Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

In response to Ohio Senator Rob Portman’s recent reversal on “gay marriage,” House Speaker John Boehner said that, unlike his fellow partisan, he could never envision himself changing his mind on this topic.  “Listen,” he told Martha Raddatz on ABC’s This Week, “I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman” (emphasis added).

Boehner’s reasoning represents that of the opponents of “gay marriage.”

The opponents of “gay marriage” invariably claim, along with Boehner, that they do not “believe in ‘gay marriage,’” or that they do not “support” it.  Rather, they favor “traditional marriage.”  We should most definitely not “redefine” marriage so as to accommodate gays, they insist.

In doing so, however, the opponents of “gay marriage” actually reinforce their rivals’ assumption that what is real and true is determined by what human beings happen to want. 

The point that they should be making, though, is that if there really are such things as truth and reality, then we can no more believe or disbelieve in, support or condemn, “gay marriage.”  There is no “traditional marriage.” There is only marriage—and it is beyond our capacity to either define or redefine it.

Words are human inventions, but the most elementary principles of logic are not.  For example, if you hear that a man is a bachelor, then without seeing or knowing him, you know that he can’t possibly be married at the same time.  Similarly, if you are told that something is a green Martian, then without knowing a thing about whether Martians really exist, or what color they are if they do, you nevertheless know that this thing can’t be colorless.

Words signify concepts, and concepts have their own logic independently of human whims and desires.  I can no more believe in or support a married person’s “right” to enter into bachelorhood while remaining married than I can believe in or support a person’s “right” to enter into a state of celibacy while living a life of sexual promiscuity.  Nor does it make any sense for me to claim that I favor “traditional” bachelorhood or “traditional” celibacy, for this implies that there are other, non-traditional forms. And I most certainly cannot weigh in on “redefining” the terms “bachelorhood” and “celibacy,” for this countenances the idea that it is within our power to define or redefine them. 

Note, in rejecting as illogical the idea that the married and the sexually active have a “right” to bachelorhood and celibacy, respectively, I make no appeals to God or religion.  For that matter, I don’t even appeal to morality: ultimately, this is a question of logic, not morality.  This, in turn, means that in denying their “right” to bachelorhood and celibacy, I in no way mean to insinuate that the married and the sexually active are immoral. 

What is true for bachelorhood and celibacy is true for marriage.  Homosexuality could be a blessing to humanity and every gay person the planet over could be a saint, but no matter: marriage remains an intrinsically heterosexual concept. There isn’t much upon which human beings everywhere and forever could be said to have agreed, but this is one of them.  Repeat: conflicts over monogamy and polygamy and whether the members of different races should be permitted to marry one another, etc. are irrelevant.  These considerations no more belong to the essence of marriage than “six feet tall” belongs to the essence of a human being.

Marriage is essentially, intrinsically a heterosexual union.  The world’s peoples from the beginning of time have agreed upon this up until the last ten to 15 years or so when some Americans and Europeans began telling us that the human species had it wrong all along. But it isn’t that marriage was heterosexual because there was a timeless consensus on the matter.  Rather, there was a timeless consensus that marriage was inherently heterosexual because marriage is inherently heterosexual.

Whether our government decides to permit homosexuals to enter into legal unions with one another that it will then call “marriage” is neither here nor there.  My point here is something else. 

To paraphrase the old saying, you can put lipstick on a pig and say it is something else, but a pig is still a pig.

Similarly, call anything you want “marriage,” but real marriage has always been and will always be a heterosexual institution. 

 

 

 

Fortunately, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg suffered an embarrassing defeat this week when a judge ruled that his now infamous “soda ban” failed to pass legal muster.

Yet the Mayor, far from being disheartened, dug his feet in further and promised to appeal the court’s decision.  He also once more defended his decision for wanting to prevent the city’s eating establishments from selling more than 16 ounce servings of non-diet soda and other sugary drinks at a time.

Bloomberg made it clear that his position on soft drinks is motivated by his desire, not to be a bully, as many of his critics allege, but to protect us from an “epidemic” that is consuming the nation: obesity.  Moreover, he is especially concerned with protecting “the poor,” who are more vulnerable to obesity than anyone else.  Bloomberg explains that the poor “don’t have the ability to take care of themselves” as well as those with more resources.

Setting aside the only thing that really matters—the fact that bans of the sort on behalf of which the Bloombergs of the country advocate are a blatant affront to liberty— it requires just a little bit of thought to see that the Mayor’s reasoning turns against itself.

