Thursday, May 26, 2005

Judge Bars Parents from Exposing Their Son to Their Pagan Beliefs

File this in the "Huh?" category. A Marion County judge ruled in a couple's divorce decree that they could not teach their pagan beliefs to their son. Both parents practice Wicca, a pagan religion that emphasizes balance in nature and the connectedness of everything on Earth.

Now, I can see how during divorce proceedings parents of different faiths might fight over which religion a child is raised in, but how can a judge put a provision like this into the divorce decree against both parents' objections? Apparently a confidential report by the Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau, which advises the courts on custody and visitation rights, said there was "a discrepancy between Ms. Jones and Mr. Jones' [the parents] lifestyle and the belief system adhered to by the parochial school." (They send their son to a Catholic school.) I guess the judge took that report seriously and the result is soon to be resolved in a court battle.

So, I guess teaching your children about respect for nature, the Earth, and all living creatures is bad, and it would contradict the Christian teachings that a Catholic school provides. Makes sense. I don't think Jesus ever specifically said to be nice to birds and flowers and take care of the Earth, so I can see how a 9-year-old could get confused.

Anyway, how can a judge take it upon himself to make a decision like this, especially against the wishes of both parents? Talk about judicial activism. Hopefully there's very little room for interpretation, and another court will strike this down as unconstitutional right away. If not, I'll have some serious doubt about the court system in Indiana.

However, it does raise an interesting point. Right now the First Amendment protects our religious beliefs (that's why this provision shouldn't stand up in court). In a worst-case scenario an out-of-control judge could issue rulings like this when the parents are of a faith that particular judge doesn't believe in — say, a Protestant judge telling a family they can't raise their son as a Buddhist — but I kind of see that as unlikely (maybe I shouldn't be so confident, given recent happenings in the judicial system). However, what if the parents were Satanists or some other tiny, yet freaky religion or cult? A judge would arguably be doing society a favor by keeping us free from another nut job, so why not let him?

In the end it's an easy decision for me. It's not a judge's place to make decisions like that, even if the parents are totally freaky and worship turnips. In the end, that's one of the freedoms our society is made to protect — even if it makes the rest of us a little shaky to think that there are people out there like that. So I hope I don't have to follow this with another blog in a few months showing my outrage that another court allowed this horrible provision to stand. While personally I'm more in line with the Catholic beliefs taught at the child's parochial school, it's not my place to tell his parents they would be "confusing" him or hurting society by teaching him Wicca at home.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Hey Massachusetts — How's That Same-Sex Marriage Thing Working Out?

On May 17, 2004, same-sex couples became legally able to marry in Massachusetts. What's life been like in New England since then? Here are some statistics from Newsweek's May 23, 2005 issue:

Number of same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts from May 17, 2004 until February, 2005: 6,142

Number of male couples: 2,170

Number of female couples: 3,972

Number of heterosexual marriages in Massachusetts during that time: 30,872

Okay, so the first thing we've learned is that there have been a good number of same-sex marriages in the first year. Just under 20%, actually, which is quite a bit higher than the high-end of estimates I've seen of the gay population in the U.S. This might imply that gays are more committed in relationships than heterosexuals, or it might just be a high number because being able to marry was (and is) still fairly new in Mass.

Public support in Massachusetts for marriage equality in April, 2005: 56%

Public support one year ago: 35%

Whoa — you mean to tell me that as gay marriages have occurred, people seem to be lightening up about them? You think maybe it's because same-sex marriage isn't the beginning of the end like so many people claim?

Percentage of Massachusetts voters who believe gay marriage has had a positive or no impact on the quality of life in Massachusetts: 84%

Holy cow! Now you're telling me that not only do people realize it's not that bad of an idea, but 84% believe that it's either been good for the state or had no effect at all. Oh man, don't show these statistics to G.W. Bush.

But then we're brought back to the other 49 states.

Public support across the nation for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman: 53%

Number of states that have amended their constitutions to ban gay marriage since 2004: 14

So, there's lots of work to be done on the rest of the nation. I can't help but feel a tad bit optimistic that the numbers turned around so much in Mass over the past year, though. Granted that state skews pretty far to the left, but they do have a Republican governor now.

Even if same-sex marriages aren't allowed in any other states, if we can at least stop current efforts to flat-out ban it — and roll back laws and amendments in states that currently ban it — it's a step in the right direction. After all, even if the Founding Fathers wouldn't approve of gay marriage themselves, I think they would have recognized the inherent danger in removing or restricting any citizen's rights.

