Friday, April 29, 2011

Pater Noster - Blessed John Paul II

Pater noster, qui es in coelis, Sanctificetur nomen Tuum, Adveniat regnum Tuum, Fiat voluntas Tua Sicut in coelo et in terra; Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, Et dimitte nobis debita nostra Sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris, Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, Sed libera nos a malo. Amen

Pater Noster - John Paul II

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Coercing Conscience: Professional Duty or Moral Integrity

Paul Adams

Here is the final draft of my article on "Coercing Conscience," as just published online by the Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics.

Forum Article
Coercing Conscience: Professional Duty or Moral Integrity
Paul Adams, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa

Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics
, Volume 8, Number 1 (2011)
Copyright 2011, White Hat Communications

This text may be freely shared among individuals, but it may not be republished in any medium without express written consent from the author and advance notification of White Hat Communications.


In response to a recent NASW document about conscience clauses, the author argues that framing an issue like abortion as one of personal versus professional values, or moral qualms versus professional duty, trivializes conscience. Respecting the conscience rights of professionals is important for the moral integrity both of the practitioners concerned and of the profession itself.

“Does private conscience trump professional duty?” asks an editorial in the Journal of Medical Ethics (LaFollette & LaFollette, 2007, p.249). The answer for any person of integrity is yes, it must. In this essay, I want to defend that answer, although it is not the one given by the editorial or by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) (2010) in the recent statement from its Legal Defense Fund.

The issue of coercing the conscience of professionals in the health and helping professions has come to the fore in recent years as a result of the discovery, invention, or promulgation of new rights in matters of life and death, and also sex, marriage, and family. Behaviors that were illegal or socially stigmatized for millennia have been declared legal and become rights. This is not simply a victory for tolerance of, or bearing with, particular behaviors contrary to the views and values of the majority of the population. It is a claim, supported by the force of law, for equal recognition and respect, subject to anti-discrimination measures equivalent to those that apply in the case of race, age, or sex. Insofar as it requires the participation or collusion of professionals, even in actions specifically forbidden by those professions until recently, it is a source of increased state coercion in civil society.

For more than two millennia, physicians have sworn by the Hippocratic Oath not to engage or collude in practices like abortion, euthanasia, or assisted suicide that involve the deliberate taking of human life. In the twentieth century, this ethic of aiming always to heal, never to harm came under intense pressure, in the U.S. from the eugenics movement that, in alliance with the birth control movement led by Margaret Sanger (1922; 1932), sought to reduce the undesirable population of defectives, dependents, and delinquents, Sanger’s “human weeds,” through birth control (Franks, 2005). This movement was taken up enthusiastically by the Nazis in Germany (Black, 2003). In revulsion at the serious violations of the Hippocratic ethic by Nazi physicians, the World Medical Association’s (1948) Physician’s Oath affirmed “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception, even under threat.” The legally binding United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the 1959 UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child affirm the rights of the child before as well as after birth (Joseph, 2009). These reaffirmations of universal rights of adults and children were a strong response to the eugenics movement in the U.S. and Germany and the horrors of World War II that discredited it for decades.

1. Intolerant Tolerance

In the space of just half a century, however, the millennia-old oath has been turned on its head, so that physicians, nurses, social workers, and pharmacists face coercion and risk losing their jobs for adhering to its ethic of life (for one poignant example, see Baklinski, 2009). What was until yesterday forbidden for health care providers as a matter of professional ethics becomes a duty enforced by threats to job, licensure, and career. An ethical obligation not to take life suddenly becomes a duty to take life, reversing more than two thousand years of professional ethics.

With astonishing speed, legal protections of children before birth have been swept away in either letter or spirit. UN officials have been attempting to pressure sovereign member states to establish abortion as a legal right (Tozzi, 2008). Far from resisting these threats, professional associations have revised the Hippocratic and other oaths to eliminate the prohibitions on killing—whether through abortion, euthanasia, or assisted suicide. They have transformed their own professional ethics from codes forbidding abortion and other life-terminating measures to all but making direct or indirect participation in them a requirement of professional practice (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [ACOG], 2007; Kaczor, 2008).

Many or most people in the United States, and especially orthodox and observant religious individuals and communities, continue to regard abortion in most circumstances as a grave evil, assisted suicide and euthanasia as morally impermissible, marriage as the proper context for sex and for raising the children that result from it, homosexuality as intrinsically disordered, and sexual behavior (of any kind) outside marriage as wrong. These are now the areas of greatest division in society, the battlegrounds of the culture wars in which state and civil society, professionals and their clients, elites and masses, are most commonly and sharply divided (George, 2001; Hodge, 2003; Neuhaus, 2009).

New rights, established mainly by judicial rulings, make previously forbidden behaviors lawful, thereby expanding the options for those who wish to engage in them. But what is optional behavior for clients or patients rapidly becomes mandatory for professionals in the form of participation or collusion in the newly permitted behavior. An argument for tolerating certain behaviors has become a case for intolerance--of those who refuse to be personally or professionally complicit in them (Pell, 2009).

2. Your Right to End Life and My Right not to Help You

One response is to acknowledge and protect the consciences of those practitioners who regard their own involvement in such behaviors as gravely evil. This is what conscience exemptions attempt to do. Freedom of conscience in these matters is often a matter of religious liberty and so, it is argued, protected by the First Amendment. You may have a legal right to an abortion but I have the right not to assist you in having one. Many physicians, nurses, and social workers participate directly or indirectly in providing abortions and do so with untroubled conscience. But what allowance should be made for those to whom the practice is abhorrent and who wish to continue to practice according to the Hippocratic Oath as understood for many centuries down to the last one? Whether in terms of abortion or assisted suicide, does your right to death (your own or your baby’s) imply my duty to assist you?

The argument against such conscience exemptions for health care professionals (physicians, nurses, social workers) is typically framed as a conflict between an individual’s (or institution’s) right to refuse treatment and patients’ rights to treatment. The client’s right to treatment, to a full range of services, may be linked to professionals’ willingness to provide them, especially in rural areas. As the chair of the ethics committee of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology put it, the “reproductive health needs” of women should trump the moral qualms of doctors (Bioedge, 2009).

Here it is noteworthy how the language of the anti-exemptionists—like that of abortion rights advocates generally— depends heavily on euphemism. Abortion is part of the “full range” of “reproductive health care” or of meeting “reproductive health needs,” although it is anti-reproductive, is not (except in rare cases) about health, it is seldom remotely definable as a medical need, and it terminates care (and life) for one of the two patients involved. (In obstetrics textbooks, traditionally, the physician is said to have two patients, the mother and her unborn baby. Abortion by definition is never safe for one of them.) This strategy of obscuring the reality of what is taking place through bland medical metaphors and descriptions is endemic to the discourse of abortion advocates, who talk of removing biological material or tissue rather than causing the death of the tiniest and most vulnerable persons among us.

Indeed as Brennan (2008) shows, “much of the success of the death culture depends upon the corruption of language in the form of dehumanizing stereotypes imposed on the victims and euphemisms designed to disguise what is done to them” (p.xv). The medical term “fetus,” is never used when a mother is invited to see her baby’s ultrasound image, only when abortion is under discussion. As philosopher John Finnis (2010) recently argued, “The word ‘fetus’ is offensive, dehumanizing and manipulative.”

Proponents of abortion rights say they are not pro-abortion, but “pro-choice,” as if the taking of innocent human life were a matter solely for the person responsible for the care of that life to decide. It is as if I were to say that I am not pro-slavery but simply defend your right to choose to buy and own slaves should you decide to do so. A law that upheld that right would not be neutral or pro-choice, but pro-slavery. (On the impossibility of state or legal neutrality in such grave moral matters, see Sandel, 2009.)

In this discourse, the personal is contrasted with the professional, the idea being that a professional has a duty to provide whatever services are legal and demanded by clients. The conscience of the professional is invariably given short shrift and subordinated to the supposed rights of the client to treatment. I say “supposed” because it is not clear how the legal right to have an abortion in itself gives anyone a legal right to demand its provision, let alone legally obliging anyone else to carry it out. In a shift characteristic of contemporary rights discourse, a right to freedom from state interference (a “right to privacy”) is transformed into a claim on public provision (Arkes, 2002).

In part, the failure of professional organizations like NASW to protect the conscience rights of their members is justified by an implicit rejection or trivializing of the very concept of conscience. In its place we find a contrast of public (or professional) and personal “values.” Here values have no intrinsic authority or foundation beyond being the opinions or beliefs of those who hold them. If this is so, then why should the personal opinions (values) of a practitioner not be subordinated to those of the state that licenses and funds the professional or institution?

To see the logic of this position and how it corrupts ethical discourse in the professions, I want briefly to examine the concept of conscience in the context of abortion. This is far from the only issue at stake, but if a case for conscience exemptions cannot be made in the case of abortion, it cannot be made anywhere.

