Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Prejudice as strong as ever? by Sheila Liaugminas

 | 28 Jan 2014 |
It takes many forms, and it snakes its way through cultural relativism. But it’s alive and very active.

The topic is probably worth a book, certainly a long article or series. For purposes of a manageable blog post for now, let’s look at some recent events in light of other related events and see how the pieces fit together to form a picture.

Fr. Robert Barron is the force and the voice behind the Catholicism Series. So he’s an important voice to listen to when he speaks out about some recent anti-Catholic outbursts, and why they should bother everyone.
Last week two outrageously anti-Catholic outbursts took place in the public forum. The first was an article in U.S. News and World Report by syndicated columnist Jamie Stiehm. Ms. Stiehm argued that the Supreme Court was dangerously packed with Catholics, who have, she averred, a terribly difficult time separating church from state and who just can’t refrain from imposing their views on others. Her meditations were prompted by Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s granting some legal breathing space to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who were objecting to the provisions of the HHS mandate. As even a moment’s thoughtful consideration would reveal, this decision hadn’t a thing to do with the intrusion of the “church” into the state, in fact just the contrary. Moreover, the appeal of American citizens (who happen to be Catholic nuns) and the decision of a justice of the Supreme Court in no way constitute an “imposition” on anyone. The very irrationality of Stiehm’s argument is precisely what has led many to conclude that her column was prompted by a visceral anti-Catholicism which stubbornly persists in our society.

Clearly and correctly stated. This is true.

The second eruption of anti-Catholicism was even more startling. In the course of a radio interview, Governor Andrew Cuomo blithely declared that anyone who is pro-life on the issue of abortion or who is opposed to gay marriage is “not welcome” in his state of New York. Mind you, the governor did not simply say that such people are wrong-headed or misguided; he didn’t say that they should be opposed politically or that good arguments against their position should be mounted; he said they should be actively excluded from civil society! As many commentators have already pointed out, Governor Cuomo was thereby excluding roughly half of the citizens of the United States and, presumably, his own father, Mario Cuomo, who once famously declared that he was personally opposed to abortion. Again, the very hysterical quality of this statement suggests that an irrational prejudice gave rise to it.

This needs to be addressed and confronted. Fr. Barron takes us back through historical anti-Catholicism and it’s good to remind Americans of what it was.

What is particularly troubling today is the manner in which this deep-seated anti-Catholicism is finding expression precisely through that most enduring and powerful of American institutions, namely the law. We are a famously litigious society: The law shapes our identity, protects our rights, and functions as a sanction against those things we find dangerous. Increasingly, Catholics are finding themselves on the wrong side of the law, especially in regard to issues of sexual freedom. The HHS mandate is predicated upon the assumption that access to contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs is a fundamental right, and therefore to stand against facilitating this access, as the Church must, puts Catholics athwart the law. The same is true in regard to gay marriage. To oppose this practice is not only unpopular or impolitic, but, increasingly, contrary to legal statute. Already, in the context of the military, chaplains are encouraged and in some cases explicitly forbidden to condemn gay marriage, as this would constitute a violation of human rights.

And this is why the remarks by Andrew Cuomo are especially chilling. That a governor of a major state — one of the chief executives in our country — could call for the exclusion of pro-lifers and those opposed to gay marriage suggests that the law could be used to harass, restrict, and, at the limit, attack Catholics. Further, the attitude demonstrated by the son of Mario Cuomo suggests that there is a short path indeed from the privatization of Catholic moral convictions to the active attempt to eliminate those convictions from the public arena. I would hope, of course, that it is obvious how this aggression against Catholics in the political sphere ought deeply to concern everyone in a supposedly open society. If the legal establishment can use the law to aggress Catholics, it can use it, another day, to aggress anyone else.

Which recalls Martin Niemoller’s ‘First They Came…”
Which precisely gets to the point of the Nazi Holocaust and the belief in ‘lebensunwertens lebens’, or ‘life unworthy of life’, when an entire class of human beings can be denied any human rights when another class has power over them.

And that gets to this past week’s anniversary of Roe v. Wade in America, 41 years of abortion on demand. And President Obama’s remarks to observe that anniversary. And Fr. Barron’s assistant Brandon Vogt taking those remarks to task, challenging the message.

