Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do the English have a soul?

Paul Adams

I felt like a bit of a spoilsport posting this Amazon review of Kate Fox's book, Watching the English. I loved the book, it is so full of spot-on observations, expressions, and anecdotes. And I recognize myself in her observations of the basic social dis-ease she sees as the defining characteristic (if it could be reduced to just one) of the English.

What is sad, though, is not only the loss she ascribes to our tribe of any sense of the transcendent. It is also her own (and presumably the tribe's) complete lack of any sense of loss at this flattening of the English character into two-dimensional soullessness. Here's my review:

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
business as usual, December 27, 2010
4.0 out of 5 stars
Paul Adams (Honolulu)
This review is from: Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour (Paperback)

As others have said, Fox's book is witty and full of insights about English culture, understood as the way we do business as usual. Like other ex-pats, I found it a wonderful articulation of my English ways. After nearly 40 years in the U.S., I notice how English I am in ways Fox identifies--a self-deprecating habit of turning away compliments, for example, along with all the class-marking prejudices about word usage and having an untidy car.

And I made my way to the end of this lengthy book I felt a growing unease. I had to keep reminding myself that its subject is culture in that anthropological business-as-usual sense, so perhaps I should not expect any exploration, or even hint, of anything like an English soul, equivalent to the way people talk about the Russian soul. My England, after all, is also the land of rebellions and revolution, great strikes and marches and movements, of martyrs and saints, of Shakespeare's tragedies, Milton, and D.H. Lawrence ("my Englishness is my very vision"), to pick just a few of the less mundane elements of English culture. Fox's England seems soulless.

The author is wonderful at identifying all the cultural and class markers of behaviors, tastes, and attitudes that we tend to think of as our own autonomous choices or original thoughts. At times, though, she expresses her own upper middle-class, secular-liberal, cultural-elite prejudices as if they were scientific observations. This is nowhere clearer than in her superficial and, frankly supercilious discussion of Christianity (and paganism)in relation to the English. The book is best read, not as (even loosely) scientific, but as a very perceptive expression of the author's own class, academic milieu, and generational outlook.

Of course the book was published well before the recent and first-ever papal state visit to England and Scotland. As I've noted in other posts, the visit was preceded by an intense barrage of unrestrained anti-Catholicism, not from the old Protestant fundamentalists this time, but from the mainstream media and secularist intellectuals.

The success of the visit speaks volumes about the extent to which the cheerfully secularist account Fox gives of the English is missing something important beneath the surface. The sense of loss, and even spiritual longing, that comes through in Roger Scruton's better but gloomier vision--see his England: An Elegy and Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life.

And without belaboring the point, I want to point to how well Scruton gets the point here. See in particular the final paragraph:

Missionary to the Multiculturalists
What does it mean for the pope to visit post-Christian Britain?

By Roger Scruton
Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain brought home the strange spiritual condition in which the British people in general, and the English in particular, now find themselves. The English have an official church — the Church of England — whose dominant position is guaranteed by the unwritten constitution, and whose head is the Head of State. Bishops have seats in the House of Lords, and act as legislators. And each English village has its Anglican church — usually an ancient building of stone, whose Gothic spire is like a badge of ownership, a guarantee from God that the place around will always be England and that England will always be Christian.

Yet these churches are hardly visited: more people attend Friday prayers in the mosque than attend Sunday worship in the Anglican Church. And still more people attend mass at whatever crowded Catholic Church they can find, in a country where Catholic churches have been legal for less than two centuries.

Most English people say that they believe in God, though only a minority claim to be Christian, and of that minority fewer still are observant. The official culture, represented by the BBC, the TV chat shows and the opinion pages of the quality press, is neither Christian nor English, but “multicultural” — and even Pope Benedict ended his visit with praise for the multicultural identity that has emerged in our country. Nobody really knows what multiculturalism is, or how you belong to it or affirm it in your daily life. But it is the official religion of the British Isles. The main sign of this is that less and less people in public life bear witness to the Christian faith or express any opinion in matters of religion other than a vague hope that the many faiths will learn to live together peacefully. You can be outspoken about religion, but only if you are an atheist, and only if your target is Christianity — the once official faith, whose loosened grip exposes it to assault from all who might once have been obliged to endorse its Credo.

The Pope’s beatification of John Henry Newman had a special poignancy, therefore. Newman was an Anglican priest who joined the Oxford movement in protest against the Wesleyan assault on ritual and mystery. The Anglican Church, he believed, had made too many concessions to the drearier forms of Protestantism, and was losing the core of enchantment that draws ordinary people into its fold. Once he had thought through what this criticism really meant, Newman left the Anglican Church and became a Roman Catholic, founding the Oratory at Brompton and taking an active part in the establishment of churches, religious institutions and places of education dedicated to the Roman Catholic faith. As Rector of the new Catholic University in Dublin, he delivered the lectures that were later published as The Idea of a University. These describe the ideal university, like the ideal church, as a place of enchantment. The Church delivers God’s grace; the university delivers grace of another kind — the kind that prepares us for society. Both depend upon a mysterious encounter with authority, revealed in ritual and submission.

The beatification of Cardinal Newman can be read as endorsing the path that Newman took, from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. It can also be read as endorsing the Anglican Church, as a valid purveyor of sacramental gifts — the gifts that Newman sought to protect from disenchantment in the face of Protestant austerity. But for most English people, I suspect, the beatification has been a piece of mumbo-jumbo that does not concern them. Who was this J.H. Newman anyway? That he was author of The Dream of Gerontius would be known to lovers of Elgar; that he wrote the great hymn ‘Lead Kindly Light’ would be known to Anglican church-goers — some of them at least. That he is the author of one of the great autobiographies, as well as the best defense of the university as an institution that we now possess will be known to scholars. Some might even be familiar with The Grammar of Assent, that strange reflection on the truth-discerning aspect of the human mind that has baffled logicians and philosophers for a century and a half.

But what do ordinary multicultural Englishmen know about those things? BBC News will not have informed them, any more than it would have explained to them the doctrinal differences between the Anglican and the Roman churches. So far as the BBC was concerned the main interest of the Pope’s visit lay in the protests that surrounded it — protests from marginal groups pressing for the ordination of women, for gay rights, or for an apology to the victims of sexual abuse by members of the priesthood. The Pope gave the apology, and skirted the other issues. The BBC, as the voice of the official multiculture, could find little of significance in his remarks other than their divergence from current secular morality, and the fact that from time to time the Pope rebuked the atheists who have such standing with the BBC.

The most positive effect of the Pope’s visit, however, was one that even the BBC could not prevent — and that was the public display of Roman Catholic ritual at its most gorgeous and replete. For many television viewers the mass at Westminster Cathedral was their first experience of sacramental religion. The mystical identity between the ordinary worshipper and the crucified Christ is something that can be enacted, but never explained. It is enacted in the Mass, and as Cardinal Newman recognized, it is the felt reality of Christ’s presence that is the true gift of Christianity to its followers. For those who experience it the quibbles of the atheists and the protestors seem as trivial as BBC News. For many Englishmen, I suspect, the Pope’s Westminster mass was the first inkling of what Christianity really means.

Retrieved December 30, 2010 from

On the Breaking of Bad Habits Acquired in One’s Youth: Smoking and Atheism

On the Breaking of Bad Habits Acquired in One’s Youth: Smoking and Atheism

A beautiful reflective essay by a good friend from decades past, Bob Estes, Texan, physicist, software designer, science educator, now retired from MIT.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Catholicism tells its own story

After decades of crippling itself with self-inflicted wounds--from the liberal anti-Catholic Catholics and from the clerical abuse scandals--the Catholic Church needs desperately to tell its own story, with humility but without compromising its truth and the world-historic revolutionary challenge it represents. (On the latter, see Atheist Delusions by non-Catholic theologian David Bentley Hart.) Fr. Barron takes up the challenge of the New Evangelization called for by both JPII and B16 (echoing the charge given to his Church by Jesus two millennia ago) in what looks to be a magnificent documentary series, coming next Fall.

It tells a story without which culture and civilization, art and architecture, Dante and Shakespeare, human and civil rights, equality and democracy are largely unintelligible, especially (but not only) in the West.