3. Conscience and Exclusion

Opponents of conscience exemptions give little or no weight to the gravity of requiring someone either a) to act against their conscience, or b) to leave their profession or be denied admission to it and hence to its schools. But the choice to act against your conscience can never be right. It is to choose to do what you believe to be wrong, and in the case of abortion, gravely wrong. For a Christian, it means to put your immortal soul in jeopardy; for a Catholic Christian, it means to excommunicate yourself from your Church and its sacraments.

In its hotly disputed Opinion #385, entitled “The limits of conscientious refusal in reproductive medicine,” the Committee on Ethics of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2007) recommends the position that pro-life physicians must refer patients seeking an abortion to other providers, must tell patients in advance of their views though not explain or argue for them, and must in emergency cases involving the patent’s physical or mental health, actually perform abortions. It treats conscience as one value among others, which means it can and should be overridden in the interest of other obligations that outweigh it in a given circumstance.

As Kaczor (2008) remarks, this peculiar account of conscience runs counter to the traditional understanding of the term, according to which “conscience is the supreme proximate norm for human actions precisely because it represents the agent’s best ethical judgment all things considered.” One could never be morally obliged to act against one’s own conscience or best ethical judgment. It is hard to see how a notion of conscience as one value among others from which a professional should choose could be other than incoherent. On what ethical basis could such a choice be made?

Some opponents of conscience exemptions respond by saying fine, if you cannot in conscience meet the expectations and duties of the profession, leave it or choose a different line of work. This may indeed be the only option facing conscientious individuals where no accommodation is made. Conscience also trumps career.

Exclusion of pro-life physicians, nurses, social workers, and pharmacists from their professions and the closing down of institutions that respect life and adhere to Hippocratic ethics has practical consequences. But my argument here against exclusion does not depend on the empirical reality that religious professionals and institutions—e.g., faithful Catholic physicians, nurses, social workers, and pharmacists as well as hospitals and clinics—play an important role in the American health care system. Their exclusion would involve a tremendous loss of talent, knowledge, skill, aptitude, and dedication for the healing professions. It would also substantially reduce health care services of all kinds and therefore the access of patients to such services. The argument here, rather, is that the coercion of conscience of professional health care providers is morally corrupting for the profession and its practitioners. This is so in at least four respects.

First, compared with simply allowing the professional participation of members in abortion, mandating such participation makes the profession even more complicit in a culture of death that betrays social work’s (as well as the medical and nursing professions’) core values. It is a culture in which the dignity of the human person is restricted in ways that exclude precisely the most vulnerable and dependent members of society—born and unborn babies, those with severe physical and intellectual disabilities, those whose quality of life others deem inadequate.

Second, justifying such an abdication of the defense of human dignity as a core social work value entails a kind of self-deception. The view that the child in the womb is not a person or a human being seems not more but less and less tenable in light of scientific advances since Roe v. Wade. These show ever more clearly that the unborn child is a separate being with his or her own DNA and own principle of existence (George & Tollefsen, 2008; Lee, 1995). It seems a truth not easily evaded without a level of self-deception that is itself morally corrupt, that the fetus is the baby we all once were and we are alive now in part because our mothers did not have us killed at that stage of our lives (George & Tollefsen, 2008).

In any case, if the profession as a whole accepted the evidence and logic of the position that children in the womb were as fully human as those with severe disabilities or those just born or close to death or suffering advanced dementia, but abortion remained a legal right of pregnant mothers, would NASW require its members to refuse participation, direct or indirect, in the taking of human life in any or all of these conditions? Or, on the contrary, would it still fail to defend either the most vulnerable among us or the conscience rights of its members?

Third, the idea that if an action is legally permissible and demanded by a client, the social worker (or other health professional) has the duty to provide or participate in providing the requested service itself represents a fundamental shift in the balance of rights and powers between professional and client. It strips the professional of her full moral responsibility and reduces her to a kind of machine or robot that delivers what the customer demands. The professional’s right and duty to use her judgment about what is required or indicated or morally permissible in the situation is stripped away in favor of a kind of client “empowerment” that radically disempowers, even dehumanizes the social worker.

Fourth, forcing those opposed to the taking of innocent life at all stages of human development out of a profession that proclaims a mission of promoting human well-being and social justice requires those who justify such a stance to trivialize conscience itself. Supporters of abortion rights, with some exceptions like the utilitarian ethicist Peter Singer (1999), deny that the child in the womb is a person or human being. But for the persons whose conscience is to be coerced in the absence of adequate legal protection, killing, the deliberate taking of innocent human life, is precisely the action in which they are being told to participate. Dismissing their moral objections as personal qualms reduces the seriousness of the matter to something like squeamishness at the sight of blood.

The kind of case against conscience clauses made by NASW, Hilary Rodham Clinton, and Planned Parenthood (Clinton & Richards, 2008) corrupts by trivializing conscience itself and reducing it to “personal values,” something idiosyncratic that the physician, nurse, and social worker have to check at the door when professional duty calls. It reduces the first axiom of all ethics, to do good and avoid evil, to something dispensable in face of the requirements of one’s profession. To exclude those who want to maintain their moral integrity in face of strong pressures to surrender it is to do further serious moral damage to the profession itself, as well as to the individuals and institutions excluded.

4. A Duty to Refer?

There are less draconian policy options. One idea is that the conscientious objector may be excused from direct involvement in a legal and available procedure like abortion, but must in the event of such refusal, refer the patient to others who are willing to perform it. The argument for mandatory referral may appear persuasive at first glance, when it is posed in terms of the patient’s right to information about her options. But a refusal to refer a client to an abortionist is not the same as blocking her access to information. The fact that the mandatory referral alternative can be advanced as a reasonable solution—a compromise that any reasonable practitioner should be willing to accept—is arguably itself an indication of a certain moral obtuseness on the part of opponents of strong conscience exemptions. It is not simply a disagreement on the moral significance of abortion. It is also a failure to take seriously the conscience and moral integrity of practitioners.

In the case of abortion, the matter at stake is the fundamental moral proscription on the intentional taking of innocent human life. This has been a basic principle of ethics for millennia, an exceptionless norm which binds the consciences of all in societies where conscience is acknowledged at all. To kill justly requires at least that the person not be, in a definable sense, innocent (as in capital punishment or enemy soldiers in a just war); or not a fully human person (as has been argued by defenders of racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism, as well as abortion—see Brennan, 2000; 2008); or that killing is not the intent but an unintended, proportionate, and secondary side effect (as with deaths of some nearby civilians from the bombing of a military target—or with the foreseen but unintended death of the fetus resulting from some medical procedures aimed at saving a mother’s life).

Of course, moral relativists, situationists, consequentialists, and ethical emotivists may deny the existence or binding nature of such a proscription on the killing of innocents. Singer (1999), the renowned if controversial ethicist and philosopher of animal rights, accepts that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a fully born infant but, in line with his denial of human exceptionalism, sees the intentional killing of either as justifiable in certain circumstances, even to save a healthy animal.

Here I will not take up the objections to these stances in moral philosophy, but simply note that if it is wrong to kill a person, then it is also wrong to get someone else to do it. If it is, as I believe, a grave evil for me to murder my spouse, it is no less wrong to hire someone else to do it for me. If it is wrong for me to help you kill your inconveniently long-lived rich parents, it is also wrong for me to refer you to a professional hit-man.

Opponents of conscience clauses and exemptions sometimes pose the matter in terms of religious professionals’ wanting to impose their views on clients or patients. This is a misunderstanding. None of the case for conscience exemptions has anything to do with imposing my will on the client. Patients and clients have an uncontested moral right to informed consent and informed refusal.

But this is not the issue. The client may find abortion morally permissible and it is certainly legally permissible at present in the United States. I respect the client’s right under law to decide to have an abortion and will not condemn, moralize, or argue with her. My right not to participate in what I believe is grave wrongdoing does not imply or depend on a right to impose my belief on the client. “Conscientious objection, “ as Pellegrino (2008) says, “implies the physician’s right not to participate in what she thinks morally wrong, even if the patient demands it. It does not presume the right to impose her will or conception of the good on the patient” (p.299).

The question whether someone’s right to engage in a behavior entails an obligation on anyone else’s part to assist her in the process has important implications for all professionals, but especially those supposed to be helping or healing their clients. For professional social workers from any faith tradition or none, such a legally mandated obligation is a serious potential threat to their conscience and as such, to their humanity as moral agents.

5. References

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [ACOG]. (2007). The limits of conscientious refusal in reproductive medicine. ACOG Committee Opinion # 385. Obstet. Gynecol., 110, pp.1203-1208.

Arkes, H. (2002). Natural rights and the right to choose. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Baklinski, T.M. (2009, July 28). NY Catholic nurse forced to participate in abortion describes her ordeal. Retrieved January 11, 2011 from

Bioedge. (January 2, 2009). Last-minute conscience rule grants protection to abortion objectors. Retrieved June 10, 2010 from

Black, E. (2003). War against the weak: Eugenics and America’s campaign to create a master race. New York: Four walls Windows.

