Monday, October 31, 2011

Second Chances: A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Divorce

On October 21, The Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation hosted an event to release a new report from the Institute for American Values, "Second Chances: A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Divorce." Co-authors Professor William Doherty and Justice Leah Ward Sears presented the report’s findings in a discussion moderated by Brookings Senior Fellow William Galston. Robert Rector from the Heritage Foundation and Theodora Ooms from the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center offered their analysis of the report and its proposals.

Reformation Day - and the Incoherence of Sola Scriptura

Francis Beckwith

[For Protestants, October 31st] is Reformation Day, the date in 1517 on which Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to that famous door in Wittenberg, Germany. Since I returned to the Catholic Church in April 2007, each year the commemoration has become a time of reflection about my own journey and the puzzles that led me back to the Church of my youth. 

One of those puzzles was the relationship between the Church, Tradition, and the canon of Scripture. As a Protestant, I claimed to reject the normative role that Tradition plays in the development of Christian doctrine. But at times I seemed to rely on it. For example, on the content of the biblical canon – whether the Old Testament includes the deuterocanonical books (or “Apocrypha”), as the Catholic Church holds and Protestantism rejects. I would appeal to the exclusion of these books as canonical by the Jewish Council of Jamnia (A.D. 90-100) as well as doubts about those books raised by St. Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate, and a few other Church Fathers.

My reasoning, however, was extra-biblical. For it appealed to an authoritative leadership that has the power to recognize and certify books as canonical that were subsequently recognized as such by certain Fathers embedded in a tradition that, as a Protestant, I thought more authoritative than the tradition that certified what has come to be known as the Catholic canon. This latter tradition, rejected by Protestants, includes St. Augustine as well as the Council of Hippo (A.D. 393), the Third Council of Carthage (A.D. 397), the Fourth Council of Carthage (A.D. 419), and the Council of Florence (A.D. 1441).

But if, according to my Protestant self, a Jewish council and a few Church Fathers are the grounds on which I am justified in saying what is the proper scope of the Old Testament canon, then what of New Testament canonicity? So, ironically, given my Protestant understanding of ecclesiology, then the sort of authority and tradition that apparently provided me warrant to exclude the deuterocanonical books from Scripture – binding magisterial authority with historical continuity – is missing from the Church during the development of New Testament canonicity.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, maintains that this magisterial authority was in fact present in the early Church and thus gave its leadership the power to recognize and fix the New Testament canon. So, ironically, the Protestant case for a deuterocanonical-absent Old Testament canon depends on Catholic intuitions about a tradition of magisterial authority.

       This led to two other tensions. First, in defense of the Protestant Old Testament canon, I argued, as noted above, that although some of the Church’s leading theologians and several regional councils accepted what is known today as the Catholic canon, others disagreed and embraced what is known today as the Protestant canon. It soon became clear to me that this did not help my case, since by employing this argumentative strategy, I conceded the central point of Catholicism: the Church is logically prior to the Scriptures. That is, if the Church, until the Council of Florence’s ecumenical declaration in 1441, can live with a certain degree of ambiguity about the content of the Old Testament canon, that means that sola scriptura was never a fundamental principle of authentic Christianity.

After all, if Scripture alone applies to the Bible as a whole, then we cannot know to which particular collection of books this principle applies until the Bible’s content is settled. Thus, to concede an officially unsettled canon for Christianity’s first fifteen centuries seems to make the Catholic argument that sola scriptura was a sixteenth-century invention and, therefore, not an essential Christian doctrine.

Second, because the list of canonical books is itself not found in Scripture – as one can find the Ten Commandments or the names of Christ’s apostles – any such list, whether Protestant or Catholic, would be an item of extra-biblical theological knowledge. Take, for example, a portion of the revised and expanded Evangelical Theological Society statement of faith suggested (and eventually rejected by the membership) by two ETS members following my return to the Catholic Church. It states that, “this written word of God consists of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments and is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behavior.”

But the belief that the Bible consists only of sixty-six books is not a claim of Scripture, since one cannot find the list in it, but a claim about Scripture as a whole. That is, the whole has a property – i.e., “consisting of sixty-six books,” – that is not found in any of the parts. In other words, if the sixty-six books are the supreme authority on matters of belief, and the number of books is a belief, and one cannot find that belief in any of the books, then the belief that Scripture consists of sixty-six particular books is an extra-biblical belief, an item of theological knowledge that is prima facie non-biblical.