At the bottom of the cup

Benedict XVI's conversation with journalist Peter Seewald, Light of the World, is a wonderful window into the mind and soul of a humble, brilliant, wise, compassionate pastor. In this it is like the earlier conversations in the series, Salt of the Earth and God and the World. The latest book shows how the pope, vilified for years by the mainstream media of the U.S. and Europe, slandered by the anti-Catholic Catholics who lie in wait looking for every opportunity to pounce on him, and leading a Church in crisis, bears the heavy burdens of the most important office on earth.

More on all that later. For now, I just want to bookmark my favorite quote in the book. It comes not from the pope himself, but from Peter Seewald quoting the Nobel prizewinning physicist Werner Heisenberg:

The first swallow from the cup of the natural sciences makes atheists--but at the bottom of the cup God is waiting.

My Daddy's Name is Donor

The piece below (Kapten Nemo's Barn) by Alana S. on the Swedish documentary reminds me of the important and path-breaking study of adult children of sperm donors. How cavalierly, completely, and callously we disregarded the importance to the children conceived in this way of the biological connection to both their parents.

Now the voices of those young adults There is a basic difference, still widely ignored, between adoption that finds a home for children in need of one and IVF, which involves the making of children to satisfy the wants of adults--children who are deliberately denied from birth the right to be raised by the two parents who made them (as specified in the U.N.'s Declaration on the Rights of the Child). Not to mention the destruction or indefinite freezing of countless other children at the embryonic stage of development.

"So why," Alana asks, "is it so surprising that we, the offspring of commercial conception, find it so appalling that we have been separated on purpose from our (dare I say it?) real parents?"

My Daddy’s Name is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults Conceived through Sperm Donation
A Report Released Internationally by the Commission on Parenthood's Future

Elizabeth Marquardt, Norval D. Glenn, and Karen Clark, Co-Investigators

Not surprisingly, [donor conceived] Americans have a complicated relationship to the reproductive marketplace that made their existence possible. Their inner lives are the subject of a fascinating study from the Institute for American Values . . .
—Ross Douthat, New York Times, May 30, 2010

[The] provocative study by the Commission on Parenthood's Future, titled "My Daddy's Name is Donor"...surveyed 485 donor offspring, concluded they were more troubled and depression-prone than other young adults in comparison groups, and recommended an end to anonymous sperm donation. The study's authors said they sought to ignite a debate, and they succeeded. . . .
—David Crary, Associated Press, August 12, 2010

A debate over the emotional implications of sperm donation on offspring (an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 are born each year) has developed recently in the wake of a controversial report from the Institute for American Values...
—Julia James, "Scope," the blog of the Stanford School of Medicine, 8/15/10

My Daddy's Name is Donor, a survey led by Elizabeth Marquardt, director of the Center for Children and Families at the Institute for American Values, is an unprecedented study of young adults conceived by sperm donation.
—Noelle Daly, in "Vial of Tears," The American Interest, Sep/Oct 2010

The report is available in full in pdf at

For the Executive Summary and 15 Major Findings, go to

No-Body's Children

So why is it so surprising that we, the offspring of commercial conception, find it so appalling that we have been separated on purpose from our (dare I say it?) real parents?

Kapten Nemo’s Barn
ALANA S. 12.29.2010, 12:42 AM

Captain Nemo is a fictional character created by Jules Verne and featured in his stories Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Mysterious Island. Nemo is Latin for “no one”. Barn, in Swedish, means “children”. Kapten Nemo’s Barn then, means, good job, Captain No One’s Children.

A recent documentary came out and aired on Swedish television just two nights ago by filmmaker Agneta Bernárdzon. The story is of two children, who in the 1940′s were swapped at birth and brought home to be raised by the wrong families. In the 40′s in Sweden there was no tagging system at hospitals and clinics. A note was placed under the child’s pillow with the mother’s name, and newborns were picked up and manually carried into their mother’s quarters where nurses, if they had forgotten the mother’s names at the end of the walk down the hall, had a 50-50 chance of getting the right baby into the right mother’s arms. When new mother Vilma Enqvist reached for what she thought was her newborn son, the nurse said to her “I’m not sure if this is the right one, but you are the mother, you should be able to tell or not.” When Enqvist responded with confusion and insecurity saying “Actually ma’am, I’m not sure if this is my son or not…” the nurse replied, “Are you saying this child isn’t beautiful enough for you?”

That successfully shut Vilma up and she went home with the newborn boy she was given. Three years later, it became very clear that it was indeed not her biological son, and she and her husband grew the courage to engage the law in possibly swapping sons with Dagny Smith, the mother she shared quarters with that day at the hospital- so they both may have their true biological children.

This became a huge deal in Sweden. It revealed the inefficient systems in hospitals where more than a comfortable number of children were going home with the wrong families. The pride of medical staff conflicted with justice and many families didn’t dare to question the veracity of their town doctors, who were almost by definition the most educated and respected citizens in their respective communities. But Vilma Enqvist did dare to question- and the moral dilemma she faced grew fiercer as each year passed.

It became clear that a swap had truly been made when the boys were 3-years-old. But it took another 4 years before the fate of the children was determined and the courts made their final decision. Vilma Enqvist wanted her son, Bo, back at home, with his biological family. But she was morally torn because she had grown to love her non-biological son, Walter. It would be tough giving up Walter, but surely he would have a loving family with his biological parents. The only catch was that Mr. Smith, the non-biological father of Bo, was himself a foster child and spent the majority of his childhood swapping back and forth from one family to the next.

When Mr. Smith was born, his mother didn’t want him, so he was sent north to live with a foster family while his mother got her life together in Stockholm. Then as a young boy, his mother decided she wanted him, and he moved south to Stockholm. Then, after only a couple of years, she decided she didn’t want him for the second time, and he again was sent north. He had decided definitively that Bo was his son, and there would be no swapping. He would love this boy fiercely, and indeed they were close. He appealed continuously for 4 years to keep Bo and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. But when the boys were 7, Mr. & Mrs. Smith were forced to give up Bo to Mr. & Mrs. Enqvist.

But the Smiths didn’t want Walter. Because of Mr. Smith’s history as a foster child, he gave up one son, and decided it was already horrible enough that one child had to upset its life completely to live with a new family. He wasn’t going to make this a double tragedy. And so the Smiths grieved fiercely, but moved on. When the boys grew up, they began spending a lot of time with The Smiths and when Walter married at age 25, both the Enqvists and Smiths were invited to the wedding.

But I must relate to you how this affected Swedish society. It wasn’t just an annoying and deeply frustrating moral dilemma for the family and their legal advisers. This story shook the whole of Sweden because, all of a sudden, families and children everywhere were deeply insecure about whether or not they had their “real mother and father” or their “real children”. What does itmean to be a real family member anyways? Biology obviously was important to most everyone, and it became an intense topic of debate. If it wasn’t important to Vilma Enqvist, she wouldn’t have spent so many years in court, or so many tears and time as she read hate mail from people telling her she would go to hell for demanding her son back. If it wasn’t important for Bo, her biological son, he wouldn’t have delivered the documentaries closing quote responding to his mother’s question about whether or not she did the right thing. “Yes, I think you did the right thing,” he tells his mother. And even Mr. Smith demonstrated a need for connection when Walter, his biological son, came over for the first time and delivered Mrs. Smith flowers on her 50th birthday. “This is the happiest day of my life,” he said, and embraced Walter for the first time.

My point is biological connection is important and always has been. Adults have proven to be very upset when they realize they have been deceived as to the truth in their biological connection to their children and families. Questions in biology, maternity and paternity have gone to the Supreme Court. Whole countries have made it major debate topics when one family gets someone else’s child. So why is it so surprising that we, the offspring of commercial conception, find it so appalling that we have been separated on purpose from our (dare I say it?) real parents?

I might also add that it is completely illegal to buy and sell human eggs and sperm in Sweden today.

Retrieved December 28, 2010 from

Alana S., a young adult conceived through sperm donation, writes for the Family Scholars blog.