Brennan, W. (2000). Dehumanizing the vulnerable: When word games cost lives. Toronto, ON: Life Cycle Books.

Brennan, W. (2008). John Paul II: Confronting the language empowering the culture of death. Ave Maria, FL: Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University.

Clinton, H.R., & Richards, C. (2008, September 19). Blocking care for women. New York Times. Retrieved November 20, 2008 from

Finnis, J. (2010, October 29). The word ‘fetus’ is offensive, dehumanizing and manipulative. MercatorNet. Retrieved October 28, 2010 from

Franks, A. (2005). Margaret Sanger’s eugenic legacy: The control of female fertility. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

George, R.P. (2001). The clash of orthodoxies: Law, religion, and morality in crisis. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books.

George, R.P., & Tollefsen, C. (2008). Embryo: A defense of human life. New York: Doubleday.

Hodge, D.R. (2003). Value differences between social workers and members of the working and middle classes. Social Work, 48(1), 107-119.

Joseph, R. (2009). Human rights and the unborn child. Leiden/Boston: Martinus Nijhoff.

Kaczor, C. (2008). Pro-life doctors: A new oxymoron? Retrieved April 8, 2008 from

LaFollette, E., & LaFollette, H. (2007). Private conscience, public acts. Journal of Medical Ethics, 33, 249-254.

Lee, P. (1995). Abortion and unborn human life. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America.

National Association of Social Workers. (May, 2010). Legal Defense Fund. Social workers and conscience clauses. Legal Issue of the Month. Retrieved June 10, 2010 from

Neuhaus, R.J. (2009). American Babylon: Notes of a Christian exile. New York: Basic Books.

Pell, G. (2009). Intolerant tolerance. First Things. Retrieved July 22, 2009 from

Pellegrino, E.D. (2008). The philosophy of medicine reborn : A Pellegrino reader. H. T. Engelhardt, Jr., & F. Jotterand (Eds.). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Sandel, M. (2009). Justice: What’s the right thing to do? New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Sanger, M. (1922). The pivot of civilization. Retrieved March 24, 2010 from

Sanger, M. (1932, April). A plan for peace. Birth Control Review, pp. 107-108.

Singer, P. (1999). Practical ethics. 2nd edition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tozzi, P.A. (2008, November 28). Vatican tells United nations to quit pressuring countries to legalize abortion. LifeNews. Retrieved June 10, 2010 from

World Medical Association. (1948). Declaration of Geneva Physician's Oath. Retrieved June 16, 2010 from

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Kinderwunsch Gap

Why is there such a gap between the number of children European women say they would like to have (their Kinderwunsch) and the number they actually have? As the story I posted yesterday points out,
Indeed, surveys taken a few years ago by Eurobarometer of women’s child preference came up with a majority response of two or three children.
Yet almost all European countries have fertility rates below, and many well below, the natural replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman. The latest data showed a rise in the fertility rate from 1.47 children per woman in 2003 to 1.60 in 2008-2009, but this is still below the natural replacement rate and well below the average Kinderwunsch.

EU countries vary widely in the extent and generosity of their family policies - paid parental leave, day care, and the like, but it is not clear that these policies make much difference. (One exception was East Germany - German Democratic Republic) - which had a very low fertility rate and very high female labor force participation. The introduction of a very generous paid maternity leave policy did lead, nine months later, to a marked increase in the birth rate.)

Clearly, the wish for children competes with many other desires - especially but not only for female labor force participation (especially important for survival, not just self-realization, where there are high rates of divorce, single parenthood, and cohabitation). Even a generous substitute provider in the form of the 'cuckolding state' cannot ensure anything close to the optimal family structure for bearing and raising children. Later marriage also produces lower fertility and the sandwich generation stresses of caring simultaneously for dependent children and those children's grandparents.

It used to be that low fertility was associated with the northern European welfare states like the Scandinavian countries and high rates with southern European countries like Italy, Spain, and Greece. For some time, we have seen the opposite tendencies, with rising fertility in Sweden, where female labor force participation is still very high, and the lowest fertility in countries like Italy, Spain, and Greece. France now has a natural increase in population (net of immigration) not seen in 30 years. Outside Europe, such widely different countries as Iran and Brazil, India and China have all undergone rapid declines in fertility rates.

Some decades ago, I developed a theory - well no, I didn't develop it, it was never more than an idea - that there is a curvilinear relationship between the status of women and their total fertility rate (TFR). As the opportunities for women increase, the opportunity costs (the sacrifices required, the desired goods given up) of having children, and so of realizing their Kinderwunsch, increase. But as their prosperity grows and family policy supports a balance of family and work life and spreads the cost burden of childrearing more evenly between men and women, parents and non-parents (as Swedish family policy aims to do), so the sacrifices or tradeoffs of having the number of children you want begin to decline.

So as a country develops and industrializes, fertility first expands and more babies survive, (the first great demographic transition). Then it declines rapidly as the economy grows and the status and opportunities of women increase, leading to a big gap between Kinderwunsch and TFR. (As formal replaces informal old age and disability insurance (aka children), your 'social security' also ceases to depend on having your own children and socializing them effectively in an ideology of filial piety.) Then, as prosperity and status increase further, women are able to come closer to having the number of children they desire. They come somewhat closer to being able to have it all.

OK, it's just a thought, and doesn't explain a lot of things like the postwar baby boom.

Exsultet - Liturgie de la Lumiere - Happy Easter!

I love this version of the Easter Proclamation, Exsultet, from the Easter Vigil, 2008, at the Basilique-Cathédrale Sainte-Marie et Sainte-Réparate de Nice, France.

The Easter Vigil liturgy is the most beautiful liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church. This walks through the Easter Vigil, and includes the words to the Exsultet:

For more information about the Exsultet and its history, see::

Friday, April 22, 2011

There's Life in the Old Girl Yet

It is important when analyzing low total fertility rates in Europe and elsewhere, to look at the gap between the number of children a woman would like to have - her 'Kinderwunsch' in German - and the number she expects to have or actually does have.

Vincenzina Santoro | Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Europe for Families, Families for Europe
The most recent figures show an uptick in European birth rates. Is this a sign of renewed vitality in the Old World?

Optimism about families is not a common sentiment at international talkfests. But just in time for the Easter holiday, the European Union issued a surprisingly positive snapshot of population developments.

According to the third “Demography Report” the EU population has now surpassed 500 million, Europeans are living longer, and most importantly, the fertility rate has actually been rising since 2003.

While a possible end to the “birth dearth” seems to have escaped the doomsayers, the latest data showed a rise in the fertility rate from 1.47 children per woman in 2003 to 1.60 in 2008-2009. Moreover, an increase was noted in all EU countries save three, Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal. The largest increases over this period were observed in four of the former Eastern Bloc countries that had among the lowest fertility rates a few years ago.

The highest fertility rates in 2009 were recorded in EU aspirant Iceland with 2.23, the only European country to achieve or surpass replacement level of 2.1 children per woman; followed by Ireland at 2.07, France at 2.00 and the United Kingdom at 1.96 (2008). At the bottom of the ranking were Latvia (1.31), Hungary and Portugal (1.32) and Germany (1.36). Portugal had the dubious distinction of witnessing the sharpest drop in fertility, a factor that may have been due to the adoption of abortion on demand in 2007.

Europeans are also living longer. Life expectancy at birth in 2008 was 82.4 for women and 76.4 for men. France had the highest life expectancy among women at 85.1 while Sweden ranked highest for men at 79.4 years. Over the last 50 years, life expectancy rose by about 10 years for both genders.

Despite the pickup in fertility, the main contributor to population rise in the EU was immigration. As of 2010 there were 32.4 million foreigners living in the EU27 of which 12.3 million were EU nationals residing in another EU country. The country with the highest number of foreigners (7.1 million) was Germany while Luxembourg had the highest proportion of foreigners (43 percent) per population.

The longer living, rapidly aging European population has created new challenges for families while worried governments are anxiously searching for effective family-friendly policies. To deal with these concerns, Hungary, which currently holds the Presidency of the European Union, recently sponsored a conference entitled “Europe for Families, Families for Europe” at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Gödöllő, near Budapest. The conference featured scholarly presentations by eminent demographers, social scientists and others, and concluded with a “Family Festival with Europe.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán opened the conference on April 1 with surprising frankness. “Europe is losing in the demographic race of major civilisations,” as its population is aging and shrinking, he declared.

“Let’s call a spade a spade, our common home, Europe, is trailing behind great civilisations in this race… The EU should not build its future on immigration, instead, families and societies have to reproduce themselves, without external help to ensure long-term balanced and peaceful operation.”

Family policies are a national prerogative but the European Union can and does take legal action through the European Parliament to pass legislation that subsequently ends up in national parliaments for debate. Indeed, a few months ago the European Parliament approved an extended “mandatory” maternity leave.