For the Catholic, this is not a problem, since the Bible is the book of the Church, and thus there is an organic unity between the fixing of the canon and the development of doctrine and Christian practice.

Although I am forever indebted to my Evangelical brethren for instilling and nurturing in me a deep love of Scripture, it was that love that eventually led me to the Church that had the authority to distinguish Scripture from other things. 

Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He was the fifty-eighth President of the Evangelical Theological Society and is the author of Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic (Brazos Press, 2009) and one of the four primary contributors to the forthcoming Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Anglicanism(Zondervan, 2012).

© 2011
 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to:

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Retrieved October 31, 2011 from

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why America might pull through the demographic collapse

Denyse O'Leary | Monday, 31 October 2011
Why America might pull through the demographic collapse
it is mainly religious people who raise children, and more women in America are religious.

First, the context: Modern political science -- which readily understands imperialism, resistance, and clash of competing interests -- does not similarly understand “the wasting away of nations.” That, says David Goldman, author of How Civilizations Die: (and why Islam is dying too), is because political scientists tend to assume that people will follow their rational self-interest. In fact, they often don’t.

From antiquity, he notes, a symptom of a civilization’s decline has been the destruction of children:
Macedonian poet Poseidippus of Pella wrote: “Even a rich man always exposes a daughter.” A 200 BCE survey of seventy-nine families in Miletus, an ancient Greek colony on the Western Turkish coast, show a combined total of 188 sons but only 28 daughters.
One Greek author, Polybius, suggested as a last resort “passing laws for the preservation of infants.” But most Greek colonies were finished already.

Rational self-interest would dictate raising enough girls to keep the population going, but clearly that didn’t prevail. Indeed, it is generally believed that the Christian prohibition of abortion and infanticide was a key factor in how Christians ended up in charge of the Roman Empire 300 years after Christ’s birth. The prohibition worked, one might argue, for rational self-interest, but it was actually motivated by fear of God.
And without fear of God? If the present low fertility rate continues, three-quarters of all Japanese and half of all Europeans will be elderly dependants. That’s where the collapse comes in.

Why the current collapse of Christianity in Europe and not the United States? In Goldman’s view, Christianity had long nourished the seeds of serious setbacks in Europe. Many Christian kingdoms in Europe were not clear how much was Christian and how much was kingdom. He cites the damage wrought by the Thirty Years War (1618-1648, 8 million dead in Germany). The carnage was not, as often believed, Catholic vs. Protestant; indeed, Catholic kings who believed in their own divine election to rule would sent Protestant armies to devastate the countryside governed by other Catholic kings. “The tragedy of the Catholic Church was to believe that it could turn such patriotism to its own purposes.”

Goldman, an observant Jew, believes that an inability to establish the Church as a kingdom not of this world helps to explain both the secularism and the hopelessness of Europe today. Everywhere, traditional Catholic nations, Poland, Ireland, Spain, and Quebec (Canada), for example, are collapsing at the core because, he argues, “faith rooted in blood and soil weakens when people step out of traditional society into the modern world.” The average Polish woman now has only one child. Ireland is lost to posterity. Spain has the lowest birth rate in Europe. Even so, who would have believed that by 1982 in Quebec - once famed for its proud Catholic heritage in the teeth of opposition - more than 42 percent of men and women still in their reproductive ages had undergone voluntary sterilization, with 41 abortions for every 100 live births?
The United States is the one exception in Goldman’s view.

If a single characteristic makes America exceptional, it is the fact that American fertility has stabilized at replacement. ... In the second half of this century most of the great powers of the past - Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, and Japan, among others - will cease to function. A century later they will have ceased to exist.
 What makes America utterly and completely exceptional among the industrial countries, in short, is that it will still be here in a hundred years.

It’s easy to dismiss predictions for two centuries from now, but historically, very few nations pull out of a demographic death spin. Of course they could. Double income-no kids couples could suddenly think of the future - but experience shows they rarely do. Having long since ceased to believe in a transcendent religion, they want all the toys now. Instead of buying toys on special occasions for Junior and Little Miss.
A key reason America may be spared is the persistence of personal (not national) religiosity. As Phillip Longman noted (in alarm), it is mainly religious people who raise children. Half of all American women of childbearing age say that religion is important to them, versus one in six of European women.

That in itself provides evidence that Americans will replace themselves and Europeans will not: “When children become a cost rather than an asset, prospective parents must identify with something beyond their own needs in order to sustain child-raising.” Especially in a modern welfare state where those who raise no children expect a comfortable retirement based on the labour of the children of others. Raising children then becomes an act of faith with no earthly reward. One undertaken by evangelicals and observant Catholics but not so much by mainline Protestants.