Friday, December 24, 2010

O Sanctissima - and the damage wrought by the 60s generation

O Sanctissima, O Piissima
Dulcis Virgo Maria
Mater amata, In te temerata
Ora, Ora Pro Nobis
Tu solatium et refugium
Virgo Mater Maria
Quidquid optamus per te speramus
Ora, ora pro nobis

A 16 yo Amazon reviewer speaks for many--and says it all:

5.0 out of 5 stars Aaaaaah... that's better! ;-), September 30, 2002
By Teresa Alantua, 16 (Silicon Valley, California) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Catholic Latin Classics (Audio CD)

Not that they didn't perhaps have good intentions, but I often feel as though those '60's generation Catholics quietly disposed of the rich and all-embracing ("catholic"!) Faith that was to be my birthright, and, beaming, set a big ol' mess of steaming pottage in front of me instead. They told me how lucky I was not to have grown up being forced to listen to Latin, be taught by real live nuns, or shock my poor tender eyes on statues or ornate high altars. Instead, I would have the privilege of attending guitar-and-maraca Masses, where the priest warbled the words of consecration in a sort of blues tune, and-... Ai! Is this really about the God "who gives joy to my youth"? Then why did they, ahem, cut that line? Trying to reconcile all this relentlessly chirpy weirdness with the Holy And Awesome Sacrifice that IS going on - it always deals me Kafka-esque trauma and a headache.

My fellow reviewer from Connecticut, you are so lucky... I can attend the Old Latin Mass only once a month. When I get out of college, I want to move somewhere where I can go every day and live a NORMAL Catholic life! Man, I must be the weirdest teenager in the Valley... ::sighs:: Eek! It's hard not to start using this thing as a message board...

Anyway, keep the Music alive in your hearts with this CD until we can bring it back to the sanctuaries! The day will come... ::smiles tearfully::

Ostende nobis, Domine, misericordiam tuam.

And another review:

5.0 out of 5 stars Burn the "Glory and Praise" hymnal!, July 21, 2003
By Darren Gauthier (Baton Rouge, LA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Catholic Latin Classics (Audio CD)

For those who have had enough of folk masses, youth masses, and "On Eagle's Wings" - as I have, since about 1988 - this is the antidote. I resent the 1960's generation who felt the need to throw out 1500 years of beautiful sacred music and replace it with the Paul Simon-like strains of "Here I Am Lord." When I hear this music in Latin, all I can say is "DEO GRATIAS!"

And--I can't resist--one more:

5.0 out of 5 stars Do you love the Latin Mass?, April 4, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Catholic Latin Classics (Audio CD)
If you prefer the Tridentine rite (the Old Latin Mass) then this recording is for you. It's such a contrast from the banal claptrap we get nowadays (Dan Schutte, St. Louis Jesuits, et al., with their On Eagles Wings, Be Not Afraid, Glory to God, etc.) It's also not the least bit saccharine or overdone as is often the case with recordings of popular Catholic hymns and songs. The recording is tasteful and devotional, almost Anglo-Catholic in its execution, if you know what I mean. Nothing smacking of electric votive candles or overly sentimental renditions of To Jesus' Heart All Burning (not that that doesn't have its place!).

For the most part the arrangements are straightforward. My one regret is that the second verse of Tantum Ergo is a bit over arranged to the point where the melody is lost. I would have preferred if they had recorded Tantum Ergo with the first verse a capella (as they did) with an organ coming in for the second verse all the while swelling towards a resounding crescendo. That's the way it's done at the Benediction service I go to and that's the way I prefer it.

But don't let that stop you from buying it. The Regina Caeli Laetare is especially well done as is the Ecce Sacerdos Magnus, the latter bringing to mind images of the next papal Coronation (and yes, let's pray that it is a Coronation this time: triple tiara, crozier, etc.)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

O come, o come Emmanuel (Robert Shaw)

A beautiful performance of this haunting call led by the late, great American choral conductor Robert Shaw (1916-1999). With thanks, again, to The Anchoress -

Heathens Greetings

A thoughtful article...and a nice headline. By Jordan Lorence, Alliance Defense Fund.

Heathens Greetings: What the Supposedly Nonexistent “War on Christmas” Really Is and Is Not
Posted on December 22nd, 2010

So, does the “War on Christmas” exist or not? Is there a concerted effort by secularists to eradicate open acknowledgements of Christmas from the public square as they remove creches, censor Christmas Carols and forbid store employees and government workers from uttering the forbidden words, “Merry Christmas?” Or is the “War on Christmas” really nonexistent and phony, a clever and cynical ploy concocted by leaders of the Religious Right to rile up the emotions of its gullible followers for increased fundraising at the end of the year? Or, in the alternative, is the “War on Christmas” really hyped up by Fox News in order to boost its ratings? So which narrative is correct? Does the “War on Christmas” exist or not?

I have been pondering this question this December because I find it suprising, as one who has dealt with a number of Christmas censorship lawsuits and controversies over the years. In fact, I found in the dusty recesses of my office bookshelf a copy of a pamphlet I wrote for Concerned Women for America that it published in 1987(!) addressing what the Constitution permits or prohibits for public Christmas celebrations. The book recounts a case I worked on with Mike Farris involving an Orlando-area school district that prohibited student choirs from singing religious Christmas carols, and removed all student artwork from classroom walls that depicted the birth of Christ. The booklet details various court cases by the American Civil Liberties Union to ban religious Christmas carols in public schools and to remove creches. I was trying to discuss actual legal cases in the booklet, not write fiction.

Also, I recall a flight on a major airlines several years ago. When we landed, the flight attendant wished us a “Happy Holidays” over the intercom. As I left, I asked her if her company allowed its employees to say “Merry Christmas” to passengers. She said, “oh no, I would be written up if I did that.” So I am suprised when commentators scoff at these actual accounts and and claim that there is no “War on Christmas.” What? I was there! Are you denying reality? Those things actually happened! I feel like Neil Armstrong listening to someone argue that NASA faked my Apollo moon landing!

I want to be charitable towards those who deny that any “War on Christmas” exists. (this is the Christmas season, you know). So, I ponder how is it that intelligent, thoughtful people would look at all of this evidence and conclude that no ”War on Christmas” exists? How can equally intelligent, thoughtful people look at what is going on in American society and come to the exact opposite conclusions, and see a major effort to censor Christmas?

I believe there is a way to explain these seemingly irreconcilable views: The two sides define the “War on Christmas” controversy differently, which means they look to different sets of facts and evidence, which leads them to different conclusions on whether the ”War on Christmas” actually exists or not. Let me illustrate the difference this way:

Person Who is Skeptical About a “War on Christmas:” “I see Christmas everywhere. I visited my local shopping mall and I saw the stores filled with Christmas decorations – green boughs, red ribbons, and gold ornaments hanging everywhere. I heard Bing Crosby singing, ‘White Christmas’ and Mannheim Steamroller playing ‘Deck the Halls’ all over the mall. Santa Claus sat on a big chair in the center of the food court, with a long line of parents and children lined up to sit on his lap. I see Christmas everywhere! Grandiose productions ‘A Christmas Carol’ with Scrooge and Tiny Tim play endlessly on T.V. and at local community theaters. People at the office wear gaudy red and green sweaters and ply me with homemade Christmas cookies. I don’t see any ‘War on Christmas.’ It must be a calloused effort by religious conservatives to whip up the masses for fundraising purposes.”

Person Who Agrees that Christmas Is Being Censored: I go shopping for Christmas presents at my local mall. I notice that all of the Christmas music played there carefully avoids any mention of the birth of Jesus Christ. ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and ‘Jingle Bells’ dominate the tunes played to the shoppers. Signs in stores say only, “Seasons Greetings” and studiously avoid mentioning ’Christmas.’ The clerks greet me with “Happy Holidays,” but never say “Merry Christmas,” except when their boss is distracted and the employee utters the words quickly and under his breath. My fifth grader comes home from his elementary school telling me that the choir teacher has eliminated “Silent Night” and “Away in the Manger” from the repetoire to be sung at this year’s “Winter Concert” because some parent objected. Those songs will be replaced with ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ and some Kwanzaa song. Also, he brought home a list of things that he cannot write on his “holiday” cards that we give to his fellow students – no “Merry Christmas,” nothing about “Christ” or “Jesus,” no angels, shepherds or wise men, etc. I am so frustrated with this nonsense that I am thinking about having my son distribute cards to his friends that say, “M_____ C_____ and a Happy New Year.” As a Christian, I feel so marginalized by all of this. I am so tired of the secular, ACLU-types with their egg shell sensitivities, reacting with outrage to any reference to the Birth of Christ and their systematic efforts to intimidate all of us into silence.”