The current status of family policy varies significantly from one European country to another. The most generous in terms of economic pro-family provisions are France and the Scandinavian countries. They offer ample child care services, both public and private, and generous maternity and paternity policies.

Giving the resounding success of lengthening life spans, not all the eldest are in good health and many require assistance of one form or another. What emerged from the latest European demographic research is that more than half of all “carers” are persons who are employed. Many of them, especially those who married later in life, are caring for parents and children while maintaining employment. Family leave policies will have to be more flexible to allow for care for both young and old family members.

The conference issued a declaration on work-life balance. Perhaps the most significant point was the following:

“In many countries, very often low birth rates do not reflect the childbearing preferences of women and men for various reasons, such as social and economic situation, gender inequality, and difficulty to reconcile work, personal and family life.”

Indeed, surveys taken a few years ago by Eurobarometer of women’s child preference came up with a majority response of two or three children. As to why women were not having the desired number of children, respondents listed many obstacles that still need to be resolved.

The theme of the family – in Europe and elsewhere – will be much more on the front burner in the next few years as the EU may declare a European Year of Families in 2014. In the past, much time and effort has been put into one form or another of “family planning” – an effort that continues at the United Nations. What Europe and other developed countries need today is more emphasis on “planning families.” The Budapest conference was a good start, seconded by the sobering data and analysis of the EU’s latest “Demographic Report.”

Vincenzina Santoro is an international economist. She represents the American Family Association of New York at the United Nations.

This article is published by Vincenzina Santoro, and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

Retrieved April 21, 2011 from

Easter Explained

...for those who are not into reading

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Palestrina - Stabat Mater

The Stabat Mater is a thirteenth century hymn that presents the steadfast fidelity of Christ’s Mother to her Son as she witnesses his suffering and death on the cross. The hymn invites the faithful to identify themselves with the Sorrowful Mother, and in doing so, increase in their own hearts a deep compassion for the Savior as he experiences the dereliction of his Passion.

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her son to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.

Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ's dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother's pain untold?

For the sins of His own nation,
She saw Jesus wracked with torment,
All with scourges rent:

She beheld her tender Child,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.

O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
make my heart with thine accord:

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.

Holy Mother! pierce me through,
in my heart each wound renew
of my Savior crucified:

Let me share with thee His pain,
who for all my sins was slain,
who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
mourning Him who mourned for me,
all the days that I may live:

By the Cross with thee to stay,
there with thee to weep and pray,
is all I ask of thee to give.

Virgin of all virgins blest!,
Listen to my fond request:
let me share thy grief divine;

Let me, to my latest breath,
in my body bear the death
of that dying Son of thine.

Wounded with His every wound,
steep my soul till it hath swooned,
in His very Blood away;

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
lest in flames I burn and die,
in His awful Judgment Day.

Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
by Thy Mother my defense,
by Thy Cross my victory;

While my body here decays,
may my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.

Retrieved April 21, 2011 from

God, democracy, and human rights

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Archbishop Dolan Meets a Critic of Priests

Below Archbishop Dolan recounts a great exchange with a rather harsh critic he met in an airport. It gives a window into how your average priest is experiencing the tragedy of the sex abuse scandals. I found this on the excellent and nicely named site, Fallible Blogma. It seems especially timely as we enter this week of maximum media attack on the Church, otherwise known as Holy Week.

By Archbishop Dolan:

It was only the third time it had happened to me in my nearly thirty-five happy years as a priest, all three times over the last nine-and-a-half years.

Other priests tell me it has happened to them a lot more.

Three is enough. Each time has left me so shaken I was near nausea.

It happened last Friday . . .

I had just arrived at the Denver Airport, there to speak at their popular annual “Living Our Catholic Faith” conference.

As I was waiting with the others for the electronic train to take me to the terminal, a man, maybe in his mid-forties, waiting as well, came closer to me.

“Are you a Catholic priest?” he kindly asked.

“Sure am. Nice to meet you,” says I, as I offered my hand.

He ignored it. “I was raised a Catholic,” he replied, almost always a hint of a cut to come, but I was not prepared for the razor sharpness of the stiletto, as he went on, “and now, as a father of two boys, I can’t look at you or any other priest without thinking of a sexual abuser.”

What to respond? Yell at him? Cuss him out? Apologize? Deck him? Express understanding? I must admit all such reactions came to mind as I staggered with shame and anger from the damage of the wound he had inflicted with those stinging words.

“Well,” I recovered enough to remark, “I’m sure sorry you feel that way. But, let me ask you, do you automatically presume a sexual abuser when you see a Rabbi or Protestant minister?”

“Not at all,” he came back through gritted teeth as we both boarded the train.

“How about when you see a coach, or a boy scout leader, or a foster parent, or a counsellor, or physician?” I continued.

“Of course not!” he came back. “What’s all that got to do with it?”

“A lot,” I stayed with him, “because each of those professions have as high a percentage of sexual abuse, if not even higher, than that of priests.”

“Well, that may be,” he retorted. “But the Church is the only group that knew it was going on, did nothing about it, and kept transferring the perverts around.”

“You obviously never heard the stats on public school teachers,” I observed. “In my home town of New York City alone, experts say the rate of sexual abuse among public school teachers is ten times higher than that of priests, and these abusers just get transferred around.” (Had I known at that time the news in in last Sunday’s New York Times about the high rate of abuse of the most helpless in state supervised homes, with reported abusers simply transferred to another home, I would have mentioned that, too.)

To that he said nothing, so I went in for a further charge.

“Pardon me for being so blunt, but you sure were with me, so, let me ask: when you look at yourself in a mirror, do you see a sex abuser?”

Now he was as taken aback as I had been two-minutes before. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Sadly,” I answered, “studies tell us that most children sexually abused are victims of their own fathers or other family members.”

Enough of the debate, I concluded, as I saw him dazed. So I tried to calm it down.

“So, I tell you what: when I look at you, I won’t see a sex abuser, and I would appreciate the same consideration from you.”

The train had arrived at baggage claim, and we both exited together.

“Well then, why do we only hear this garbage about you priests,” he inquired, as he got a bit more pensive.

“We priests wonder the same thing. I’ve got a few reasons if you’re interested.”

He nodded his head as we slowly walked to the carousel.

“For one,” I continued, “we priests deserve the more intense scrutiny, because people trust us more as we dare claim to represent God, so, when one of us do it – even if only a tiny minority of us ever have — it is more disgusting.”

“Two, I’m afraid there are many out there who have no love for the Church, and are itching to ruin us. This is the issue they love to endlessly scourge us with.”

“And, three, I hate to say it,” as I wrapped it up, “there’s a lot of money to be made in suing the Catholic Church, while it’s hardly worth suing any of the other groups I mentioned before.”

We both by then had our luggage, and headed for the door. He then put his hand out, the hand he had not extended five minutes earlier when I had put mine out to him. We shook.

“Thanks. Glad I met you.”

He halted a minute. “You know, I think of the great priests I knew when I was a kid. And now, because I work in IT at Regis University, I know some devoted Jesuits. Shouldn’t judge all you guys because of the horrible sins of a few.”

“Thanks!,” I smiled.

I guess things were patched-up, because, as he walked away, he added, “At least I owe you a joke: What happens when you can’t pay your exorcist?”

“Got me,” I answered.

“You get ‘re-possessed’!”

We both laughed and separated.

Notwithstanding the happy ending, I was still trembling . . . and almost felt like I needed an exorcism to expel my shattered soul, as I had to confront again the horror this whole mess has been to victims and their families, our Catholic people like the man I had just met . . . and to us priests.

Retrieved April 17, 2011 from

There they go again! 2: PBS does Holy Week

PBS is celebrating Holy Week by dredging up a decades-old but terrible scandal of clergy abuse in Alaska. Far from being "a little-known chapter of the Catholic Church sex abuse story," as the network claims, the New York Times did several articles on it and the Los Angeles Times made it into a huge front-page story. Not satisfied with its earlier lengthy episode on the abuse scandal ("Hand of God," January 2007), PBS's Frontline is piling it on with this new attack, well timed to undermine the Catholic Church during the most holy week of her liturgical year.

As Dave Pierre, author of Double Standard says, the scandal was real and shocking -
However, media outlets like PBS have surpassed the point where they are merely reporting a story. They are using the scandals as a tool to single out and further tarnish the Church.

When will PBS’ Frontline investigate the massive child abuse and cover-ups happening today - not decades ago - in our nation's public schools? How about the recent cover-ups of abuse by Orthodox rabbis in New York City?
See Pierre's blog at

There they go again! 1: Media do Holy Week

Media do Holy Week
by Sheila Liaugminas | 18 Apr 2011 |

They wouldn’t do this during the holiest observance of any other religion. But let’s get past that old cliche and look at what they’re up to this time.

Take just two examples.