The really remarkable and hopeful thing we learn is that the vital American model of Christianity (including sustainable populations) seems to be taking root in the global South.

Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.
Retrieved October 31, 2011 from

Saturday, October 29, 2011

JabThat Kills

Carolyn Moynihan | Friday, 28 October 2011
Bad shot: when will WHO warn women about the contraceptive jab?
The latest strong evidence that hormonal contraception is linked with AIDS finds experts still dallying.

Early this month The Lancet medical journal published a study that should have stopped birth control missionaries in Africa dead in their tracks. An international research team reported finding a strong link between HIV transmission and the use of hormonal contraceptives, particularly injectable hormones such as Depo-Provera, which may double the risk both of acquiring and passing on the AIDS virus among users, compared to non-users of contraception.
This is very big, very alarming news. About 12 million women in sub-Saharan Africa receive contraceptive shots every three months because injectables are regarded as the most efficient method for women who are often poor and without easy access to transport. A nurse or other health worker can give the injection so there is no need for a doctor. The wife need not bother her husband for any special consideration; the teenage girl need not remember to take a pill (and she is certain to forget the condom).

It is the dream method in the eyes of “reproductive health” promoters who believe that the greatest favour they can do Third World women -- and the underclass in developed countries -- is prevent babies arriving.

Now they are faced with robust evidence that DMPA (depot medroxyprogesterone acetate) is probably helping to drive the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the worst affected region of the world. Oral contraceptives are implicated too, and the role of other hormonal devices is not known. This much we do know, however: the international population control establishment has a major crisis on its hands.

But don’t imagine that health authorities have called for an immediate suspension of the very convenient contraceptive jab. For one thing, it is not news to them. The study was reported at an AIDS conference in Rome back in July, but it is only since the Lancet published the research that the mainstream media have picked up the story.

The World Health Organisation is still working out what to say. It has scientists reviewing the evidence and will hold an experts meeting in January. Then it might issue formal advice about the use of DMPA at least. Then it will certainly call for more research on the subject. Meanwhile, nothing must be allowed to halt the birth control programme in Africa -- or anywhere else. As a WHO spokeswomantold the New York Times: “We want to make sure that we warn when there is a real need to warn, but at the same time we don’t want to come up with a hasty judgement that would have far-reaching severe consequences for the sexual and reproductive health of women,” she said. “This is a very difficult dilemma.”

An old concern
As a matter of fact it would not be hasty to issue a red alert right now. According to WHO itself, the interaction between hormonal contraception and HIV infection has been a concern since the early days of the AIDS epidemic -- that is, the early 1980s. Thirty-odd years. Given the high stakes in human life and suffering, one would think that it would have been a priority for rigorous research. But after all that time no randomised control trial has been set up to thoroughly test the link.

There have, however, been a number (at leat 20 by my count) of studies that have addressed the question -- usually by a secondary analysis of data that was collected for another purpose. The new study, “Use of hormonal contraceptives and risk of HIV-1 transmission: a prospective cohort study”, is one of those. Renee Heffron and others involved in the Partners in Prevention HSV/HIV Transmission Study re-analysed data originally gathered to investigate whether treatment of genital herpes would reduce transmission of HIV.

While some previous studies had looked at high risk groups, such as prostitutes (“sex workers”), this one involved 3790 couples in which one partner was infected with HIV -- in most cases, the woman. They were from seven countries in East and Southern Africa and most were married with children. A little more than one third (1321) of the women used hormonal contraception at some point during the study -- the preferred method among couples with young uninfected partners -- although some changed methods, some stopped and some became pregnant.

If previous research showing a significant increased risk of HIV transmission where hormonal contraceptives were in the picture (there are at least four, plus monkey studies supporting them) could be filed under “maybe” because of one flaw or another, the new study is generally considered strong. The evidence that risk at least doubles for women on injectable progesterone -- and, what has been largely unobserved until now, for their male partners -- is something that a leading researcher in the field, also involved in this study, takes seriously.

“We were frankly quite disappointed to see that we had a doubling of HIV risk,”said Professor Jared Baeton of the University of Washington. “We analysed the data several ways, to be sure we had confidence in the results.” “This is a good study, and I think it does add some important evidence,” said Charles Morrison, another expert on the subject working out of FHI 360 (Family Health International), a family planning organisation doing HIV prevention work as well.