These two sets of people are defining the “War on Christmas” differently, so they find different facts to be relevant to their evaluation. In order to find common ground to have a discussion about the “War on Christmas,” we need a common definition on what it is and is not. The debate is not whether there are people working to totally eradicate anything to do with Christmas – like 17th Century Puritans eliminating all references to Christmas. No one is claiming that the U.S. is to Christmas as North Korea is to religious liberty. That would be foolish. Of course secularists are content to allow stores to decorate with nonthreatening red and green, and to play secular, non-religious Christmas songs over the loud speakers. But that is not what the debate is all about.

The real issue defining the “War on Christmas” is the efforts by some to eliminate public references to the religious aspects of Christmas as celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. The battle is NOT over the total elimination of Christmas. No one objects to the celebration of the secular aspects of Christmas, so they remain untouched in our culture. Therefore, I can understand why some fail to see any “War on Christmas” when they see Christmas celebrations everywhere. But these are frequently celebrations of Christmas that are stripped of its Christian roots.

That is what people who see a “War on Christmas” are responding to with their objections and protests. Many who believe that Christmas is the birth of Christ feel alienated and marginalized when this major holiday that most Americans celebrate is neutered of its religious aspects when celebrated publicly. Many find Christmas as one of the cultural cords that unite us as a national community, and they object to people who want to sever that cord by what they perceive as petty objections to benign acknowledgements of the religious roots of Christmas.

Now, if readers are not convinced, let me offer this analogy that my daugther Jenna came up with. Imagine if some organization started filing lawsuits to stop the reading of the Declaration of Independence and the singing of patriotic songs on the Fourth of July because they found them offensive. They object to this needless censorship. If someone else said, “I don’t see any ‘War on the Fourth of July.’ I see plenty of family picnics, small town parades and fireworks displays. These self-appointed ‘Patriots’ are just exaggerating to raise money from gullible people during the slow summer months.” We would say that the doubters are defining the Fourth of July differently than those who object to the censorship of the Declaration and of patriotic songs. The same thing is happening here with Christmas.

Also, as one who has worked as an attorney for conservative Christian organizations for over 25 years, I can state emphatically that the “Religious Right” could not have manufactured a phony “War on Christmas” and dupe gullible evangelical, conservative Catholics, etc., to accept such a “war” that really does not exist. The reason many people agree that there is a “War on Christmas” is because they experience first hand the pressure to censor the religious aspects of Christmas expressions. They are like the flight attendant I talked to who was told by her boss not to wish passengers a “Merry Christmas.” If people did not personally experience the secularist intimidation to get rid of the religious aspects of Christmas from public expression, Fox News, Religious Right leaders, etc., could not bambozzle them to think it exists when it really does not.

So I don’t think it advances the debate for people to deny that efforts to censor the public displays of the religious aspects of Christmas exist. The debate should be over whether these public expressions about the birth of Christ at Christmas divide us or bring us together. My thought is that with so many forces in American culture drawing us apart and fragmenting us, Christmas is one cultural bond that almost all Americans share and celebrate, whether Christian or not. It is a season whose message encourages people to love others, to give generously to others, and to think of principles and values greater than themselves, like loving God who sent a Savior for us. Censoring and impeding these messages because of extreme and arcane interpretations of the Establishment Clause seems, well, Scrooge-like.

Yes, Virginia, there is a “War on Christmas,” if it is defined as efforts to censor the public expression of the religious aspects of Christmas.

Author Jordan Lorence - ADF Sr. VP; Sr. Counsel
ADF Senior Vice President; Senior Counsel - University Project

Retrieved December 22, 2010 from

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy reviewed

Faith Forming Culture
A review of Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village
by Gilbert Meilaender

Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village
by Juliet du Boulay
Denise Harvey, 462 pages, $45

In 1974 Juliet du Boulay published Portrait of a Greek Mountain Village, an ethnographic study of the Greek mountain village, Ambeli, whose inhabitants’ manner of subsistent living was embedded deeply in nature and the cycle of the seasons. Her study was based on two periods of fieldwork (1966–68 and 1970–72). Now, many years later, she returns to these materials with a further aim: to examine how the local customs and way of life of the villagers are shaped by religion (in particular, by the liturgy of the Orthodox Church) so that the faith forms a culture.

It may not be wrong to say that du Boulay carried out her fieldwork just in time—that is, while villages such as Ambeli “were still vibrant working com-munities living almost entirely off their own land.” But, as she notes in her Introduction, the villagers at that time were on the cusp of deep and profound changes, so much so that “much of the way of life re-counted here can no longer be found.” What the wars of the twentieth century were unable to do—namely, to “alter the deeper ideas and values” that shaped village life—other forces began to accomplish.

A younger generation has begun to leave the village, and, more important still, the people’s way of life is increasingly being shaped not by their own traditional modes of thinking but by the “outside world, which is more and more making the villagers’ choices for them,” characterizing what counts in new and different terms. The traditional cosmology of the villagers that du Boulay examines so exhaustively here has been challenged by events from outside—causing them, on the one hand, to be reluctant to articulate and defend their received understandings, and, on the other hand, to doubt the truth of (for example) reports of moon landings. New roads have brought the possibility of commuting to work elsewhere, mechanized techniques for farming inevitably altered the shape of life (with 1973 being the last year that animals were used for threshing), and the village has begun to be-come a place to which outsiders come for vacations or to spend the summer. Whether we should regret this, and whether it suggests anything inherently unstable in such a traditional way of life, is a matter worth pondering, but du Boulay for the most part eschews such questions. It is clear, though, that when many aspects of life become matters for individual choice rather than “givens” of a cosmological order, the effects for life and faith must be considerable.

Du Boulay explores different aspects of village life and belief in rich ethnographic detail. This is not the Greece we may picture as the birthplace of reason; indeed, the villagers’ form of life is one for which philosophic reason may prove subversive. Du Boulay focuses, for example, on matters such as the villagers’ cosmological beliefs, their understanding of work and marriage, their vision of death, the place of saints and ascetic monks. In every case she seeks to bring to the customs of village life an interpretive framework shaped by the Orthodox liturgy, although she notes on a number of occasions that the people of the village “absorb the essence of the liturgical offices even while they are not able to understand word for word what is being said.” If the villagers’ life is not that of students of Plato or Aristotle, it is also not that of the Cappadocian Fathers. It is more habit than reflection.

Nonetheless, the religious vision that permeates vil-lage life is rich and deep. That God has become incarnate in Jesus means that human life (in all its materiality) cannot be entirely alien to God. Rather, every aspect of our lives—of the villagers’ lives—is drawn up into Christ and transformed by his Spirit. Hence, although the villagers have little acquaintance with texts about and interpretations of icons, du Boulay believes that they understand well the theology of the icon, which is not a likeness of an absent God but a revelation of the God to whom human flesh is not foreign. Without reading or being equipped to understand discussions of transcendence and immanence, the villagers “know well the difference between veneration (treating an object as partaking in the qualities of the holy person it represents) and idolatry (treating an object as divine in itself). . . . Thus, what is particular, limited, and material can partake in what is eternal, unlimited, and spiritual.”

Although du Boulay’s discussion of different aspects of village life is too full to lend itself to summary, one nice example of how she thinks faith forms culture in the village may be useful. In a chapter on “Work and Bread” she examines in detail the hard labor of men (chiefly on the land) and women (chiefly in the house) that is needed to sustain life. That this labor is carried out under harsh conditions—that only in sweat of our brow do we eat bread—is to be expected in a world distorted by sin. Yet, even apart from any religious belief about the redemption or elevation of our work within the Body of Christ, du Boulay depicts villagers who have a certain conception of the nobility of their work—and, we might add, a theory of “alienated labor” that surely does not depend on having read Marx. They place a “persistent value” on growing their own wheat to make bread for their own homes. This is, in their view, better than “earning cash and buying bread,” which, though possible, would lose an essential link in “the many-stranded relationship between God, man, and the world.”

