killing a newborn human.

Such an issue arises, for example, when an abnormality has not been detected during pregnancy or occurs during delivery. Perinatal asphyxia, for instance, may cause severe brain damage and result in severe mental and/or physical impairments comparable with those for which a woman could request an abortion.

[. . .]

[While] people with Down's syndrome, as well as people affected by many other severe disabilities, are often reported to be happy . . . [n]onetheless, to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion. Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.

Failing to bring a new person into existence cannot be compared with the wrong caused by procuring the death of an existing person. The reason is that, unlike the case of death of an existing person, failing to bring a new person into existence does not prevent anyone from accomplishing any of her future aims. . . . If the death of a newborn is not wrongful to her on the grounds that she cannot have formed any aim that she is prevented from accomplishing, then it should also be permissible to practise an after-birth abortion on a healthy newborn too, given that she has not formed any aim yet.
The authors reason that the moral status of a newborn is equivalent to that of a fetus--on which abortions in the traditional sense are performed--rather than that of an older child, because neither a fetus or a newborn can be considered a "person" in any “morally relevant sense." This is why they believe the practice they advocate is better described as "after-birth abortion" than as "infanticide."

To Giubilini and Minerva, not all human beings--which apparently they acknowledge fetuses and newborns to be, at least in a genetic sense--can be considered "persons" entitled to rights. They explain as follows:
Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’. We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.


Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life. Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, fetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.
To the authors of this paper, an individual's own ability to understand the value of a different situation--which depends on some level of consciousness and mental development on his or her part--determines personhood. They reject any argument that as “potential persons” fetuses and newborns have a right to reach that potential, stating that such a right is “over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being because . . . merely potential people cannot be harmed by not being brought into existence.” The overriding interests of "real people" likewise should control the choice of adoption, the authors suggest, stating that if the mother were to “suffer psychological distress” from giving up her child to someone else, then "after-birth abortion" should be considered an acceptable alternative. Giubilini and Minerva therefore conclude that “what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled."

Responding to widespread criticism and outrage over its publication of the article, the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics stated that
[T]he novel contribution of this paper is not an argument in favor of infanticide . . . but rather their application in consideration of maternal and family interests. The paper also draws attention to the fact that infanticide is practised in the Netherlands . . . The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn. Their capacities are relevantly similar. If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible.
What the editor finds disturbing is "[n]ot that people would give arguments in favour of infanticide, but the deep opposition that exists now to liberal values and fanatical opposition to any kind of reasoned engagement."

It seems that the authors of this paper, as well as the editor of the journal in which it was published, have unwittingly done the pro-life movement an inestimable service. This cold, dispassionate argument for the legalization of infanticide lays bare the sterile, inhumane reasoning that leads directly from a justification for the indiscriminate termination of prenatal life to the brazen murder of newborn babies--and perhaps to the utilitarian killing of older children or even adults who, for various reasons, are incapable of forming personal "aims" or of appreciating the difference between their current life situation and any other, including death. This is the alarm that pro-life advocates have been sounding for years, and they now have this paper to show as Exhibit A in support of their position. Moreover, the journal editor's indignation at the understandable outrage prompted by a naked argument for infanticide clearly shows how twisted are his and the authors' priorities, and how morally bankrupt are those who would frankly advance such an idea.

At the core of Giubilini and Minerva's argument for infanticide, as well as that for justifications of abortion "on demand," is a concept of the universe in which there is no God by whose creation, law, and love human life is endowed with value. For adherents to this view, being genetically "human" and having the "potential" for a full and independent existence cannot be accepted as the source of value entitling one to a right to life, as that might impinge on another's freedom to terminate a pregnancy. So, a higher level of humanity--"personhood"--must be posited as the crucial point at which one gains sufficient dignity to enjoy any right to continue living (does this not echo the "human/subhuman" dichotomy upon which Nazis and slave owners rested their theories of racial superiority?) Giubilini and Minerva define personhood in this sense as the "self-consciousness" that enables an individual to appreciate life (or to distinguish it from oblivion) and to formulate and pursue personal "aims" or goals. Any other source of value, they suggest, is merely an irrational and impermissible "projection" of others' subjective values onto that individual. This is an entirely "me-centric" measurement of humanity, as it is devoid of any thought that a higher (that is, Divinely-established) set of values, transcending the individual, society, or even mankind generally, might apply. If the individual-- the first level of "me"--is incapable of self-consciousness and self-actualization, the theory goes, it has no moral significance and may be casually destroyed at the whim of its parent or the community that would otherwise be responsible for it--the next and highest level of "me." Again, in this view, life has no value beyond its usefulness to itself or to the community. This is true for both fetuses and newborns, as neither has developed the level of consciousness and independent will that constitutes "personhood."

This paper makes crystal clear that abortion and infanticide are barely-separated steps along one continuum of soul-less, anti-human utilitarianism. And its views actually threaten millions of lives today--indeed, in the Netherlands and Belgium, the killing of terminally ill and disabled newborns, as well as euthanasia generally (the next step along the continuum) are already practiced. If the views of Giubilini and Minerva gain traction in the American medical ethics community, such horrors could well become the norm here, and soon.

The moral shortcomings and terrible implications of this paper are almost beyond counting, but here a few of the most important:

First, the authors do not address the question of the age at which an infant should be considered a "person," nor do they suggest any way to reliably determine when a particular newborn has reached this magic moment. Are we to trust the subjective judgment of those who feel "burdened" by the child, or of those who work for them, and have a vested interest in being rid of it?

Second, not only disabled or terminally ill newborns, but also perfectly healthy babies who haven't yet developed to the point of "personhood," would come within the class of those who can be killed with impunity. In fact, the authors' definition of "personhood" would render expendable anyone, young or old, who never developed or has lost meaningful self-awareness and self-direction, including many of profoundly retarded and Down's Syndrome children, the severely brain-damaged, late-stage Alzheimer's sufferers, and persistently comatose patients. To Giubilini and Minerva they are not people and have no value or right to live, and should therefore be disposed of so as not to burden others.

Third, and especially in connection with the point just discussed above, one commentator asks:
[I]f babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life,” then why is it only their parents who are entitled to kill them? Shouldn't they be fair game for anyone? In particular, as the authors note, the state has a legitimate interest in the cost of dealing with disabilities. So does the state have a right to mandate an “after-birth abortion?” If not, why not?
If the state can promote or compel infanticide and homicide of the insensate, directly or indirectly through incentives or regulation, the practice can be used for population control, eugenics, scientific experimentation, or to ration and manage the expenses of health care and public welfare, among other government purposes--just as in Nazi Germany a few decades ago; just as in communist China today. Is this the kind of society that any feeling human being would want to live in?

Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, sums up the matter eloquently:
This article in the Journal of Medical Ethics is a clear signal of just how much ground has been lost to the Culture of Death. A culture that grows accustomed to death in the womb will soon contemplate killing in the nursery. The very fact that this article was published in a peer-reviewed academic journal is an indication of the peril we face.

The only sane response to this argument is the affirmation of the objective moral status of the human being at every point of development, from fertilization until natural death. Anything less than the affirmation of full humanity puts every single human being at risk of being designated as not “a person in the morally relevant sense.”
Let us pray that "after-birth abortion" never gains acceptance and becomes another, larger-scale Massacre of the Innocents.