The vulnerability of young women
A disappointment it may be, but the new evidence will not be a surprise to anyone working at the interface of contraception and disease. Hormonal contraception has long been linked with bone density loss (especially Depo Provera), cervical cancer and Chlamydia -- the last two being diseases now at epidemic levels. Cervical ectopy in young women makes them vulnerable to infection, and it appears also that progesterone thins vaginal tissue and has an effect on the immunology of the vagina and the cervix.

It is also well known among experts that genital tract infections cause increased shedding of HIV cells. Genital herpes (HSV-2) is of particular interest because there is a strong relationship between HSV-2 and HIV transmission, and evidence that hormonal contraceptives reactivate HSV-2, thus increasing HIV-1 shedding.

Furthermore there is evidence that these contraceptives may increase the seriousness of the infection transmitted as well as hasten the progression of HIV. They may also increase the risk of a mother passing HIV to her baby during breastfeeding. How the synthetic hormones interact with anti-retroviral therapy is another question to be answered.
All this and more was discussed at a meeting of technical experts convened by WHO in March 2007 to review priorities for research in this area.

One of the things that hit them forcibly was the evidence -- from some new data crunching by Morrison -- that young women were most at risk from hormonal, and especially DMPA, contraception. To quote from the report of the meeting:

As one participant noted, what “jumps out” of the data is the issue of age. Of particular concern is that hormonal contraception use in younger women (<25 years) – the same population that is driving the HIV epidemic – may increase the risk of HIV infection.

In Morrison’s study (“Hormonal contraception and the risk of HIV acquisition,” AIDS, 2007) girls aged 15 to 19 had treble the risk of getting HIV if they were on the progesterone injection compared with those not using hormonal contraception, and women aged 20 to 24 had nearly double the risk.

That was four years ago. How many young African women are still getting the jab, one wonders.

The contraceptive empire at risk
The WHO report is a fascinating document, showing the reproductive health establishment wrestling with a problem that threatens a large part of its empire -- one already undermined by the massive flow of international funds to HIV/AIDS programmes. It laments:

Services and policies in many settings are overwhelmed and dominated by HIV-prevention and AIDS-treatment programmes. While this is an important achievement for activism and public health, in some settings it constrains the provision of other services, including family planning and contraception. Continued advocacy is needed to strengthen sexual and reproductive health services, including the critical need to provide safe, effective, and appropriate contraception to HIV-infected women.

Note the jibe at AIDS “activism” here and the sense of unfair competition from that quarter, as though the sexual and reproductive health project itself had not been making work for the HIV/AIDS sector. (Just one concrete example is suggestive: within South Africa, where 18 per cent of the population overall is infected with HIV, the hardest-hit province, KwaZulu Natal, also has the highest uptake of contraception in the country -- predominantly hormone injections.)

Certainly the participants had a sense of urgency about getting answers to pressing questions about hormonal contraception and HIV and promoting alternative methods if necessary, but their over-riding concern was that there should be no fall-off in contraceptive use. As the report notes:
The consultation and discussions reported here started from the perspective that all women -- whether HIV infected or uninfected -- need access to effective contraception.

That is where it ended, too, and where the whole army of birth controllers appears to stand united at this moment. They talk about the need to offer women an effective alternative before advising them to give up any method, about weighing the benefits of contraception against the risks, and about condoms, a method of “protection” that has never turned the tide of the HIV/AIDS epidemic anywhere.

None of their desperate rhetoric about the risks of “unintended pregnancies” and “unsafe abortions is convincing, however, when the alternative is the risk of contracting or spreading the disease that has killed or debilitated millions of poor people around the world and orphaned or killed their children. There are other ways of helping the poor than pumping artificial hormones into their women on an act first, ask questions later basis. Apart from anything else it betrays a shocking disregard for their fundamental human rights and dignity.

The late Margaret Ogola, a Kenyan doctor who did as much as anyone to care for the victims of HIV/AIDS, told the 1995 UN conference on women that “there seems to be a conspiracy to keep women in the dark, especially the African woman, regarding the many dangerous side-effects of contraceptives”.

At this point her words seem prophetic. If the World health Organisation and its partners in birth control want to show their sincerity with regard to maternal and infant health in developing countries they should issue a clear warning about the probable risks now. Not in January or some years down the track when a trial is completed. Now.