But, of course, there is more significance than just this to the work that eventually produces bread. In the Eucharist that bread becomes the body of Christ, which in turn is the one body of all who share in it. And in that feast the sheer labor of subsistence living is redeemed from dhouleia (work as slavery) and transfigured into leitourgia (the shared work that serves God). In the eucharistic liturgy the harsh labor of a world distorted by sin is taken up into the life of God and transformed into a feast of victory and reconciliation. Thus, the shared labor of village life, the sharing in the eucharistic meal, and that meal’s sharing with the host of heaven before God all come together in a way of life that unites the earthly and the cosmic in a culture shaped by faith.

Surely, there is much about the life of these Ambeli villagers that is attractive, even if few of us would survive for long the rigors of the world du Boulay depicts. To be located, to have a sense of place—and, especially, to have that sense in a place that unites earth and heaven in one cosmic vision that is liturgically enacted—must surely make life meaningful in ways hard to duplicate in other settings. No wonder Rousseau was given to rapture when describing the life of honest peasants, though he was less drawn to specifically religious beliefs. That we find this village life attractive does not mean we cannot understand why a younger generation, given alternatives, might decide to leave the village and take their chances with alienated labor elsewhere.

It is worth noting what is missing in the life of the villagers, at least in du Boulay’s depiction. There is a great deal of shared liturgical life, but little high culture. There is a rich vision of humanity’s place in the cosmos, but not the sort of reflection upon it characteristic of those great Greeks, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. There is a sense of rootedness and meaningfulness, but relatively little freedom to strike out on new paths or alter radically one’s way of life. One man’s alienation is, after all, another man’s freedom.

One suspects, in fact, that the recent changes noted briefly by du Boulay in her introduction may rapidly undermine village life. The life of the people of Ambeli is shaped primarily by habit, “an undefined set of assumptions . . . which is accepted without reflection.” A life that is almost all habit is extraordinarily powerful and has remarkable staying power, but, if and when it falls apart, the collapse is likely to be quite sudden. The lure of freedom is matched only by its corrosive power.

There is much food for thought in the story du Boulay tells, but the moral of the story is not that we should try to recapture a life something like that of the village she depicts. Baking bread to bring and use in our eucharistic liturgies is not even a dim reflection of what it means for the villagers of Ambeli to do so. Rather than trying to recapture symbols now lost, we need to think as best we can about how to reclaim and reshape the life we actually have so that it too can become part of a single cosmic liturgy. For, of course, if faith does not form culture, then culture will inevitably form (and undermine) faith.

Gilbert Meilaender is the 2010–2011 Remick Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture.

Retrieved December 22, 2010 from

More on the O Antiphons

ARCHBISHOP CHAPUT: Christmas: A revolution sparked by God's intervention and love

For anyone who seeks out the real meaning of “the holidays,” the last few days before Christmas are the most powerful period of Advent and one of the most beautiful times in the year. The Octave before Christmas, Dec. 17-23, is the time of the “O Antiphons.

And here, in a terrific page, is everything about the O Antiphons, including texts in Latin and English, and nicely sung too (MP3 files).

Thinking of Pieper's great, dense but slim book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture and thinking there should be one on Liturgy, The Performative Basis of Culture. Not quite so counter-intuitive or striking, I admit. For more on liturgy as performance and the "making of humanity," see Roy Rappaport's extraordinary (but thick as well as dense) study Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The perfect gift for your (clueless) man

According to Kate Fox's anthropological studies of the English, we English men compound the emotional cluelessness apparently universal in our sex with the particular social dis-ease of our tribe. (Was Shakespeare really an Italian woman?)

This makes us hard to understand, since we have only three emotions--surprise, anger, and elation (as when our team scores a goal)--and all three are expressed in the same way, with expletives. This makes it hard sometimes to tell which is which.

Naturally, we share the general male inability to decipher indirect expressions of emotion by females. This is doubly disabling since all emotion is expressed indirectly in England. Frankly saying what you mean is frowned on for both sexes. In any case, a man should know what his woman means when she says the opposite (another of Fox's rules of English behavior--it's called irony).

But according to this little message, help is on the way. Perhaps the institution of marriage can be saved after all. Merry Christmas!

King`s College Choir, Cambridge - A virgin most pure

King`s College Choir, Cambridge - Benedicamus Domino

Gothic chant - École de Notre-Dame: Benedicamus Domino

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why the myth of American 'Islamophobia'?

The op-ed piece below from the Boston Globe marshals the empirical evidence to refute the myth of American 'Islamophobia.' Though the numbers of Muslims and Jews in the U.S. are roughly the same, anti-semitic (as in anti-Jewish) hate crimes outnumber anti-Muslim crimes by 8 to 1, according the best data we have. And Muslims say they feel safer in the U.S. than in any other Western country.

The problem is that the evidence just does not support the secular-liberal elite narrative according to which the real enemy of liberal modernity, democracy, and tolerance is not militant Islam but Christians who will not stay in the closet and persist in exercising their First Amendment right to religious freedom in the public square. The real enemy of peace and democracy in the Middle East, in this view, is Israel. For progressive opinion, anti-Israeli sentiment shades easily into anti-semitism, which even the staunchest anti-racists of the left take little or no trouble to disown.

Anecdotally, I have seen this secular-liberal ideology even more strongly among Brits and Europeans, where deeply ingrained anti-Americanism mixes with hostility to Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, to make a potent and poisonous brew. That kind of strident anti-Catholic bigotry used to be associated there (and in the U.S.) with some kinds of Evangelical or fundamentalist protestantism (remember the Northern Ireland Protestant firebrand, the Rev. Ian Paisley?). Now that Paisley has mellowed with old age and a knighthood, enlightened secular opinion has taken up the flag of bigotry. The best-selling 'new atheists' like Dawkins and Hitchens may be the most prominent of the new anti-Catholics and may have made the most money at it, but almost the entire British mainstream media spewed forth anti-Catholic bigotry on a scale not seen since the mid-19th century in the months leading up to the first state visit ever by a pope to England and Scotland. True, the papal visit itself refuted all the dire (but gleeful) media predictions that it would be met with overwhelming indifference or hostility--by inconveniently turning out to be an unmitigated success.

Because the bigots see themselves as progressive, liberal, multicultural, and tolerant, they make a sharp distinction between hostility toward Christianity, Judaism, and European civilization in general on one hand, and Islam on the other. So, I find, the liberal English people I know deplored the sheer backwardness and bigotry (as they saw it) of those who expressed unease or opposition over plans to build a mosque close to what many see as sacred ground, the site of 911, where militant Muslims flew planes into buildings and killed thousands of unarmed civilians (an event that not a few of these 'progressive' secularists convinced themselves was some kind of government conspiracy--by the U.S.). They saw as "typical" the expressed plan of a Christian preacher in Florida with fewer than 50 followers to burn a Koran--a plan condemned by the leaders of Catholic Christianity, the mainstream of Protestantism, including its Evangelical wing, and political and military leaders of all political opinions on other matters. But the mass slaughter of Christians in Baghdad merits little or no condemnation--or, like everything else, is blamed on the Americans. The lack of public condemnation of such acts of intolerance, hatred, and murder are to be expected, in Pakistan or Iran, where an imam's plan to burn a Bible would hardly attract notice, but is also typical of the double standards and selective indignation among the secular-liberal cultural elites in the West.

There is even a belief in Europe, not on the part of serious internationalists and anti-racists, but amazingly pervasive nonetheless, that racism is a peculiarity of American society. There is no racism in Europe, I have been told more than once. Really.

So the actual data about hate crimes in the U.S. are very inconvenient for this whole narrative. The myth of American Islamophobia must be preserved and perpetuated, and the American MSM, like Time magazine, does its bit.

To be fair, however, it must be said that Christopher Hitchens (who popularized the actually accurate term "Islamofascism") and the British website Butterflies and Wheels, are consistently anti-religious, denouncing all religions, including Islam, with equal contempt.