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, the most sacred period in the Catholic Church. It’s also the premiere of a six-part series on Showtime of one of the darkest periods in the Catholic Church, the reign of the Borgias, the family which produced Rodgrigo Borgia who became the notorious Pope Alexander VI. Their corrupt excesses make for dramatic screenplays with lavish costumes and top-notch actors and savvy marketing campaigns that offend the sensibilities of Catholic Christians across the nation. It should provoke reaction beyond shaking heads and feeling persecuted yet again.

It did, and some Catholics who happen to hold charge accounts with Macy’s called on that department store chain to remove their window displays playing up the Borgia series. They were happy to see at least some of the stores do that, whatever the reason.

Barb Nicolosi, Hollywood insider and founder of Act One, suggests this is an opportunity for Catholics to do a couple of other things. One, learn their history. The Borgias happen to have been part of it, but out of that terrible period came the Counter Reformation, which produced great saints and tremendous energy for renewal in the Church. Know your history and be ready to engage anyone in conversation about it.

She also suggests Christians contact the folks who produce big film projects, compliment them on whatever they did well (great production values, fine actors) and then enthusiastically suggest a particular story that would make a compelling film. There are so many…

Now, to print media.

Take this Time magazine cover story (scroll down past the giant ad at top).

‘What if there is no hell?’ First thought….then there’s no need for a Savior. Which has been the idea all along that motivated those who would deconstruct or dismantle the Judeo-Christian tradition and ethics.

Which brings up a thought tying all this together…

Why doesn’t someone in Hollywood think about doing a series on The Screwtape Letters?

Retrieved April 17, 2011 from

Stabat Mater Dolorosa - Pergolesi

Saturday, April 16, 2011

India's Five Million Missing Girls

Discussing preliminary data from the decennial census in India, National Catholic Register correspondent in Bangalore, Anto Akkara, explains:

More than 5 million girls have gone missing in a decade, as per the 2011 census estimates — compared to the data from the 2001 national census.

Even the news about the increase in the gender ratio, from 933 to 940 females per 1,000 men, got drowned in the alarming decline in the number of girls under 6 years: from 927 to 914 per 1,000 boys. In some states, that ratio went below 800 girls per 1,000 boys.

The numbers cannot be explained as a preference for boys in backward areas resulting from the economic conditions of rural life. Female feticide is actually more prevalent among the better educated and urban population.

The census figures showed that while the child ratio in rural areas is 918 girls per 1,000 boys, the figure is 904 girls per 1,000 boys in cities and urban areas.

“It is sad that people are using their education to get rid of the girl child instead of getting rid of their prejudices,” said Cardinal Gracias. [Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai, is president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.]

Prospective parents often conduct illegal testing of the sex of the child during pregnancy and abort if the embryo is a girl due to deep-rooted gender prejudice in India.

Akkara explains the roots of the preference for boys in this way:

The preference for boys, according to Akkara,

is rooted in the belief that one cannot attain moksha (liberation) unless he has a son to perform his last rites, as mandated by Hindu sacred writings.

This belief traditionally rendered the girl child unwanted and paved the way for the dowry system that has reduced her to a “liability” for the family. Worried about dowry burdens, couples often abort the second pregnancy if the fetus is a girl.

In some northern states, there are fewer than 800 girls per 1,000 boys. The proportions are much more balanced in states like Kerala where Christians are more numerous and Christian education more widespread, but Christians still only account for 2.3% of India’s population. Three-fourths of the nearly 15 million students on the rolls of 20,000 Catholic educational institutions are non-Christians.

*In the picture above, girls get a good night blessing from Loreto Sister Cyril Mooney at the Rainbow Home in Kolkata, India, Feb. 11. Rainbow Home is a care and schooling program started by Sister Mooney for the orphans and street girls.

For Akkara's full report, go to National Catholic Register at

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Atheism as a Cultural Phenomenon

Paul Adams

My first "Listmania!" list on Amazon.

It's at and below.

Atheism as a Cultural Phenomenon

A Listmania! list by Paul Adams (Honolulu)

Much writing about atheism and religion assumes atheism as the default position, with religion as the phenomenon that needs to be explained. But atheism is by far the rarer phenomenon, something that became widespread in the 19th century, peaked in the second half of the 20th century, and has been declining since. This is a list of books that attempt to understand atheism as a historically specific cultural phenomenon. The authors are philosophers, theologians, and cultural critics rather than sociologists--there is a whole other literature on secularization theory. The books do not debate the truth claims of atheism but represent attempts, mostly by non-atheists, to understand atheism in its historical and cultural specificity.

1. Drama of Atheist Humanism by Henri de Lubac
The list author says:
"Study by a great 20th century Catholic theologian of Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Comte, and others."
$16.79 Used & New from: $14.70
(5 customer reviews)

2. The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World by Alister E. McGrath
The list author says:
"see my review"
$11.31 Used & New from: $6.40
(63 customer reviews) | 3 customer discussions

3. Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart
The list author says:
"A brilliant book, though, admittedly, more about the revolutionary nature of Christianity and its cultural-historical impact than about atheism. See my review."
$11.09 Used & New from: $10.16
(47 customer reviews) | 1 customer discussion

4. The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse by Steven D. Smith
The list author says:
"Smith argues that it is not primarily religion but rather the strictures of secular rationalism that have drained our modern discourse of force and authenticity."
$20.04 Used & New from: $19.98
1 customer discussion

5. A Secular Age by Charles Taylor
The list author says:
"As Alasdair MacIntyre says, "Taylor's book is a major and highly original contribution to the debates on secularization that have been ongoing for the past century. There is no book remotely like it.""
$30.00 Used & New from: $24.98
(27 customer reviews)

6. The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by Peter Hitchens
The list author says:
"Fascinating account by Christopher Hitchens's brother--partly for the historical and cultural context in postwar England in which both boys (and I) grew up. See my review."
$15.63 Used & New from: $6.59
(50 customer reviews)

7. Reason, Faith, and Revolution (The Terry Lectures Series) by Terry Eagleton
The list author says:
"Atheists and Christians alike will likely share the assessment of one reviewer that the book is "by turns thought-provoking, infuriating, inspiring and very, very funny.""
$10.66 Used & New from: $5.98
(30 customer reviews)

8. A Short History of Secularism by Graeme Smith
The list author says:
"Argues that secularism was born of Christianity and that it is impossible to understand the idea of the secular without understanding that, at root, it is Christian."
$29.00 Used & New from: $5.00
(1 customer review)

9. The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion by Jurgen Habermas and Joseph Ratzinger
The list author says:
"Fascinating dialogue between German philosopher and neo-marxist Jurgen Habermas and Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI."
$10.17 Used & New from: $8.75
(7 customer reviews)

10. An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-secular Age by Jurgen Habermas
The list author says:
"Further development of Habermas's thinking on the relation between secular reason and faith, in debate with Jesuit philosophers."
$42.30 Used & New from: $38.29
(1 customer review)

11. Clash Of Orthodoxies: Law Religion & Morality In Crisis by Robert P. George
The list author says:
"The book is not a study of atheism as such but a critique of the ways in which secularism, or practical atheism, has become not an alternative to orthodoxy but another orthodoxy of its own."
$10.18 Used & New from: $3.17
(21 customer reviews)

12. No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers by Michael Novak
The list author says:
"Addressing, from within the Judeo-Christian tradition, the views and experiences of atheists, Novak sees a kind of common ground in the experience of nothingness (the dark night of the soul) experienced by Catholic mystics."

Manning Up

Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys
by Kay S. Hymowitz

My review for Amazon:

The reviews of this book here and elsewhere in the blogosphere are one indicator of how polarized and difficult its topic is. One reviewer sees it as a work of man-hating feminism, another as blaming women's careerism for the emergence of today's child-man. The latter interpretation at least is supported by the book's subtitle, no doubt the idea of a publisher who knows how such provocative words attract controversy, publicity, and sales.

But to the book itself, I found it engaging, insightful, and empathetic toward young men and women, both. Its portrayal of today's child-man is anything but flattering and, as far as I can see, the book does not blame women for his plight. Hymowitz does, however, see a relationship between women's rise in the academy and the knowledge economy on one hand and, on the other, men's loss of the life script that previously guided the transition to male adulthood via marriage and career. But rather than blaming and moralizing, she offers a surprisingly marxist explanation for the child-man phenomenon as rooted in changes in the economy. (She is no marxist.)

The author offers no policy or personal prescriptions for addressing the problems she identifies. The book is best read as a journalistic account of the profound changes in life trajectories of and relations between men and women. In that sense, it is a challenge to those who insist ahistorically that nothing has changed - it was just the same in 1890 - and to those (often the same people) who celebrate every aspect of the sexual revolution, demise of marriage in the lower socioeconomic strata, increase in single parenthood and so forth as if they were all to be celebrated in the name of diversity and progress. In this sense, the book is a provocation and a challenge to those 'conservative' progressives who celebrate the status quo, living in a kind of denial about actual social change all around us and its consequences for the common good of society as a whole.