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.
Retrieved October 29, 2011 from

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Benedict XVI at Assisi: How to Do Dialogue Without Syncretism, Indifferentism, or Relativism

The Commandment of Assisi: "Purify your own faith"
This is the way "so that the true God becomes accessible." The speech of pope Joseph Ratzinger to the "pilgrims of truth" gathered in the city of Saint Francis

by Benedict XVI

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Distinguished Heads and Representatives of Churches, Ecclesial Communities and World Religions,
Dear Friends,

Twenty-five years have passed since Blessed Pope John Paul II first invited representatives of the world’s religions to Assisi to pray for peace. What has happened in the meantime? What is the state of play with regard to peace today?

At that time the great threat to world peace came from the division of the earth into two mutually opposed blocs. A conspicuous symbol of this division was the Berlin Wall which traced the border between two worlds right through the heart of the city.

In 1989, three years after Assisi, the wall came down, without bloodshed. Suddenly the vast arsenals that stood behind the wall were no longer significant. They had lost their terror. The peoples’ will to freedom was stronger than the arsenals of violence. The question as to the causes of this dramatic change is complex and cannot be answered with simple formulae. But in addition to economic and political factors, the deepest reason for the event is a spiritual one: behind material might there were no longer any spiritual convictions.

The will to freedom was ultimately stronger than the fear of violence, which now lacked any spiritual veneer. For this victory of freedom, which was also, above all, a victory of peace, we give thanks. What is more, this was not merely, nor even primarily, about the freedom to believe, although it did include this. To that extent we may in some way link all this to our prayer for peace.

But what happened next? Unfortunately, we cannot say that freedom and peace have characterized the situation ever since. Even if there is no threat of a great war hanging over us at present, nevertheless the world is unfortunately full of discord. It is not only that sporadic wars are continually being fought – violence as such is potentially ever present and it is a characteristic feature of our world. Freedom is a great good. But the world of freedom has proved to be largely directionless, and not a few have misinterpreted freedom as somehow including freedom for violence. Discord has taken on new and frightening guises, and the struggle for freedom must engage us all in a new way.

Let us try to identify the new faces of violence and discord more closely. It seems to me that, in broad strokes, we may distinguish two types of the new forms of violence, which are the very antithesis of each other in terms of their motivation and manifest a number of differences in detail.


Firstly there is terrorism, for which in place of a great war there are targeted attacks intended to strike the opponent destructively at key points, with no regard for the lives of innocent human beings, who are cruelly killed or wounded in the process. In the eyes of the perpetrators, the overriding goal of damage to the enemy justifies any form of cruelty. Everything that had been commonly recognized and sanctioned in international law as the limit of violence is overruled. We know that terrorism is often religiously motivated and that the specifically religious character of the attacks is proposed as a justification for the reckless cruelty that considers itself entitled to discard the rules of morality for the sake of the intended "good". In this case, religion does not serve peace, but is used as justification for violence.

The post-Enlightenment critique of religion has repeatedly maintained that religion is a cause of violence and in this way it has fuelled hostility towards religions. The fact that, in the case we are considering here, religion really does motivate violence should be profoundly disturbing to us as religious persons. In a way that is more subtle but no less cruel, we also see religion as the cause of violence when force is used by the defenders of one religion against others. The religious delegates who were assembled in Assisi in 1986 wanted to say, and we now repeat it emphatically and firmly: this is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction.

In response, an objection is raised: how do you know what the true nature of religion is? Does your assertion not derive from the fact that your religion has become a spent force? Others in their turn will object: is there such a thing as a common nature of religion that finds expression in all religions and is therefore applicable to them all?

We must ask ourselves these questions, if we wish to argue realistically and credibly against religiously motivated violence. Herein lies a fundamental task for interreligious dialogue – an exercise which is to receive renewed emphasis through this meeting.

As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature. The God in whom we Christians believe is the Creator and Father of all, and from him all people are brothers and sisters and form one single family. For us the Cross of Christ is the sign of the God who put "suffering-with" (compassion) and "loving-with" in place of force. His name is "God of love and peace" (2 Cor 13:11). It is the task of all who bear responsibility for the Christian faith to purify the religion of Christians again and again from its very heart, so that it truly serves as an instrument of God’s peace in the world, despite the fallibility of humans.


If one basic type of violence today is religiously motivated and thus confronts religions with the question as to their true nature and obliges all of us to undergo purification, a second complex type of violence is motivated in precisely the opposite way: as a result of God’s absence, his denial and the loss of humanity which goes hand in hand with it.