The ‘Islamophobia’ myth
By Jeff Jacoby
Globe Columnist / December 8, 2010

‘IS AMERICA Islamophobic?’’
When that provocative question appeared on the cover of Time in August, the accompanying story strained to imply, on the basis of some anecdotal evidence, that the answer might be yes. The FBI’s latest compendium of US hate-crimes data suggests far more plausibly that the answer is no.

“Where ordinary Americans meet Islam, there is evidence that suspicion and hostility are growing,’’ the Time article said. “To be a Muslim in America now is to endure slings and arrows against your faith — not just in the schoolyard and the office but also outside your place of worship and in the public square, where some of the country’s most powerful mainstream religious and political leaders unthinkingly (or worse, deliberately) conflate Islam with terrorism and savagery.’’

Time published that article amid the tumult over plans to build a Muslim mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero in New York, and not long after a fringe pastor in Gainesville had announced that he intended to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The piece noted that a handful of other mosque projects nationwide have run into “bitter opposition,’’ and it cited a Duke University professor’s claim that such resistance is “part of a pattern of intolerance’’ against American Muslims. Yet the story conceded frankly that “there’s no sign that violence against Muslims is on the rise’’ and that “Islamophobia in the US doesn’t approach levels seen in other countries.’’

In fact, as Time pointed out, while there may be the occasional confrontation over a Muslim construction project, “there are now 1,900 mosques in the US, up from about 1,200 in 2001.’’ Even after 9/11, in other words, and even as radical Islamists continue to target Americans, places of worship for Muslims in the United States have proliferated. And whenever naked anti-Islamic bigotry has appeared, “it has been denounced by many Christian, Jewish, and secular groups.’’

America is many things, but “Islamophobic’’ plainly isn’t one of them. As Time itself acknowledged: “Polls have shown that most Muslims feel safer and freer in the US than anywhere else in the Western world.’’ That sentiment is powerfully buttressed by the FBI’s newly released statistics on hate crimes in the United States.

In 2009, according to data gathered from more than 14,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, there were 1,376 hate crimes motivated by religious bias. Of those, just 9.3 percent — fewer than 1 in 10 — were committed against Muslims. By contrast, 70.1 percent were committed against Jews, 6.9 percent were aimed at Catholics or Protestants, and 8.6 percent targeted other religions. Hate crimes driven by anti-Muslim bigotry were outnumbered nearly 8 to 1 by anti-Semitic crimes.

Year after year, American Jews are far more likely to be the victims of religious hate crime than members of any other group. That was true even in 2001, by far the worst year for anti-Muslim incidents, when 481 were reported — less than half of the 1,042 anti-Jewish crimes tabulated by the FBI the same year.

Does all this mean that America is in reality a hotbed of anti-Semitism? Would Time’s cover have been closer to the mark if it had asked: “Is America Judeophobic?’’

Of course not. Even one hate crime is one too many, but in a nation of 300 million, all of the religious-based hate crimes added together amount to less than a drop in the bucket. This is not to minimize the 964 hate crimes perpetrated against Jews last year, or those carried out against Muslims (128), Catholics (55), or Protestants (40). Some of those attacks were especially shocking or destructive; all of them should be punished. But surely the most obvious takeaway from the FBI’s statistics is not that anti-religious hate crimes are so frequent in America. It is that they are so rare.

In a column a few years back, I wrote that America has been for the Jews “a safe harbor virtually without parallel.’’ It has proved much the same for Muslims. Of course there is tension and hostility sometimes. How could there not be, when America is at war with violent jihadists who have done so much harm in the name of Islam? But for American Muslims as for American Jews, the tension and hostility are the exception. America’s exemplary tolerance is the rule.

Retrieved December 20, 2010 from

Typical! English Humor in the Face of Outrage

Lesbian-hugging Marxist nuns have reduced US parishes to nuclear wasteland, Catholic pundit tentatively suggests

A classic headline from Damian Thompson, Editor of Telegraph Blogs (UK) and a journalist specializing in religion. He is describing a clip from an American conservative Catholic broadcaster. Michael Voris runs and he makes Thompson appear like a fuzzy, warm-hearted and amused observer of the antics of the "progressive" clergy and religious who presided over the rot--the collapse of faith and morals--of the seminaries in the 1970s and 1980s (on which see Michael Rose), the introduction of pop music of that period that persists even today as 'sacred' music in place of Gregorian chant and much-loved traditional Catholic hymns (in the U.S. via the appalling outfit OCP (Oregon Catholic Publications), and--you see how hard it is to maintain one's equanimity in face of the devastation wrought by these developments?

Somehow Thompson maintains his wit and humor in a way that is beyond most commentators on this wreckage of Catholic liturgy, music, architecture, catechesis, seminaries, and religious orders that followed (but was never authorized by) Vatican II. Voris, on the other hand, is heavy-handed and clearly violates the English anti-earnestness rule (on which see Kate Fox). Voris does not share the English penchant for ironic understatement.

So how does Thompson bring Voris's short video to the attention of his readers while keeping under control his own glee at the sorry fate of the modernist, 'progressive' orders of nuns? First, he suggests that if some of his readers think he is mean and hypercritical about the English bishops and their 'Magic Circle,', they would not enjoy Voris's video. Then he introduces and quotes from the video to give its flavor:

"Voris, who runs RealCatholicTV, is not pleased that Rome is planning to “acknowledge the hurt” felt by Lefty nuns as they’re asked to demonstrate that they are, you know, Catholic. And understatement really isn’t his thing. As he puts it:"

Is there a Catholic in the world who still goes to Mass who doesn’t realize the nuclear damage that has been done to the Church by modernist nuns? Millions of Catholics have had to stand by while these “good sisters” dismantled hundreds of years of work … advancing a socialist, Marxist political agenda, embracing lesbianism, instituting yoga classes along with Mother Earth prayer tutorials, conducting retreats based on sorcery and witchcraft … making a shipwreck of the faith by teaching that abortion is acceptable, that women can be priests, that WE ARE CHURCH…

"Fortunately, he adds, “real nuns” in real habits are on the rise, proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ, and the radical orders are disappearing into oblivion…"
… but we can’t go there because that annoys the femiNazi nuns and we don’t want to spend any more time having to acknowledge their “deep hurt and anger”. Most of them are getting along in years, well along, and while in New Age theology death doesn’t really mean anything except being released into the fullness of your feng shuiness and whirling around Mother Earth gardens for eternity, we know who will be standing there waiting for them!

A bit over the top of Voris, perhaps, but right on nevertheless, thinks Thompson. What to do? Should he post Voris's video or restrain himself on grounds of charity, not to mention Voris's flouting the English cultural rules of humor and anti-earnestness? How to convey his own shared pleasure at the slow demise of those orders that have wrought such damage in the Church? But without appearing too gleeful himself? He resolves the question in a way we can only call, "Typical!"--the key word of English Eeyorishness:

Such mean-spirited glee is, of course, deplorable. So let me make one thing absolutely clear. I’ve posted this video only to show what can happen when conservative Catholic commentators lose their sense of charity. Yes indeedy.

As for me, an English expat in the US for most of my life, I thought long and hard how to resolve this problem for myself and my modest blog. Charity prevents me from posting Voris's video, but I cannot avoid citing my source, Thompson's own blog. I have quoted here from:

Warning: Thompson's blog can be addictive, but ignore the comments that follow it--they mostly come from the same few people who ignore the topic and substance of whatever Thompson posted and indulge in silliness that they seem to enjoy. The banter may reflect English male-bonding rules as described by Kate Fox. According to Fox, male bonding is a cultural universal, but this is not a particularly attractive form of it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ireland's human rights baby: What's at stake

As Professor Professor William Binchy of Trinity College Dublin’s Law faculty, quoted at the end of the following post, puts it:
“What’s at stake in this debate is the value of life, and the sad experience is that once laws permitting abortion are introduced, they diminish the society’s respect for the inherent value of every human life, born or unborn."