What's in a Name?

Once we had a new Pope (and the crime sprees and rioting of directionless Catholics subsided), several of my non-Catholic friends began asking why this German dude went with Benedict XVI. Why do any Pope's take new names? What's wrong with "Pope Ratzinger?" Well, I had no idea either, so I asked my priest (who's really a monsignor, so I'm confident he knows his stuff).

The basic answer is that Popes consider their election as a new beginning, a new chapter of their lives. It's not unheard of for people take new names as they begin new journeys, especially spiritual (although the only other high-profile recent example of this I can think of would be Prince/the Artist Formerly Known as Prince/Wait -- Now I'm Prince Again). This practice in fact goes all the way back to the Apostles when Simon became known as Peter. (Although, if I remember correctly, Jesus told him that he was to be known as Peter — it wasn't Simon's decision. Then Jesus went on to call him Simon Peter sometimes, further confusing the issue. Correct me if I'm wrong here.) If you were confirmed into your faith, think back to the ceremony. Were you asked to pick a confirmation name? It's not all that uncommon for Christians or even other religions to do this.

Anyway, you have a new beginning. So how do Popes pick their new name? Well, there's nothing stopping them from picking a unique name (personally, I can't wait for Pope Steve), but they often choose the name of a previous Pope to honor him and/or his legacy. In fact, Pope John Paul II took his name to honor Pope John Paul I, who died after only 33 days in the papacy. JPI was the first double-named Pope, taking his names from the previous pontiffs, Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

Pope Benedict XVI probably took that name to honor the peaceful legacy of Benedict XV, and perhaps he also hoped to soften his hard-line conservative image by choosing the name of a more moderate Pope.

So there you have it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Oh the Irony

A friend sent me this this morning, and I thought it was worth sharing, considering Button's recent post.

The Associated Press had this yesterday about the Newsweek fiasco:

"It's puzzling that while Newsweek now acknowledges that they got the facts wrong, they refused to retract the story," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. "I think there's a certain journalistic standard that should be met and in this instance it was not...The report has had serious consequences. People have lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged."

The irony of this White House "outrage" in light of all the lies about Iraq the Bush administration has fed America is really incredible. A reader sent me a good response to this latest Bush administration rhetoric:

"It's puzzling that while the White House now acknowledged that they haven't found WMD or a link between Al Queda and Iraq, they have refused to retract their claims. I think there's a certain standard of governing that should be met and in this instance has not. The claims the administration used to send this nation to war has had serious consequences. People have lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Newsweek-Bashing is Simply a Convenient Distraction

First of all, let me say that Newsweek's reporters used poor judgment when they posted the story alleging that government interrogators were disrespectful of the Koran in GB, Cuba. They didn't corroborate an anonymous source's story, and they should be criticized for their laziness. All media outlets should know better, and hopefully the flack Newsweek is taking will keep some other newsrooms in line.

Second, let me say that, in my personal opinion, Muslims are overreacting. So they (allegedly) put a copy of the Koran in a toilet. Disrespectful? Absolutely. Worth rioting over? Not quite. What was (allegedly) put in the toilet was a book. Pages with words on them bound together. Of course what was on those pages is considered sacred to Muslims, but unless the copy that was (allegedly) put into a toilet was penned by Muhammad himself, it's just a book. I will not argue that the act itself is disrespectful at best, but I simply cannot believe that a book is worth rioting and people dying over. Take my Bible. Throw it in the trash, burn it... Whatever. I'll go out and get a new Bible. I know what's in it, and you can't destroy that. Sure I'll be offended if you put my Bible in the toilet, but again, it's just a book. What's in the book is what matters, and unless it's a special edition or the very last copy on Earth, I'll get over it. I agree that Muslims can and should be upset and lodge complaints about the (alleged) treatment of their holy book, and I'm disappointed that our government (allegedly) acted this way. But is it worth people dying over? Not quite. Just my opinion, and not necessarily that of anyone else on this blog.