The enemies of religion – as we said earlier – see in religion one of the principal sources of violence in the history of humanity and thus they demand that it disappear. But the denial of God has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds, which only becomes possible when man no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself, now having only himself to take as a criterion. The horrors of the concentration camps reveal with utter clarity the consequences of God’s absence.

Yet I do not intend to speak further here about state-imposed atheism, but rather about the decline of man, which is accompanied by a change in the spiritual climate that occurs imperceptibly and hence is all the more dangerous. The worship of mammon, possessions and power is proving to be a counter-religion, in which it is no longer man who counts but only personal advantage. The desire for happiness degenerates, for example, into an unbridled, inhuman craving, such as appears in the different forms of drug dependency. There are the powerful who trade in drugs and then the many who are seduced and destroyed by them, physically and spiritually. Force comes to be taken for granted and in parts of the world it threatens to destroy our young people. Because force is taken for granted, peace is destroyed and man destroys himself in this peace vacuum.

The absence of God leads to the decline of man and of humanity. But where is God? Do we know him, and can we show him anew to humanity, in order to build true peace? Let us first briefly summarize our considerations thus far. I said that there is a way of understanding and using religion so that it becomes a source of violence, while the rightly lived relationship of man to God is a force for peace. In this context I referred to the need for dialogue and I spoke of the constant need for purification of lived religion. On the other hand I said that the denial of God corrupts man, robs him of his criteria and leads him to violence.


In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the growing world of agnosticism: people to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God.

Such people do not simply assert: "There is no God". They suffer from his absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness.

They are "pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace". They ask questions of both sides. They take away from militant atheists the false certainty by which these claim to know that there is no God and they invite them to leave polemics aside and to become seekers who do not give up hope in the existence of truth and in the possibility and necessity of living by it. But they also challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others.
These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practised. Their inability to find God is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God. So all their struggling and questioning is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible.

Therefore I have consciously invited delegates of this third group to our meeting in Assisi, which does not simply bring together representatives of religious institutions. Rather it is a case of being together on a journey towards truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace against every form of destructive force.

Finally I would like to assure you that the Catholic Church will not let up in her fight against violence, in her commitment for peace in the world. We are animated by the common desire to be "pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace".

Assisi, October 27, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Population Growth and Birth Dearth

The oldest society the world has ever known
Shannon Buckley | 26 Oct 2011 |

The recent print edition of The Economist included an interesting summary of the world’s demographic issues.  It points out that much of the effect of population growth depends on where that growth occurs and on various other factors such as the number of working age people in a particular country.  On the whole the countries which still have fertility rates above replacement level are the countries that are causing only a tiny fraction of world pollution, and about half of the 2.3 billion increase in the world’s population over the next 40 years will in fact be in Africa: does not automatically follow that the more people there are, the worse the damage. In 2007 Americans and Australians emitted almost 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide each. In contrast, more than 60 countries—including the vast majority of African ones—emitted less than 1 tonne per person...Most of the world’s population growth in the next 20 years will occur in countries that make the smallest contribution to greenhouse gases.
Often the population growth debate and hype seems to have little regard for such details and the man on the street is left with the general impression that a huge crisis looms ahead for us all and the environment is slowly melting away.  However, it is now common knowledge that Earth’s population is aging, with 40% of countries having fertility rates below replacement level, including Brazil, Thailand, Tunisia and much of Europe and East Asia.  Incredibly, by 2050 Japan will be the oldest society the world has ever known.  This blog regularly recounts the effect of low fertility on various countries, and this article gives a good summary. 
By 2050 [Europe] will have three dependents for every four adults, so will shoulder a large burden of ageing, which even sustained increases in fertility would fail to reverse for decades. This will cause disturbing policy implications in the provision of pensions and health care, which rely on continuing healthy tax revenues from the working population.
At least these countries are rich enough to make such provision. Not so China. With its fertility artificially suppressed by the one-child policy, it is ageing at an unprecedented rate...This will bring an abrupt end to its cheap-labour manufacturing. Its dependency ratio will rise from 38 to 64 by 2050, the sharpest rise in the world. Add in the country’s sexual imbalances—after a decade of sex-selective abortions, China will have 96.5m men in their 20s in 2025 but only 80.3m young women—and demography may become the gravest problem the Communist Party has to face.
The world has reaped the demographic dividends of the baby boomer generation which brought with it a high ratio of working age people to dependents.  Now it has to figure out how to support an increasingly unbalanced society.  Not to mention how countries which have artificially imbalanced their populations through sex selection will cope.  It seems so sad that in China so many men will have no chance of having a wife and family - and that this situation is largely of the country's own making.  
Retrieved October 26, 2011 from