Here is yet another case of a contest, or at least tension (it's not yet clear), between an international legal body and a sovereign nation. We see in cases like this and the Costa Rica case (see the post below), a kind of repetition on an international level of the disastrous Roe v. Wade ruling in the United States, which took abortion out of the democratic process and, with Doe v. Bolton, issued a more or less unlimited license to kill unborn babies. The results have been terrible, above all in the scale of the slaughter of innocents that has ensued, but also in defeat for democracy, the increased power of courts, and in the American case, the end of the Democratic Party as a party with any kind of claim consistently to uphold social justice and the rights of the most vulnerable.

Instead, the DP has become increasingly inhospitable to its working-class Catholic base, has excluded pro-life politicians from its leadership (with a remarkable volte-face by many of its formerly pro-life leaders (Clinton, Biden, Jesse Jacckson, etc., etc.) who sacrificed principle for power, and has become irretrievably the party of death.

Michael Kirke | Friday, 17 December 2010

Ireland’s human rights baby

A European court decision has left the rights of the unborn child in the hands of the Irish people and their politicians. [Or has it? PA]

The issue of the right to life of the unborn child became centre-stage in Ireland again yesterday with a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled on a case brought before it alleging the denial of human rights to three women who were unable to have abortions in Ireland because of its constitutional ban on the procedure. The rulings immediately set off a fire-storm of differing interpretations on the ruling and whether or not it obliges the Irish State to abandon its prohibition on abortion. Clearly the Pro-life activists and those wishing to see abortion available in Ireland were lining up for another all-out battle on the issue.

The Strasbourg-based court, which is separate from the EU, adjudicates on human rights issues among all 47 member states of the Council of Europe.

The identities of the women involved are confidential. They have only been known to the public as A, B and C. Two are Irish and one is a Lithuanian who was living in Ireland. After they failed to get an abortion in Ireland they travelled to the Britain for the procedure. The pro abortion campaign then took up their case and processed it through the Irish courts – but to no avail. Their last port of call was the ECHR which has now given its judgement.

They include a woman who received chemotherapy for cancer; a woman who ran the risk of an ectopic pregnancy; and a woman whose children were placed in care as she was unable to cope. Although the court has only found in favour of the first woman, the headlines are proclaiming that the ruling has found that Ireland has failed to properly guarantee the constitutional right to abortion to which a woman is entitled when her life is at risk.

This distinction harks back to an Irish Supreme Court ruling in the 1990s when the Irish Constitution’s prohibition on abortion was overruled by that court in the case of a young girl who had been statutorily raped and became pregnant. This was know as the “X” case, since the girl could not be named. The court, on the basis of an opinion – which many found medically questionable – that the girl was in danger of committing suicide, declared that her right to life took precedence over the life of the unborn child. A miscarriage ended that tragic story but the Court’s ruling left Ireland’s legal position on abortion in very disputed territory. The campaign behind the case of these women was designed to bring all this to a head and open up the possibility for women to have abortions in Ireland.

In this case the Irish Government defended the status quo on Ireland's abortion laws, maintaining that it was based on “profound moral values deeply embedded in Irish society”. Its legal team argued before the court that the ECHR had consistently recognised the traditions of different countries regarding the rights of unborn children and maintained that this case sought to undermine these principles and align Ireland with countries with more liberal abortion laws.

Nevertheless, on Thursday morning the court unanimously ruled that the rights of one of the three women were breached because she had no “effective or accessible procedure” to establish her right to a lawful abortion. The woman’s case was that she had a rare form of cancer and feared it would relapse when she became pregnant. She was unable to find a doctor willing to make a determination as to whether her life would be at risk if she continued to term.

The court concluded that neither the “medical consultation nor litigation options” relied on by the Government constituted an “effective or accessible procedure”. “Consequently, the court concluded that Ireland had breached this applicant’s right to respect for her private life given the failure to implement the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion in Ireland.” The court ruled that there had been no violation of the rights of the two other women involved in the case - "A" and "B".

The failure of the campaign to secure a ruling in its favour in all three cases gives some encouragement to the pro-life movement in Ireland – and indeed in Europe. It means that the Court, at its highest level, has not declared abortion as such to be a human right under the term of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ECHR ruling has put the issue of back on the political agenda in Ireland and is likely to force all the political parties now heading into a General Election in Spring to adopt clear policies on the matter. They will not like this. Until now, with the exception of the left-wing Labour and green parties – the politicians have shied away from the issue knowing how complex it in fact is. It touches deep matters of conscience which they would rather not have to engage with.

Interestingly enough, this week the Fianna Fail Party, the main party in the present government has reached a historic low in opinion polls – because of its perceived mis-handling of the economy. As the most traditional party it would however, be seen as the natural pro-life party and might well see this issue as a life-line. Were it to take a very pro-life line on legislation – because whatever government comes in will now, it seems, have to frame legislation on this issue. The most recent opinion poll findings show that 70% of the public support constitutional protection for the unborn,13% oppose it and 16% don’t know or have no opinion.

The Irish Minister for Health, Mary Harney, seems to have accepted that the ECHR ruling will oblige the State to legislate to secure the human right which it maintains the Irish Constitution has denied to one of the women. Others dispute this obligation. Ms. Harney has said the Government would reflect on the ruling and take legal advice. She said the Government would have to come forward with proposals to reflect the ruling. Clearly kicking to touch she added, “However, this will take time as it is a highly sensitive and complex area.”

Professor William Binchy of Trinity College Dublin’s Law faculty said yesterday at the Irish Pro Life Campaign’s Press Conference, that the ruling “would require detailed analysis over coming days but some clear points emerge immediately. The most important is that the judgment does not require Ireland to introduce legislation authorising abortion. On the contrary, it fully respects the entitlement of the Irish people to determine legal policy on protecting the lives of unborn children.”

Professor Binchy, an internationally renowned lawyer and author, has always been highly critical of the judgement in the “X” case referred to above. “The evidence over the past 18 years contradicts the medical assumptions of the X case decision. It is crucial to note that the judges in the X case heard no medical evidence. In the years since the ruling, the evidence has steadily built up confirming the opposite of what the judges had assumed - women who have abortions are more likely to commit suicide than women who continue with their pregnancy.”

As he sees it the Irish people must now make a choice. He says that if they were to choose to endorse the Supreme Court decision in X, - which is what the pro-abortion campaign will look for from the politicians – “this would involve legalising abortion contrary to existing medical practice and the best evidence of medical research. If on the other hand, the Irish people choose to endorse the current medical practice, they will be ensuring the continuation of Ireland’s world renowned safety record for mothers and babies during pregnancy.

“Any revisiting of the X case decision would need to take on board the evidence from these new studies that abortion involves significant risks for some women. Based on the current state of medical evidence alone, it would be irresponsible simply to introduce legislation along the lines of the X ruling as it would put at risk the mother’s life as well as taking the baby’s.

“The suggestion that because of this country’s pro-life ethos pregnant women are denied necessary medical treatments is simply not true. In fact, Ireland is a world leader in safety for pregnant mothers. The latest UN report on the safety of mothers during pregnancy found, of all 172 countries for which estimates are given, Ireland leads the world when it comes to safety for pregnant women.

“By all means, let us debate the abortion issue openly, honestly and with all the facts in front of us. But equally, we cannot shy away from the implications of what legal abortion would involve and the brutal reality of abortion, legal up to birth, in countries like Britain.

“What’s at stake in this debate is the value of life, and the sad experience is that once laws permitting abortion are introduced, they diminish the society’s respect for the inherent value of every human life, born or unborn. What we need now is a calm, respectful national discussion, in which the latest medical and scientific evidence is fully considered leading to a solution at a Constitutional level, which will ensure the full protection of all human beings, mothers and unborn children, on the basis of respect for their equal dignity and worth.”

Michael Kirke is a freelance writer in Dublin. He blogs at Garvan Hill.
Retrieved December 19, 2010 from

Repeal the lame duck session!

A good question posed by Sheila Liaugminas on her MercatorNet blog at
How do members of government voted out of office get to return for a few final weeks of raw legislative power to force into law controversial bills unpopular with the people before the election?