That said, Hymowitz's good-humored and witty book can be read and enjoyed by those of widely differing views on these topics. It is not a rant, a dogmatic jeremiad, or a denunciation of anyone.

Still, the book has the shortcomings inevitable in this kind of social commentary. It is well researched and provides 35 pages of documentation in endnotes. Yet as social commentary written for a general audience, it lacks the caution and qualification of an academic work (which would have made it much less readable). It is often unclear whether the author is talking about college-educated young people in New York and Seattle or whether she wants to generalize to working class, poor, rural, or ethnic minority communities. This is surprising in view of the heavy emphasis she gives to the marriage gap between the more affluent and well-educated (who get and stay married at much higher rates) and the poorer and less educated. (See her Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age.)

I recommend the book though not without reservation. It is not the last word but a good starting point for discussion and further inquiry.

Fr. Barron on Pope Benedict's Book and How to Read the Bible

Fr. Barron offers a clear explanation of the historical-critical method, its benefits and limitations.

A great little book

A Practical Guide For Policy Analysis: the Eightfold Path To More Effective Problem Solving, 3rd Edition
by Eugene Bardach
Edition: Paperback
Price: $22.58

My review for

I have used this and earlier editions of Bardach's slim text for years in teaching social policy analysis to MSW and doctoral students for whom policy is generally not the part of the curriculum embraced with most enthusiasm. Students are happy with the slimness and low price of the book - in both respects a welcome relief from most texts. After "cracking" the book a few times, however, they realize that it is dense and challenging.

Bardach's text is demanding of both teachers and students. Policy teachers - especially those who teach social welfare policy to social work students who do not intend to become professional policy analysts - need to provide and elicit concrete examples from the students' field of concentration and probably supplement this text with readings specific to the field. Students need to wrestle with unfamiliar concepts like rent seeking and commensurability and to apply them to their own analyses. Over the years, I have come to structure the whole course more fully around the book and to "coach" students through each step of the eightfold path, with feedback from other students and the instructor at each step along the way.

What I most appreciate about the book is the way it helps students to slow down and think critically about what they are doing. The tendency is to "know" in advance what the solution to their policy problem is and so to define their job as persuading their putative client that they are right. They start with the conclusion and work backwards. Bardach pushes students to treat the policy problem to be addressed as a puzzle rather than a foregone conclusion. He stresses the need to problematize the problem and avoid smuggling a solution into its definition.

The book is not primarily about the ethics of policy analysis, but nevertheless urges the reader to consider the ethical costs of over-optimism. For those inclined to conflate good intentions with projected outcomes, this is an important caution. Bardach offers several exercises, like the worst-case scenario or the pre-mortem analysis, to counteract this tendency to "unscrupulous optimism," as Roger Scruton calls it in his book on The Uses of Pessimism: And the Danger of False Hope.

It is important to recognize that the book is a "practical guide" to a problem-solving and decision-making process. The process requires examination of past and current attempts to address the problem through policy, but as part of the process, not as an end in itself. The process includes defining the problem and its background, exploring alternatives (including that of letting present trends continue) according to explicit criteria for assessing their expected outcomes, coming to a conclusion, and making a recommendation that follows from the analysis.

Of all the books I have used in over 30 years of teaching policy, and despite the lack of information about current social policies, this has proved the most helpful in supporting student learning of analytic skills and critical thinking.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Music for the soul - Chant from Heiligenkreuz Abbey

Heiligenkreuz Abbey (Stift Heiligenkreuz, Closter Heiligen Creyz or Santa Crux) is a Cistercian monastery, founded 1133, in the village of Heiligenkreuz in the southern part of the Vienna woods

Panis angelicus - Pavarotti and Sting

Leading by example

Finally, my own review:

Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection
by Pope Benedict XVI

It is not Pope Benedict's way, to the disappointment of some traditionalists, to issue anathemas denouncing the kind of biblical scholarship that seeks to explain away the Christian story in secular terms - Jesus as a great teacher (only) whose followers built legends around him, and so forth. He gives due recognition to the exegetical fruits yielded by historical-critical method, but also sees the method as limited and essentially exhausted. Instead, he advocates a different approach, one that reads the Bible in the spirit in which it was written and read, as the early Church Fathers read it, with an eye to the future as well as the past, with the eyes of faith as well as with full critical intelligence.

Rather than simply calling for a certain kind of approach to biblical scholarship, Benedict leads by example. He has produced a work of stunning scholarship and deep faith, that nevertheless amply repays careful reading and re-reading by Christians of all kinds and levels of scholarly expertise.

At the same time, with its careful consideration of the views of (especially) German scholars and exegetes, this is not a quick read. But hang in there, it gets more personally engaging in the second half. I read it right after reading Brant Pitre's stunning book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper, which turns out to be a great preparation for reading this work. Both books situate the Christian story in its historical Jewish context and show how almost every recorded word and action of Jesus of Nazareth draws on, quotes, or is foreshadowed by Scripture - the Torah, the Psalms, the Prophets - as well as by Jewish custom and tradition.

I have also been reading a very different work by another great theologian of whom Benedict has spoken with enormous admiration - Hans Urs von Balthasar's Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter. The two books could not be more different. Balthasar was not a biblical scholar like Ratzinger and on the other hand he gives great theological weight to Christ's going to the dead ("He descended into hell") between his death and Resurrection - something that the pope, surprisingly, does not mention. In any case, the pope's book is by contrast simply written, historically grounded, and accessible (with a little effort) to Christian readers of all kinds.

A reader who has watched how Pope Benedict has come under hostile fire from the media and denunciation from anti-Christians, anti-Catholics, and dissident Catholics for most of his career, cannot but marvel at the tone of this book. As Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger at age 84 now leads a Church of more than a billion members that is undergoing in the West twin crises of secularizing ("beige Catholicism" or "cafeteria Catholicism") and scandal. His field of scholarship, biblical exegesis, has been beset for more than a century by attempts to question and discredit every tenet of Christian faith as taught by the Church.

So it seems a small miracle that the book was written at all in the midst of these storms. Even more extraordinary is the serenity and humility that suffuse every page. Even the most outrageous exegesis is discussed calmly and the most dismissive objections to the Christian narrative are fairly stated and discussed. Benedict is a man of intellectual brilliance and deep faith and on both accounts is not easily rattled. He shows by example, not only how biblical scholars should move forward on a sounder basis than in recent centuries, but also how faithful Christians can engage their critics charitably and without defensiveness.

The book ends in a way that goes some way to explain how he does it. Its final word is surely at the heart of the New Testament as well as in the hearts of the Church's great saints and martyrs. In that final paragraph, the pope addresses the question of why the disciples are joyful rather than sad at the Risen Lord's leaving them. Discussing Luke's account of the Ascension, which has Jesus stretching out his hands over the disciples in blessing as he departs from them, the pope comments:

"In departing, he comes to us, in order to raise us up above ourselves and to open up the world to God. That is why the disciples could return home from Bethany rejoicing. In faith we know that Jesus holds his hands stretched out in blessing over us. That is the lasting motive of Christian joy" (p. 293).

David Brooks: The social animal | Video on

David Brooks: The social animal | Video on

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jesus of Nazareth - review #1 by Francis Phillips (UK)

Two reviews from the outstanding site MercatorNet of a great book. Here's the first.

Francis Phillips | Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Love and reasoning go hand in hand in Pope Benedict’s best-selling second volume about “the figure and message of Jesus”.

Jesus of Nazareth - Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection | By Pope Benedict XVI | Ignatius Press (March 10, 2011) | Hardcover: 384 pages | $24.95
ISBN: 1586175009

On March 10 the second volume of Pope Benedict XVI's magisterial work, Jesus of Nazareth, reached bookstands in the English-speaking world. It quickly showed up on the New York Times best-seller list, sitting at #8 last week and #14 this week. It is currently the #1 best-selling religious book on Amazon and #41 overall on that site. There is no doubt that this is a major event in the religious and publishing worlds and the editors of MercatorNet think it is fitting that we run two reviews -- this one by Francis Phillips and a companion one by Bishop Basil Meeking.

* * * * *
Dealing with the events of Holy Week until the Resurrection, this newly published book completes the Pope’s study of the life of Christ. In Book 1 he presented “the figure and message of Jesus”; here we “encounter the decisive sayings and events of Jesus’ life.” Those people, both inside and outside the Christian faith, who pick up this volume on the assumption that it provides arguments to“prove” the truth of Christianity, are likely to be disappointed. It is a scholarly book, written by an exegete who has pondered, sifted and balanced the writings of other exegetes, both Catholic and Protestant. These, not surprisingly, are often other German Biblical scholars. For the sake of ordinary readers a glossary has been provided by the publisher.