Outstanding review of a deeply misguided book by Nussbaum

Ryan T. Anderson, editor of the Witherspoon Institute's site, Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, has an outstanding review of an important if deeply misguided book by Martha Nussbaum, Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach.  Anderson's review deserves to be read widely and studied closely, as Nussbaum's book undoubtedly is being and will be.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Cruel Curse

Whenever I read the National Catholic Reporter, the house organ of the anti-Catholic Catholics, the 'bitter and twisted' old 'liberals' who espouse the "spirit" of Vatican II rather than its substance, who led the desacralization or, as some of them proudly call it, the Protestantization of the Catholic Church, who completed the work of the Reformation in what Eamon Duffy called in his book on the destruction of traditional religion in England between 1400 and 1580, The Stripping of the Altars, who call on the bishops to "listen" to the laity but who themselves are unable to hear the voice of the young who thirst for orthodoxy and piety, who revere JPII and B16, who come to World Youth Day in their millions, who choose seminaries and religious orders that are orthodox in faith and morals and that value devotion and piety, letting the old orders and seminaries with their aging dissidents wither... 

then I am reminded of this passage from German writer Martin Mosebach's book on the destruction in Europe of liturgy, altars, sacred music, art, and architecture over the past 40 years, The Heresy of Formlessness:
The 20th century cult of youth culminates in a cruel curse: while the aging process cannot be stopped, the aging human being is not allowed to mature. and is condemned, until his life's end, to play the long-dead games of his youth. This is most clearly seen in the world of art--which is so closely related to religion--where the avantgardisms of 1905 are still being repeated again and again, as an ossified ritual, a hundred years later. And, with her famous aggiornamento, the Church thinks that, in order to survive, she needs to 'open herself' to these senile avantgardisms!" (pp.81-82).
Mosebach is decrying the postconciliar devastation of the Catholic Church in Europe, but with a few minor word changes his point can be applied to those who claim the mantle of the Sixties generation as a whole, in the seminaries, universities, and media, secular and Catholic alike.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Islam's demographic freefall

Denyse O’Leary | Monday, 24 October 2011
tags : demography, Islam, population
Why Islam is in as much trouble as the West
Many countries in the Muslim world, including Iran, are also in demographic freefall.

David Goldman | Why Civilizations Die | Regnery, 2011, 256 pages
ISBN: 159698273X
David P. Goldman, who blogs at the Asia Times as “Spengler,” has written an insightful book challenging the truisms of the commentariat on both the rise of Islam and the decline of the West: How Civilizations Die: (and why Islam is dying too)

History buffs will recognize that the pen name Spengler honours Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), author of Decline of the West. Goldman’s initial observations about the decline are most helpful but not unprecedented. From a much less religion-friendly perspective, American demographer Phillip Longman has been saying the same thing, and so has Canadian demographer David Foot.

It is what Goldman says about Islam that will surprise many readers: Islam is dying too because the Muslim birth rate - according to reliable statistics - has crashed. How badly?
Across the entire Muslim world, university-educated Muslim women bear children at the same rate as their infecund European counterparts.

Whatever they believe about Islam, they have one or two children, but rarely three or four. Not enough to deliver their societies from demographic collapse, given the size of the families they came from. For example,

The average young Tunisian woman - like her Iranian or Turkish counterpart - grew up in a family of seven children, but will bear only one or two herself.

Education for women doesn’t in itself cause birth dearth, but abandonment of the land does. Muslims are not immune from the urbanization that turns children who were once a source of wealth into a major cost centre. Increasing numbers of people, there as here, hope that others will undertake the trouble.

But surely some Muslims have large families? Those who do live in areas that are considered backward, and they cannot indefinitely prop up an unsustainably low urban birth rate. But because demographic decline happened so quickly in Muslim societies, the Western problem of too few young people supporting too many seniors will be much more severe, especially in countries with few natural resources, like Turkey.

One might ask, why can’t Islamism reverse the decline by demanding that urban women do their duty? A look at Iran, Goldman says, reveals a related crisis of effective faith. For example, according to a suppressed report, more than 90 percent of Tehran prostitutes are said to have passed the university entrance exam, and 30 percent of them are studying. Their career choice is, they say, voluntary. Drug abuse among students is rampant, fuelled by cheap opium from neighbouring Afghanistan. The Islamist could exemplarily punish a few prostitutes or drug addicts - but thousands?