Orwellian pressure on Costa Rica to define right to life as violation of human rights

This story offers another example of how international bodies, staffed by lawyers and bureaucrats who adhere to a secularist-liberal-feminist orthodoxy of the kind described by Robert George in The Clash of Orthodoxies seek to coerce the will of sovereign peoples and governments. Go Costa Rica!

International pressure to force Costa Rica to legalise IVF
by Michael Cook | 18 Dec 2010 |

Activists are determined to haul Costa Rica before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights to force the Central American country to legalise IVF. In 2000, its Supreme Court declared that IVF violated the right to life of surplus embryos. This effectively made IVF procedures impossible.

Subsequently, according to a report in the IPS news service, 10 Costa Rican couples appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), arguing that the ban violated their right to form a family. In August the IACHR agreed and told the Costa Rican government to revise the law to conform to international conventions.

The government has fought back by introducing a bill on IVF which declares that every IVF embryo must be used, which effectively makes storing frozen embryos impossible. The bill also requires a special psychological test for couples wishing to undergo IVF.

The IACHR has declared that if there is "insufficient or no will" on the part of the government, it will refer the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Court and the Commission are bodies set up by the Organization of American States to uphold basic rights and freedoms in the American hemisphere. Member states have to agree to submit to their adjudicaton. The Commmission is based in Washington DC and the Court in – ironically – Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. ~ IPS News, Dec 17

Retrieved December 19, 2010 from

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kosovo organ trafficking: the gruesome saga continues

Kosovo organ trafficking: the gruesome saga continues
by Michael Cook | 18 Dec 2010 |

Was Kosovo’s recently re-elected Prime Minister involved in murdering Serb prisoners for their organs during the 1999 civil war? An official report from a committee of the Council of Europe said this week that there is enough evidence to warrant further investigation. This was angrily repudiated by Hashim Thaci, the prime minister, as defamatory and as Serb propaganda. These rumours had been thoroughly discredited many times, he told a press conference in Pristina.

The report, by Swiss politician Dick Marty, says that there are "numerous indications" that organs were removed from some prisoners of the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1999. Mr Thaci, a former KLA commander, was accused of being "the boss" of a mafia-like criminal organisation involved in heroin dealing and organ trafficking.

According to the Guardian, which received an advance copy, the report says: "The testimonies on which we based our findings spoke credibly and consistently of a methodology by which all of the captives were killed, usually by a gunshot to the head, before being operated on to remove one or more of their organs."

The organ trafficking seems to have continued after the war. Seven men were charged this week in Pristina this week. Poor people from Moldova, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey were promised up to €14,500 for their organs. The recipients, who came from Canada, Germany, Poland and Israel, paid between €80,000 and €100,000 for them. But the donors were never paid, European Union prosecutor Jonathan Ratel told Pristina District Court. Five of the seven were doctors.

The gruesome story is extremely murky, but this week’s developments support claims made by Carla Del Ponte, a former United Nations war crimes prosecutor, in a 2008 book. ~ Guardian, Dec 14

Retrieved December 18, 2010 from

New ordeal for Vatican's man in Moscow

DECEMBER 16TH, 2010 18:03
New ordeal for Vatican's man in Moscow
News just in that the Vatican’s representative in Moscow, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, is facing a new ordeal: he has been summoned to attend meetings with elderly, humourless, power-crazed apparatchiks whose socialist politics have not changed since the Cold War.

Yup, he’s the new Papal Nuncio to Great Britain, responsible for liaising with Eccleston Square.

From the inimitable Damian Thompson at

I should perhaps explain that Thompson (once described by the CofE Church Times as a "blood-crazed ferret," blogs and tweets on religion and is an orthodox Roman Catholic. Eccleston Square is the home of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, the center of the Magic Circle, as Thompson calls the hopelessly and feebly accommodationist bunch of "beige Catholics" who govern the Church there. Beige Catholics is Fr. Barron's apt term--see the clip I posted below on December 9, 2010.

Wiki-Leaks, Wiki-Leakers, and Wiki-Ethics

"I believe that, overall, WikiLeaks involves grossly unethical conduct, some of which is also illegal." Thus concludes Margaret Somerville, the Samuel Gale Professor of Law, Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, and Founding Director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics, and Law at McGill University. She has posted a thoughtful and careful analysis of WikiLeaks, its founder Assange, those who stole the documents, and those, like the editors of the New York Times and the Guardian (UK), who colluded, so to speak (and not her expression), in distributing the stolen goods. Her article is available at
and originally appeared in Cardus at

Somerville's analysis is especially welcome given the thoughtless, indeed adolescent glee with which many otherwise decent people have supported Assange and WikiLeaks. She considers both the claim that WikiLeaks has had advanced the cause of openness in world affairs and also the view that "Assange and WikiLeaks have advanced, and are continuing to advance, the interests of very evil regimes against the interests of (relatively) good ones" and "accuse him of treason, sedition, sabotage, espionage and terrorism" and argue that he should be charged with incitement to commit murder or, indeed, assassinated. But she rejects the latter course of action as unethical except in extreme circumstances that do not and are unlikely to obtain.

Somerville also asks whether Assange's conduct should be considered a form of cyber-terrorism.
The primary goal of terrorism is to disrupt the societies that are attacked and make them fearful. WikiLeaks will result in the disruption of diplomatic exchanges that can be crucial to protecting our societies. It will provide information to those who would do us harm and could assist them in that goal. Finally, it could harm relationships with our allies, all of which could make many of us justifiably fearful. One problem here is that our laws on treason, sedition and so on, have not been updated to take into account possibilities such as WikiLeaks that are opened up by the cyber-world.

Assange's conduct, she argues, "shows the grave threat that just one individual can pose to societies, which is a valid fear in relation to terrorism, in general, and bioterrorism or the use of small nuclear devices, in particular. One terrorist working in his kitchen or home garage can create weapons with enormous destructive potential.

The destructive capacity of contemporary terrorist acts need not, however, involve the detonation of a bomb or use of other weapons of 21st century warfare. We must ask what threat WikiLeaks poses to our general "social capital", the metaphysical entity that consists of the "norms, networks, and trust [that we rely on] for cooperation and mutual benefit . . . [and which] has enormous potential to enable people to act in solidarity for the sake of collective goals"? The clear answer is that it will likely damage every element of it.

In line with Dalrymple's argument about the classically totalitarian aim of abolishing the distinction between public and private spheres (see my previous post and link below), she notes that
Even giving Assange and his co-leakers the benefit of any doubt regarding their claim that WikiLeaks is a force for good, instead of promoting collective good by augmenting social capital, then, WikiLeaks promotes collective harm by depleting social capital. Keep in mind such harm is mainly, or only, to our Western democratic societies. It does not touch other societies that reject our systems of governance, values, and way of life. Indeed, WikiLeaks is likely to assist them.

Somerville, however, is careful to distinguish levels of state and individual, whereas Dalrymple appears to treat the stealing and leaking of state documents by individuals as on a par with the state's opening individuals' letters. But both agree on the threat to liberal democracies and the norms, trust, and rule of law on which they depend and, on the other hand, the potential of Assange's behavior for advancing the cause of the most repressive and totalitarian regimes with which those democracies must deal.

What's Really Wrong with WikiLeaks by Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal 2 December 2010

What's Really Wrong with WikiLeaks by Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal 2 December 2010
Dalrymple argues, in part:
The actual effect of WikiLeaks is likely to be profound and precisely the opposite of what it supposedly sets out to achieve. Far from making for a more open world, it could make for a much more closed one. Secrecy, or rather the possibility of secrecy, is not the enemy but the precondition of frankness. WikiLeaks will sow distrust and fear, indeed paranoia; people will be increasingly unwilling to express themselves openly in case what they say is taken down by their interlocutor and used in evidence against them, not necessarily by the interlocutor himself. This could happen not in the official sphere alone, but also in the private sphere, which it works to destroy. An Iron Curtain could descend, not just on Eastern Europe, but over the whole world. A reign of assumed virtue would be imposed, in which people would say only what they do not think and think only what they do not say.

The dissolution of the distinction between the private and public spheres was one of the great aims of totalitarianism. Opening and reading other people’s e-mails is not different in principle from opening and reading other people’s letters....

May I speak frankly? No, not any more.