Now to the point of this post. You probably noticed that I put "allegedly" in parenthesis above. Normally if someone was accused of a crime, I wouldn't hesitate using that word until the trial was completed. So why am I holding back a little here? Because with all the headlines this Newsweek story has created, no one is actually saying that the Koran desecration never happened. The Pentagon, State Department, and White House are all admonishing Newsweek for their shoddy journalism, but no one has ever said "We never did that." The closest I've seen is "That behavior wasn't covered in the Pentagon report the Newsweek source was citing." In fact, the Pentagon says it's still investigating the allegations. Of course I think there's little chance that anything will be determined now. Too many people have made a big deal of acting indignant and offended, so I doubt the truth will ever come out.

Show me one source that has any government official flat out denying that the events ever happened. I'm serious. Link to a source in the Comments section below. All I'm reading is "Newsweek is bad. Newsweek is sloppy. How could they print this?" I'd much rather be reading "Newsweek is sloppy -- we'd never do such a thing." All of the White House's efforts are going into their Newsweek smear campaign and not into the (alleged) incident. And I've only read one article that bothered to point out that this was not the first time the soldiers in Cuba have been accused of such actions.

I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything more than a smoke screen from this administration. It goes right along with their daily abuse of power.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Words of Wisdom

Today's Words of Wisdom entry comes from none other than the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in the foreword to Sharing God's Planet: A Christian Vision for a Sustainable Future.
"The Christian reason for regarding ecology as a matter of justice is that God's self-sharing love is what animates every object and structure and situation in the world. We are not consumers of what God has made; we are in communion with it."

Bumper Sticker Religion

During the last election, the onslaught of bumper stickers was amusing. The lines got a little blurred, and I was a lot less amused, when I found a bumper sticker hanging in the “Pro-life” section of our church’s hallway bulletin board. The bumper sticker I refer to is the “You can’t be Catholic AND Pro-Abortion,” which no doubt you’ve seen on the bumpers of several vehicles around you. (Just today I saw it in the Target parking lot.)

I take issue with that bumper sticker on many levels. Without getting too far into it, I think it’s worthy to note the separation of church and state issue is defendable by all means, and I could argue that the political bumper sticker didn’t really belong on the bulletin board in the first place. However, during the last election I was hungry for our own parish leaders to step up and speak more forthrightly about how each leader fell into the church’s teachings, so I have to say in all honesty, the fact that the bumper sticker was political isn’t want bothered me.

What does bother me? Where do I begin? First and perhaps most obviously, I don’t think anyone out there is running around chanting “Kill the fetus! Kill the fetus!” That is about the only “pro-abortion” sentiment I can imagine, and well, I can’t imagine it. My point is, I don’t think people are ever pro-abortion. But that’s just semantics. The bigger point is the bumper sticker was antagonistic, and I don’t think antagonism belongs in a church hallway.

On a higher, more important level, I don’t like the bumper sticker because it implies that if I voted for a “pro-choice” candidate then I was less Catholic than my Republican counterparts. And that would be wrong.

That implication of course had a lot of support, unfortunately, from our new Pope, who as a cardinal authored the comments that it was okay for priests to deny communion to pro-choice candidates. I lost a lot of hope for the Catholic faith, the same faith in which I find so much powerful good, when I heard that. Hearing that in the last election a larger percentage of Catholics voted Republican than ever before worried me. Here we had the chance to put a rosary-praying man into the Oval Office. Imagine the power of the rosary in that room! Just imagine. Instead, we allowed ourselves to be put into an over-simplified category of “anti-abortion,” and co-opted by the more effective marketing of the Republican Party controlled by Christian fundamentalists, many of whom look down upon Catholicism.

Here’s the thing. I, too, am anti-abortion. I too, believe that a fetus is indeed a life; a life that God created. My greater goal is to lessen the number of abortions. In that way, I am very much pro-life. And I truly believe that the Democratic platform not only makes abortion more rare, but also more fully encompasses a pro-life stance. (For a very reasoned, well-said article from Tikkun magazine on the subject of “Pro Life Democrats” please take some time to follow this link: Pro-life Democrats: We’re here. We’re sincere. Get used to it.) Recent research indicates that the number of abortions under officially pro-choice president Clinton decreased by 17.4 percent. The abortion rate has INCREASED 14.6 percent under our current officially pro-life President. Tim Russert pointed out in a “Meet the Press” episode several weeks ago that the abortion rate in “Red States” is actually higher than in “Blue States.”

If I were supporting antagonism in the church hallway, I would have made a bumper sticker that said, “You can’t be Catholic and Pro-WAR” and hung it up. (I didn’t notice any priests denying communion to politicians who voted for the war, which Pope John Paul II spoke strongly against.) Instead, I mentioned it to the right people and the offending bumper sticker was removed.