Here’s the message:

Statement by the President on Roe v. Wade Anniversary

Today, as we reflect on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, we recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health. We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom. And we resolve to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, support maternal and child health, and continue to build safe and healthy communities for all our children. Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

Here’s Brandon Vogt’s challenge:

Though relatively short, the President’s statement is packed with several confusing assertions. I’d like to respond to some of them:

“[W]e recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.”

It’s true that every woman should have liberty to make decisions regarding her own body, but not the body of another. Modern embryology affirms that a new human life is created at fertilization (i.e., conception.) Therefore abortion intentionally destroys the life, and thus the body, of an innocent human being. We all should have choices, but nobody should have the freedom to murder anyone else.

“We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care.”

Everyone agrees that women (and men) deserve safe, affordable healthcare. That’s not the question. The question is whether the restrictions put in place by Roe v. Wade constitute healthcare. Unfortunately, they primarily concern the right of mothers to uninhibitedly take the life of their children. It’s not healthcare to disrupt a healthy and normally functioning process (e.g., pregnancy) nor is it healthcare to destroy the health of unborn babies.

“[We reaffirm a woman’s] constitutional right to privacy”

Like many Constitutional rights, the right to privacy is not absolute. In the eyes of the law, what a woman does with her own body in her own environment is her own concern. Yet when her choices threaten the lives of innocent others, the common good trumps her right to privacy. We all intuitively understand this. It’s why we agree that invading drug labs trumps a drug dealer’s right to privacy. The same principle applies here: women have a right to privacy, but not at the expense of innocent lives.

“[We reaffirm a woman’s] right to reproductive freedom.”

I agree! Women should be completely free to reproduce however and, with certain qualifications, wherever and with whomever they will. But Roe v. Wade doesn’t concern reproduction at all. It regards what happens *after* reproduction occurs, after a new, unique, individual human has already been produced by his or her parents. I agree we should promote reproductive freedom but not the freedom to terminate any resulting children.

This is intellectual honesty we seldom see, directed at each line of the president’s remarks. This is engagement we need.

“[We resolve to] support maternal and child health”

I struggle to see how the Roe v. Wade decision supports child health when it seems that 100% of the children it directly affects are no longer alive.

Yet it doesn’t support maternal health either. By violently disrupting a healthy bodily function, abortion leads to increased depression, cancer, mental illness, future pregnancy complications, and more.

Also, note the President’s chilling word choice here. He didn’t resolve to supportwomen’s health, but specifically “maternal” health. The word maternal connotes motherhood, and you can only be a mother if you have a child. This subtle choice insinuates that the President knows well that pregnant mothers carry children, not some abstract clump of cells, and therefore abortion is not a neutral surgical procedure. It involves a mother intending the death of her child.

“[We resolve to] build safe and healthy communities for all our children.

Again, I struggle to see how the Roe v. Wade decision supports children. Abortion doesn’t result in safe and healthy communities for children. It results in less children.

“Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.”

I wholeheartedly agree! And that’s why Roe v. Wade should be overturned. The misguided court decision crushes the rights of unborn citizens for the sake of born citizens. It smashes their freedom and opportunity on the altar of false liberty. Everyone in this country deserves the same rights—men, women, and children—especially the smallest and most vulnerable among us.

Argue with that, and you are defending age discrimination, among other class distinctions.

This article was first published by Sheila Liaugminas and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons license. 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.
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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sacred Art - by Cornelius Sullivan

Pieta, Michelangelo, 1499, Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome. 
January 20, 2014
Cornelius Sullivan

 The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb. -Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -1. 

Pope Benedict the scholar has not cited the great intellectual tradition of the Church, he names two places where the faith is en-fleshed. These two treasures still inspire pilgrimages. Pilgrims go to Assisi because Saint Francis was there. "Back packing pilgrims for art" go to the Sistine Chapel for art and in Rome and throughout Europe retrace the steps of pilgrims for the faith from centuries past.

No Catholic university has a Department of Sacred Art. Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict have insisted that art should have a major role in the New Evangelization. 

With a few exceptions, works of art in Catholic churches today are ordered from the catalogs of furniture suppliers, the ones who provide the pews and the candle sticks. This is in spite of the clear urging of the Second Vatican Council almost a half a century ago for pastors to use local artists to create religious works. 

Hans Urs von Balthasar has said that beauty changes us and that,  
We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past -- whether he admits it or not -- can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love. 