Having stated that this volume is not light devotional reading or a work of apologetics, there is much to be said in favour of reading it. Jesus’ life and teachings have affected more people in history than any other figure; in this respect, no other religious leader is comparable to him. And it has been written by someone of international repute as a theologian, yet also a man who has prayed and reflected about the person he writes about every day of his adult life. Here, reasoning and love go hand in hand.

Writing as someone who has often read the Gospels without making any attempt to compare them or draw conclusions about what each evangelist has included or omitted, I learnt much from this book that I did not know. For instance, the Pope explains that the crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday were not the inhabitants of Jerusalem but rather the throng of people who accompanied Jesus and who entered the Holy City alongside him. Thus they were different from the (supposedly ‘fickle’) crowd that later demanded Jesus’ crucifixion. The tragedy of the inhabitants of Jerusalem was, according to Benedict, their “indifference and fear.”

There are also interesting reflections on the chronology of Holy Week, for long disputed among scriptural scholars. The Holy Father agrees that we cannot know for certain whether certain events took place earlier or later in the week,although long tradition places the Last Supper on the night before the Crucifixion; he suggests that St John was probably using a different calendar from the synoptic authors and the “Passover” that St John describes in his account of the Last Supper was not the traditional Jewish Passover. These are a matter of debate but they do not alter the essential drama of the Holy Week events.

The Pope’s stated aim in this book has been to “take a closer look at the Gospel accounts with the intention of gaining a better knowledge and understanding of the figure of Jesus”. At the forefront of his study is a wish to show that the events cohere with the prophecies and the teachings; above all, to show how Jesus transformed the nature of love: “agape” means “stepping outside the limits of one’s closed individuality – breaking through into the divine.” This is something so new and extraordinary that we cannot do it alone: “Only by letting ourselves be repeatedly cleansed, “made pure” by the Lord himself, can we learn to act as he did, in union with him.”

Advance publicity about the book has seized on one aspect of it: the Holy Father’s repudiation of the seeming “curse” on the Jewish people throughout the centuries as a result of the crowd’s cry, “His blood be upon us and on our children.” He carefully differentiates between the “Jews” who accused Jesus –the Temple aristocracy, but without Nicodemus; the Jews who called for the crucifixion, who were part of the circle of Barabbas’ supporters rather than the Jewish people as such; and the “blood” itself, which was “not the blood of Abel”, i.e. the blood of vengeance, but the blood of redemption and of reconciliation. They are words signifying hope rather than a curse and bring anew perspective to Christian-Jewish relations.

In every passage of the Gospels that is analysed and explained, the Holy Father seeks the symbolic meaning behind the actual event and its link with the Old Testament. Jesus, he writes, presents a unique combination of fidelity to tradition – the writings of his Jewish forbears of the Old Testament – and novelty, bringing as he does, new life to those who choose to follow him. The Pope asks, “Is it not the case that our need to be reconciled with God – the silent, mysterious, seemingly absent, yet omnipresent God – is the real problem of the whole of world history?”

This leads one on to the most problematic of the events in the life of Jesus for those who see him as a transparently good man – but in no way divine; this is the Resurrection. For the Pope it has to be seen as the final purpose of Jesus’ mission and something “that opens up a new dimension of human existence.” He likens it, using scientific language, to “an evolutionary leap” and asks rhetorically, “If there is a God, is he not able to create... a new dimension of reality?”

He makes three significant points about the Resurrection: Jesus did not return to normal, biological life (like Lazarus, who would die a second time); he did not appear as a ghost – he ate and drank with his friends and disciples; and his appearances were not the same as a mystical experience. What happened was an historical event that “nevertheless bursts open the dimensions of history and transcends it.”

The Holy Father is sympathetic to those Christians throughout the ages, me included, who have often felt tempted to ask “Why?” to God: Why did you reveal yourself only to a small flock of disciples? Why only to Abraham? Why only to Israel? He provides the only answer possible: “It is part of the mystery of God that he acts so gently...” He adds, “Is not this the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom to offer and elicit love.”

Such an explanation, and indeed such a precise yet reverent treatment of the person of Christ as this book demonstrates, will never satisfy those who demand scientific proof of the existence of God. For Christians, no attempt to penetrate the mystery of the events of Jesus’ life, culminating in the Resurrection, is necessary; for unbelievers, no explanation is possible.

Francis Phillips writes from Buckinghamshire in England.

This article is published by Francis Phillips, and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

Jesus of Nazareth - review #2 by Bishop Basil Meeking (NZ)

Basil Meeking | Tuesday, 5 April 2011

This great work of Joseph Ratzinger’s pontificate shows the importance of reading the Old and New Testaments as parts of a whole.

Jesus of Nazareth - Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection | By Pope Benedict XVI | Ignatius Press (March 10, 2011) | Hardcover: 384 pages | $24.95
ISBN: 1586175009

On March 10 the second volume of Pope Benedict XVI's magisterial work, Jesus of Nazareth, reached bookstands in the English-speaking world. It quickly showed up on the New York Times best-seller list, sitting at #8 last week and #14 this week. It is currently the #1 best-selling religious book on Amazon and #41 overall on that site. There is no doubt that this is a major event in the religious and publishing worlds.
* * * * *
Some serious commentators and observers of the European scene claim to detect a phobia against Christ and Christianity among certain political and intellectual leaders, opinion makers and sections of the media.That concern took on some substance a couple of years ago when the European Union, in providing itself with a charter, steadfastly refused any reference to Christianity either as part of European history and culture or as significant for daily life in Europe.

In Pope Benedict the Catholic Church, and indeed most other Christians, have a spokesman who can address this phenomenon in clear and reasonable language and in a manner that throws light on quite basic dimensions of Christian faith. He does so with a good deal of skill in official statements of the Church and in his many homilies and addresses.

As well, Benedict has taken occasion of the books he has written since becoming pope, namely the two volumes of Jesus of Nazareth, to respond and to open the way to dialogue with antagonists of good will. In these books he is not exchanging polemical blows or making apologetics for Christian faith. He speaks in a friendly tone and with sweet reasonableness, attributing to his readers the intellectual maturity and the academic integrity he himself brings to the exchange. Always he writes without making excuses for the truth.

Clearly all of this has its own appeal even to numbers of people who do not agree with Christian beliefs or with the Catholic faith. The second volume of Jesus of Nazareth came off the presses last month with 1.2 million copies. People who do not want to have anything to do with the Pope of Rome still seem interested to hear whatthe winsome scholar, Joseph Ratzinger, has to say.

"The figure and message of Jesus"
In volume one Benedict set out and explored a number of biblical themes that elucidate Jesus Christ, his life and his mission. In this second volume he deals in much more detail with the New Testament text and with certain words and passages, and interprets them. He does this, as he explains in his Foreword, in order to present “the figure and message of Jesus”; this is the underlying intention of the book.He says:

“In my book I set out to discover the real Jesus; if we look carefully at the events of the life of Christ, they only can be properly explained if he was indeed the Christ, the son of the living God.”

He goes to the heart of the question by reflecting on the events of the Great Week (as the Catholic Church calls it in her liturgy) –from Christ’s entry into Jerusalem through to his resurrection; he unfolds something of the mystery of Christ and the continuing presence of Christ in the world with power to transform human lives and to remake human history.

The whole book is an implementation and demonstration of the working principles Benedict sets for himself in the foreword. He has entered wholeheartedly into the discussion carried on by biblical scholars and exegetes on the methodology and hermeneutics of exegesis and on exegesis as both an historical and theological discipline. The book is really a practical guideline for a new exegetical approach to that includes aspects of the historical critical method which still have value. Along with a theological approach, it responds to the growing awareness of numbers of exegetes that historical criticism used by itself has become an exhausted project; it has now nowhere to go.

So Benedict challenges current scholarly exegesis to take a methodological step forward, without abandoning its historical character, lest it become irrelevant; as it stands it is open to correction and completion. He is proposing a combination of two quite different types of interpretation – that of the historical critical method and that of a theology that knows the Tradition and can give an ecclesial reading of the Scripture. He does not claim to present the ne plus ultra of such an integrated exegesis; he does suggest that his book considers the essential words and deeds of Jesus guided by an hermeneutic of faith which has a place for historical reason as a necessary component of that faith.

Those who work in the field as well as theologians and catechists will recognise the scale of Pope Benedict’s ambition and what he wants to do for biblical interpretation with this undertaking. He hopes the book will be a significant step in the direction of presenting a methodological whole that integrates meaning and history. Needless to say he does not offer any cosy little cubby hole to the Jesus Seminar.

The book is written on an academic level but it is much more:

“I have attempted to develop a way of observing and listening to the Jesus of the Gospels that can indeed lead to a personal encounter and that through collective listening with Jesus’ disciples across the ages can indeed attain some knowledge of the real historical figure of Jesus.”