First of all, if it is obesity, not starvation, from whichAmerica’s poor are suffering, then it would seem that the “War on Poverty” that was launched nearly a half-of-a-century ago has indeed been won.  The legions of activists who have been tirelessly telling us for years about “the millions” of American children who go to be bed hungry each and every night can finally rest easy.  State, local, and federal governments can at last dismantled the staggering complex of anti-poverty programs that have been in place for decades.  We can now celebrate that the trillions of dollars that we’ve spent since the War on Poverty began have not been spent in vain!

Of course, none of this is going to happen, but the point is that it should happen if the poor are afflicted by obesity.

Second, if it is good health that it is our objective, then the government shouldn’t be half-ass in pursuing it.  It should order all restaurant owners and grocers to either sell the foods that the government demands or else go out of business.  And because those greedy titans of the food industry who Bloomberg decries can’t be trusted to observe its dictates of their own volition, the government must destroy all competition in the realms of producing and selling food.

Yet this isn’t all.

The government should take over all health and fitness clubs while making it illegal for citizens not to exercise at least, say, three times a week.  Government-issued gym membership cards can be distributed to the citizenry. When Americans attend a gym, their membership cards will be swiped and then registered in a government computer base.  After a time—so many months, say, or maybe a year—if it is shown that they didn’t make their government-allotted quota of gym visits, stiff penalties will be attached.

Candy stores, taverns, liquor stores, and bakeries should all be closed for good.

Another point to which Bloomberg’s reasoning leads concerns non-physical aspects of human health and well-being.  If it is permissible for the government to “control” what we eat and drink for the sake of making our lives better, why shouldn’t it be ok for it to at least try to control what we think and believe for the same purpose?

The government can start requiring every literate American to read so many books within specified timeframes.  It can issue library memberships.  As there are now tax forms that American workers must fill out so that the government can take stock of every cent they earn, so too will the government now be able to monitor Americans’ reading—reading that it assigns. 

Government can as well impose a “high culture” quota under which Americans are forced to attend so many museums and theatres per year.

Finally, since study after study has shown that religious people tend to feel more fulfilled than their secular counterparts, government should compel all Americans to attend religious services regularly.  Perhaps the Bible should be on the government’s required reading list.   

We needn’t continue.  By now it should be clear that the logic of Bloomberg’s vision leads to an America in which few of us would want to live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is now Pope Francis. 

This son of Italians who emigrated to Argentine became all of the rage on Wednesday when he was elected Pope.  To be sure, for as ardently as its enemies wish its demise, the eagerness with which the world greeted Pope Francis proves that the Church, with its 1.2 billion members, shows zero signs of going anywhere anytime soon.    

The Pope’s namesake is the thirteenth century Italian saint, Francis of Assisi.  The latter was a wealthy young man who turned his back on worldly success and made a vow of poverty. He founded his own religious order and demanded of his sizable (and ever growing) following that they too do the same.  For the remainder of his natural existence, the Saint, wearing no more than rags, lived among the most impoverished of the impoverished, ministering to their material and—more importantly—spiritual needs.  St. Francis didn’t lament his poverty: he revered it.  In so doing, he inspired hope and faith in the poor. 

The Saint has been widely heralded as “the Second Christ,” such was his humility, compassion, and love for all of God’s creation.  The world, it was Francis’ conviction, has a sacramental character, for it reflects the glory, the beauty, and the goodness of the God Who created it.  It should be revered, yes, but because divine activity everywhere pervades its parts, each provides cause for delight as well.

St.Francis referred to animals as well as the sun and the moon as his siblings.  When he became sick near the end of his life, he even referred to his illnesses as his “sisters.”

For sure, he was a great and devout man.  Equally certain, the Catholic world’s new Pope took the name of the Saint precisely in order to signify that he shares his namesake’s vision.

This sounds all fine and good.  However, while it may very well be too soon to say much in the way of criticism of Pope Francis, some initial reports of his views on “social justice” most definitely do not sound fine and good.  Compounding my concern is the optimism on the part of many in the media as well as many Catholics that his “Latin American” background makes him just the man to “reform” the Church.

Whether used by so-called secular “progressives” or Catholic clerics, the call for social justice is the call for a larger, more powerful, more intrusive government.  That is, it is the demand for a government that is capable of and willing to confiscate the legally owned resources of some citizens so as to “redistribute” them to others.  When social justice is the order of the day, anything other than a robust, activist government is not an option.

It is crucial for everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to grasp this: social justice and liberty are mutually antithetical.  Liberty, at least the liberty that those of us in the Anglo-sphere have traditionally prized, consists in a decentralization of power of a kind that the American Constitution guarantees.  Liberty presupposes a resolutely non-activist, even anti-activist government, a government that is like an umpire or a referee, one made “of laws, not men,” as we say.  A government fitted for social justice, on the other hand, is of a fundamentally different breed.