So, my friends, my fear is that by buying into the antagonistic slogan-brandishing politics of pro-life versus pro-choice, we lost a beautiful opportunity to enrich the heritage of the Catholic tradition of social justice (one that encompasses both medical care and health insurance for the masses, as well as quality education for everyone, two things we Catholics can claim as causes we have contributed much to society for) and support a Catholic into office. Food for thought.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Ignorant People with Positions of Power

"Positions of Power" may be a little strong, so let me explain.

My wife's clock radio tuning was bumped from the lame easy-listening radio station that used to wake her to a lame country station that now wakes her. What can I say -- she likes country music, so she's not that motivated to change it back. And am I really going to be controlling enough to change her clock radio? Besides, it gets me out of bed if for no other reason than to avoid hearing any more "hit country" than I have to. (If I had a music blog I'd explain how I don't inherently hate country music -- just most of what people are calling country music these days. But that's too far off topic for this blog...)

Anyway, we awoke this morning to the DJ talking about the recent news that United Airlines parent company, UAL Corp, was allowed to drop four pension plans. Potentially bad news for the thousands of retired UAL workers who depend on those pensions to live, but the DJ decided to go off on a completely ignorant rant explaining that's why we should have private Social Security accounts. After all, he reasoned: if we had private Social Security accounts, the money would be ours and no one could decide to take it away.

Okay, genius. Here's where you're misguided. First of all, what was taken away were pensions from a private company. This has nothing to do with Social Security. UAL is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and they are trying to trim down liabilities on their balance sheet to keep the company alive. I'm not going to comment on whether their decision is wise. It certainly seems like a horrible thing to do -- back out of commitments you made to people whose hard work built you -- but hey, the current employees will certainly be better off having a job to go to tomorrow. Anyway, these were pension accounts, not Social Security. And guess what? The accounts are being transferred to a government body, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp, where they will be paid (albeit at probably a lower level).

So, no one has lost their Social Security by this action. And, if every one of these employees had private Social Security accounts, THIS STILL WOULD HAVE HAPPENED! How can you go on a Rush Limbaugh-ish rant about how important private accounts are when the case you're using as an example isn't even related to Social Security? That's not an apples to apples comparison. In fact, it's not even an apples to oranges comparison. It's more like an apples to monkeys comparison.

When I have more time I may add an entry to this blog explaining why I do indeed think that private Social Security accounts aren't needed at this time. (Short answer: they do absolutely nothing to help the financial solvency of the Social Security program, and they introduce unnecessary risk into a program that's supposed to be a safety net, not a retirement program.) But that's not my beef with this DJ. My beef is that he used his position (at the controls of a radio station) to spread his beliefs -- when they were misguided and irrelevant to the topic he started out discussing.

So there. I feel a little better now. But I do feel more explanation of my beliefs about Social Security will be warranted in the near future.

Hello World

Nothing too fancy to start. This blog was my wife's idea, and I think it will be a good forum for us both to get some stuff off our chests. We're both squarely in the category labeled by some as "Moderate," but we'd prefer to call ourselves "Progressives." What's the difference? Well, to some extent I think Moderates are happy with the status quo and are looking to preserve it, while Progressives are interested in embracing change and moving forward -- with sensible policies and decisions that will benefit society as a whole. Feel free to disagree with my brief description of Moderates; it's just my own way of sorting through labels, and I'm open to alternate definitions. I certainly don't want to look like I'm criticizing Moderates in any way. On the contrary; I think we need more of them (as well as more Progressives).

Anyway, my wife and I are Progressive Catholics. We deeply love our faith, but we're both concerned that conservative forces are acting on it in ways that will be bad for Catholicism as well as the world (or at least the U.S.). Of course there are many conservative forces acting on the USA these days, and we're plenty concerned about them as well. We'll use this blog as sort of a sounding board to let people know what we think is wrong, how we'd like to fix it, and show the world that there are voices of reason out there, even though many times they are drowned out by extremists on both sides of the political spectrum.

So, we hope you like the blog, and we welcome your comments. Just one request: try to play nice. While we may make it clear when we don't like someone, our goal is to never stoop to personal attacks or threats. Our whole point is that we respect other people's opinions. Many times these opinions, even if we don't agree with them 100%, will shape our own, and we encourage well-reasoned rebuttals.

Thanks for reading.