To the extent that Benedict succeeds it will be much due to his refusal to separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith, or to allow the validity of such a separation. In his intention this is a book for the soul as well as for the mind; here one has a reading of the New Testament in the Church with an interplay of faith and reason that could do much to deliver us from the rash of New Age effusions and humanistic self improvement that currently masquerades as Christian spirituality and are found in publications that claim to be Catholic.

The paschal mystery

The topics treated in the book take us to the heart of faith in Jesus Christ. It is nothing less than the paschal mystery as it unfolded in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and as it is made present to us today in the Church’s liturgy. Already in looking at the Last supper as it anticipates Calvary under signs, the book goes to the heart of Christ’s work of our salvation (see Secret Prayer for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost in the 1962Roman Missal) and the notion of his vicarious expiatory death.

In a good deal of Catholic theological, catechetical and spiritual writing the words and concepts of expiation, atonement and reparation have simply been dropped. Yet, as Benedict shows, a critical reading of the New Testament text in light of Tradition shows “the vicarious self-offering of Jesus, including the idea of expiation is clearly there; his death he said is ‘for you – for the many’”; the eucharistic texts where this occurs “belong to the earliest strand of tradition.” The historical evidence is irrefutable. The real problem is that expiation and atonement are incomprehensible to the modern mind; this is the achievement of the secular humanism that knows not God or sin and which has infiltrated the teaching of Christian theology; “at issue here are our image of God and our image of man.”(p.119)

The ideology driving those who reject the notion of expiation holds that we human creatures have developed religiously beyond an idea of God as judge and that now we need to move on. Yet the New Testament texts if read rightly articulate an understanding of expiation which contradicts that message. (p.119) The question is, what is expiation?

In the Old Testament the idea of vicarious atonement occupies a central place. Moses suffered vicariously for the people. In more developed form the figure of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, takes upon himself the guilt of many and thereby makes them just. Jesus the Lamb of God(John 1, 29) takes upon himself the sins of the world and wipes them away. He is the one man who dies for the nation (John 11 52) In the New testament there are various attempts to explain Christ’s Cross as the new worship, the true atonement and the true purification of this corrupted world (p.251) People today want to say it must be a cruel God who demands atonement. But,

“It is not the case of a cruel God demanding infinite expiation. It is exactly the opposite. God himself becomes the locus of reconciliation and, in the person of his Son, takes the suffering upon himself. God himself grants his infinite purity to the world. God himself ‘drinks the cup’ of every horror to the dregs and thereby restores justice through the greatness of his love which,through suffering, transforms the darkness.” (p.232)

This understanding is present in St John’s Gospel and in theletter to the Hebrews.

It all becomes possible because the Son of God took on a human body. This was a new obedience that surpasses all human fulfilment of God's commandments. "The Son of God made himself a servant and took all human disobedience upon himself in his obedience even unto death, suffered it right to the end and conquered it."(p.132) On the Cross the perfect obedience of the Son is the new sacrifice, the basis of the New Covenant, the obedience by which he draws all to himself and at the same time wipes away all our disobedience through his love. (p.233)

This is a completely positive kind of expiation or atonement; it is an act of enormous love on the part of Christ in which he takes us in all our weakness and sin up into his living and holy sacrifice so that we become truly his body, the Church. Here Pope Benedict gives full weight to the meaning of sacrifice in its Old Testament and New Testament contexts.The mystery of atonement is the meaning of the revelation of God in Christ and of the salvation he has won for us. This becomes contemporary and accessible in the Church, in her sacrament; that is what is meant by the sacrifice of the Mass.

The role of the Jewish nation

Vatican II in its Constitution on Divine Revelation had given us three principles for reading and using Scripture; one is to read the Bible whole, as a unity --- all the books of the Old and the New Testaments read together show God's plan for our salvation. Benedict is at ease in doing this because of his understanding of the role of the Jewish nation and its significance as we read the Bible today.

In passing he notes that the Jewish religious leaders who undertook the trial of Jesus did so with care to observe the legal requirements. Jesus was not brought before some kind of "kangaroo court" as we Christians might be inclined to imagine. Two layers of Jewish legal concern came together in the trial of Jesus -- the concern to protect the Temple and the nation on the one hand and the ambitious power seeking of the ruling group on the other.(p.170)

Pope Benedict does raise directly the question: Who exactly were the accusers of Jesus? Who insisted he be condemned to death? Examining the texts very carefully, he notes that the Gospels give varied answers. St John's Gospel says: "The Jews." This has been much misunderstood. For John it has a precise and clearly defined meaning -- the Temple aristocracy.Mark names the dominant priestly group plus the followers of Barabbas. St Matthew speaks of "The whole people" who say, "His blood be upon us and on our children." (27, 25) The blood of Jesus speaks a different language; it does not cry out for vengeance but brings reconciliation; his blood is not poured out against anyone but is shed for the many, for all."All have fallen short of the glory of God....God put Jesus forward as an expiation by his blood." Romans 3; 23, 25)

Jesus has the last word. He begs the Father to forgive those who condemned and crucified him, excusing them "for they know not what they do." St Peter, after Christ's resurrection took up the theme when he said in a sermon to the crowd: "You killed the Author of life whom God raised from the dead." He goes on: "Now brothers I know you acted in ignorance as did your rulers." (Acts 3,17) St Paul in one of his autobiographical reflections tells how he had "acted ignorantly in unbelief." (1 Tim 1,13) Benedict comments: "Yet his very ignorance is what saved him and made him fit for conversion and forgiveness." (p.207) The Pope is clear: the Jewish nation cannot be held responsible for the death of Christ.

However he does look at the combination of "expert knowledge and deep ignorance" which allowed them to put Christ to death and relates it to those who today are learned but unable to see the truth. He asks:

Are we not blind precisely as people with knowledge? Is it not on account of our knowledge that we are incapable of recognising the Truth itself which tries to reach us through what we know? (p.208)

Ignorance can reveal a deadening of heart that resists the call of truth.

The truth of the resurrection

Is that not what we see at this time each year when an influential sector of the media choose to float various hypotheses which undermine faith in the veracity of Christ's resurrection? Quite bluntly Benedict notes that, “The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead.”(p.241) He does not waste time with the feeble hypotheses of those who try to have it both ways by claiming belief in a “resurrection" while reducing it to “interior events or mystical experiences." (p.268) He agrees that the resurrection of Christ is not the same kind of historical event as the birth of Christ or his crucifixion butis "a new type of event".However it is an event that "has its origin in history," but goes beyond where history can take us."Jesus' resurrection points beyond history but has left a footprint in history."

Those who became witnesses of the resurrection had experienced a real encounter with Christ; it was not the resuscitation of a corpse.

“Jesus' resurrection was about breaking out into a new form of life,into a life that is no longer subject to the law of dying and becoming but lies beyond it -- a life that opens up a new dimension of human existence." (p.244)… "This explains the unique character of the resurrection accounts; they speak of something paradoxical, of something that surpasses all experience and yet is utterly real and present."

It is something new, unprecedented; it goes beyond, not against, human science; there is a further dimension of reality, "the union of the finite with the infinite, the union of man and God for the conquest of death." (p.247)Perhaps a little mischievously the Pope asks, "Is not creation actually waiting for this last and highest 'evolutionary leap'?"

A loss of nerve has led Christian exegetes and apologists largely to give away any probative value of the empty tomb for the resurrection. Jesus died and was buried. Did he remain in the tomb; or was it empty after he had risen? (p.253) Of itself the empty tomb does not prove the resurrection.With the voice of common sense the Holy Father notes:

"While the empty tomb cannot prove the resurrection, it is nevertheless a necessary condition for resurrection faith which was specifically concerned with the body and consequently with the whole person....the empty tomb is a strongly scriptural element of the resurrection proclamation." (p.257)

Jesus did not decompose; in him life truly conquered death.

Both believers and unbelievers from time to time come outwith the question: "If God wants us to believe these things, why does he not overwhelm us with the proclamation and proofs of them?" Benedict's answer is, "It is part of the mystery of God that he acts so gently. He doesnot overwhelm with external power but gives freedom to offer and elicit love." (p.276). Because the power of truth was at work as the apostles preached the resurrection, it elicited faith and the amazing growth of the Church.

Is that not consonant with the "thoroughly new concept of kingship and kingdom"that Jesus revealed and put to Pontius Pilate? Benedict shows Jesus on trial before Pilate basing his concept of kingship and kingdom on earth on truth. “Though Pilate's response is the sceptical one of the politician, the question of truth is bound up with the fate of mankind." (p.191) Following St Thomas Aquinas Pope Benedict guides us to the conclusion that, "God is truth itself, the sovereign and first truth."

That is why he keeps reminding us that the task of Christians is to bring God to the world. So he keeps showing us that "the world is true to the extent that it reflects God; man becomes true, he becomes himself when he grows in God's likeness... God is the criterion of being." (p.192)

Bishop Basil Meeking is Bishop Emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch, New Zealand, where he lives.
This article is published by Basil Meeking, and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.
Retrieved April 9, 2011 from