More generally, when modernization comes quickly, without warning, and from elsewhere, a declining birth rate can be accompanied by worse, not better, conditions for modern women. In Turkey, for example, only 22 percent of women sought employment outside the home in 2009, down from 34 percent in 1988 - despite their intervening fertility crash. About this, Goldman observes, “If we are surprised by Muslim demographics, it is because we have not listened carefully enough to what Muslims themselves have been trying to tell us.” Islamism is more of a last stand for many than a resurgent force, hence the glamour of suicide. If all this is correct, demographic collapse will increase rather than decrease the risk of terrorism, because “there is no such thing as rational self-interest for people who believe they have nothing to lose.”

Those inclined to dismiss Goldman’s contrarian analysis might point out that if there are few young people for the Islamist to recruit, there will be few suicide terrorists. Not necessarily; a culture’s suicidal resistance often increases at precisely the point where a huge conflict is irretrievably lost. This was true of the South in the closing days of the Civil War, and of Germany and Japan in World War II, for example. Many won’t be trying to win, only to inflict damage on the victor.

Compounding the problem is that Islam is - at present - much less well-adapted to political systems that produce stability in a modern environment. The rule of life among Islamists is authoritarianism in every facet of life. Authoritarianism results in either accepted oppression or revolt, but not the consensual stability that a modern society needs. And imams provide little guidance as to how to get there, because many see the very behaviours that hamper progress as ordained by Allah. For these reasons, Goldman thinks, the threat to the West from Islamism is generally overrated; internal demographic collapse is a much more serious threat. No civilization has ever survived a situation in which a small number of young adults must support a large number of retirees as well as raise children to support them.

Interestingly, he think that the United States has a much better chance of surviving the collapse than Europe or the Muslim world, for reasons we will explore in Part II next week.

Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.
This article is published by Denyse O’Leary , 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.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Finally, my own review of the Catholicism series

Sorry about the formatting problem! You can find the review in its original form at Amazon where you can also "like" the review. Thanks.

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, awe-inspiring!, October 18, 2011
By Paul Adams (Ave Maria, FL)
This review is from: Catholicism DVD Box Set (DVD)
I have watched the whole series several times and cannot recommend it too highly. Beautifully produced (on a shoestring), intelligent, lucid, engaging, the series (like Catholicism itself) works on several levels. The Church has gone through a dark period, 40 years in the wilderness of self-inflicted wounds - scandal and a kind of beige accommodation to the times that produced some of the worst liturgical excesses, music, art, and architecture in the Church's history.

Father Barron does not dodge the issues that have preoccupied critics of the Church from within and without, but he does not let them set his agenda. Instead the series tells the Church's own story, restoring the color and beauty of the faith as an incarnational and sacramental religion like no other. Barron explores the relation of faith to reason, of Christian religion to science, of sensuous art and mystical experience to theology and philosophy.

Drawing on some of the greatest analytic minds of the past two millennia as well as the Church's mystics, artists, architects, and poets, Barron offers us a rich tapestry of the faith and its adherents throughout the world. Some of the images of piety and devotion of masses of ordinary people in Uganda and at Fatima, as well of the living patrimony of great art and architecture, are unforgettable.

I recommend watching (and buying if possible) the whole series. It is organized thematically rather than as historical narrative. Every theme reinforces and speaks to all the others. All are expounded through engaging and clarifying stories, similes, and images. Barron draws us in from the start with an arresting challenge to the mushy view that reduces Jesus to a great teacher, like other religious founders, even a kind of Deepak Chopra of his day. But his followers were "amazed and afraid" in the presence of the God-Man, who asked his disciples, not what people thought of his teachings, but who they said he was. The challenge is that Christianity confronts us with a stark choice - either Jesus was who he said he was (in which case we owe him everything) or he was a bad man who deluded himself and others. This challenge is at the heart of Rabbi Jacob Neusner's imagined dialogue with Jesus (A Rabbi Talks With Jesus) and Pope Benedict's engagement with Neusner (Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration).

The series is an extraordinary contribution the "New Evangelization" proclaimed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. As such it will appeal to those Catholics, especially the young, who yearn for an orthodox, confident, holy Catholicism. It will inform and challenge others whose only knowledge of the faith derives from its critics and enemies. For those who, with a few knock-down arguments, condemn unheard the Church and its profound contribution to (especially but not only) Western civilization, science, ethics, and culture, this is a unique opportunity to hear the other side. Audi alteram partem!