Yet it isn’t just that the call for social justice is a call to undermine liberty.  Social justice is actually a great injustice to the poor and the non-poor.

Charity is a Christian excellence that consists in human beings voluntarily expending their time, energies, and treasure on helping those of their fellows in need.  Social justice, in stark contrast, coerces the better off to relinquish their resources to an omnipresent, alien, impersonal bureaucracy.  Worse, it makes this demand upon them for the ostensible purpose of benefitting others—“the poor”—who claim to have a “right” to their goods.

By leading them to believe that their misfortunes are attributable solely to others who must now give them their just desserts, the concept of social justice engenders resentment in the poor while discouraging them from working to improve their plight.  At the same time, social justice provokes the same bitterness in the non-poor who are compelled to work longer and harder for a bunch of ingratiates who claim to be entitled to it.  As a consequence, real charity diminishes.

Social justice destroys the only thing that enriches lives both spiritually and materially: community.  The omnipotent government that it requires and the adversarial attitudes that this government in turn generates make sure of this.    

To be fair to Pope Francis, he is not at all atypical of the Church in promoting social justice.  A lifelong Catholic like me can only hope, and pray, that among the ways in which he will “reform” the Church will be to recognize the error of his—and its—ways and call out social justice for the injustice that it is.          

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rand Paul remains the talk of the town, and deservedly so.  However, more talk should be centering on his colleagues and critics in the Senate, John McCain and Lindsey Graham.  

Recall, the Arizonan senator and former presidential candidate, quoting a Wall Street Journal editorial, said: “If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously, he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in college dorms.”      

McCain continued, referring to Paul’s suggestion that the American government would launch drone attacks against American citizens on American soil “totally unfounded.”  In fact, “it is simply false,” McCain asserted, to think that the federal government would target as “an enemy combatant” someone who “disagrees with American policy” and who “even may demonstrate against it [.]”

Lindsey Graham seconded the idea that Paul and his fellow Republicans are hypocritical.  George W. Bush had a drone program in place, Graham commented, and yet “I don’t remember any of you coming down here suggesting that President Bush was going to kill anybody with a drone, do you?”  Graham then asked: “What are we up to here?” Finally, while castigating Paul and company for taking the Obama administration to task, he commended the President “for doing many of the things that President Bush did,” “for having the good judgment to understand [that] we’re at war.”  Graham lamented that, evidently, his own party “no longer” believes this.

McCain’s and Graham’s critique is more telling than many of their Republican opponents appreciate. 

To put it bluntly, by way of both tone and substance, their attack against their colleagues makes it clear that the hands of these long-term Senate veterans are most decidedly not those into which Americans should entrust their liberties.    

This is no hyperbole.  No Republican of whom I’m aware—including Senators McCain and Graham—credit President Obama with being friendly to freedom.  Given the latter’s relentless quest to concentrate power ever further in the federal government, Obama is deemed not an ally, but an enemy, of liberty.  Well, there is no greater sign that liberty has indeed reached a perilous state than when the President of the United States possesses the discretion—the power—to determine which Americans are and are not “enemy combatants,” which Americans can and cannot be killed by their government.   

McCain and Graham see nothing at all objectionable about this.  They even find it praiseworthy.  Thus, they pose no less a threat to American liberty than that posed by Obama himself.

But there is even more to it than this. 

At no time is the government of any society more of a threat to liberty than during a time of war. War is the ultimate crisis, and as Rahm Emmanuel infamously, but correctly, noted, it is during a crisis that the government can get away with doing that which it wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.  Hence, we should “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Translation: since people turn to their government in moments of crisis, it is during just these moments that government is permitted to expand its size and scope, i.e. its power. Yet when this happens, citizens lose their liberties.  Anyone with any doubts about this should consider that it is during crisis that citizens are “asked” by their elected representatives to “sacrifice” for “the common good.”  And what are they expected to sacrifice?  The answer to this question is always the same, even if it is never spelled out as such: their liberty.

Now, this “war” that McCain, Graham, and a whole lot of other Republicans insist that we are engaged in is a war without end.  Neither its opponents nor its proponents deny this. But a war without end is a crisis without end, and when there is a crisis without end, the end of liberty looms on the horizon.

The McCains and Grahams of the GOP have turned legions of Americans off from voting for Republicans.  They even account for why millions of self-identified Republicans have decided to sit out the last two presidential elections.

The sooner liberty-minded Republicans recognize what many seemed to finally realize last week—the party needs more Pauls and fewer McCains and Grahams—the greater the chances that the GOP’s—and the country’s—future will be brighter than its present. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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