From the poet author of “The Hound of Heaven”, Francis Thompson:
The Church, which was once the mother of poets no less than saints, during the last two centuries has relinquished to aliens the chief glories of poetry, if the chief glories of holiness she has preserved for her own. The palm and the laurel, Dominic and Dante, sanctity and song, grew together in her soul: she has retained the palm, but forgone the laurel. … But poetry sinned, poetry fell; and in place of lovingly reclaiming her, Catholicism cast her from the door to follow the feet of her pagan seducer. The separation has been ill for poetry; it has not been well for religion. 3.

Catholic colleges and universities have preserved intellectual disciplines from earlier centuries with core classes in Theology, Philosophy, History and the study of Literature, but they have shied away from any creativity in art. Instead they have embraced Reformation-like iconoclastic ideas. And art is partly to blame. As Thompson said, “poetry sinned”. Art sinned even more. Art became autonomous, no longer serving, but always proclaiming its own newness and freedom from restraint and even freedom from relevance to people’s lives. The self-referential stance of Modern Art inevitably had to lead to a complete break with any connection to the real, as most people view it, ending in Conceptual Art, art solely as an idea. So, art has become just an idea that man the creator generates. There is no acknowledgment that he is a creature and there is no realization of the truth of the Incarnation. The Church’s distance from music has not been so great because some consensus has been possible. Bad music hurts the ears. Bad art can be shrugged off and then it lingers somewhere in the back of the brain like a bad dream. The elitism of contemporary art is maintained. Typically American Catholics say, "I don't know anything about art" and under their breath mutter, "And I don't care." 
A particular feature of Catholic art is that it tells of universal truths through the particular. There is no such thing as sacred abstract art. There is no such thing as "Reformation Art". 

Sir Kenneth Clark, the great Protestant art historian, understands Catholic art in a profound way. In his classic book Civilization he includes what has been written out of history, the beheading of statues of the Virgin in Reformation England, and at the same time he is able to explain the greatness of Catholic art. He does maintain his biases, for example in saying that ideas flourish more easily in the North. But he shows his depth of understanding of great art in describing how art is linked with an understanding of the female in religions and with the idea of the particular signifying the transcendent.  
He says:
The great achievements of the Catholic Church lay in harmonizing,         humanizing, civilizing the deepest impulses of ordinary, ignorant people. Take the cult of the Virgin. In the early 12th century the Virgin had been the supreme protectress of civilization. She had taught a race of tough and ruthless barbarians the virtues of tenderness and compassion. The great cathedrals of the Middle Ages were her dwelling places upon the earth. In that Renaissance, while remaining the queen of Heaven she became also the human mother in whom everyone could recognize qualities of warmth and love and approachability. Now imagine the feelings of a simple hearted man or woman -- a Spanish peasant, an Italian artisan -- on hearing that the Northern heretics were insulting the Virgin, desecrating her sanctuaries, pulling down or decapitating her images. He must have felt something deeper than shock and indignation: he must have felt that some part of his whole emotional life was threatened. And he would have been right. 4. 
It is not so difficult to imagine that only the "cult of the Virgin" could civilize the barbarism of our age.  

Clark goes on to explain why religions of the will have no art.   
The stabilizing comprehensive religions of the world, the religions which penetrate to every part of a man's being -- in Egypt, India or China -- gave the female principle of creation at least as much importance as the male, and wouldn't have taken seriously a philosophy that failed to include them both. The great religious art of the world is deeply involved with the female principle. 5. 

Pope Benedict XVI has said about the Pieta concept, “The languages into which the Gospel entered when it came to the pagan world did not have such modes of expression. But the image of the pieta, the Mother grieving for her son, became the vivid translation of this word. In her God’s maternal affliction is open to view. In her we can behold it and touch it. She is the compasio of God, displayed in a human being who has let herself be drawn wholly into God’s mystery.”  6.
Pieta 2006, detail, marble, life size, by the Author. 

John Saward in his book, The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness
of Beauty, makes a connection between beauty and holiness: 
Without the holy images, we are in danger of forgetting the face and thus the flesh of the Son of God. The mysteries of the life of Jesus fade from our minds. In the eighth and ninth and sixteenth centuries, and again in our own time, Iconoclasm always tends towards Docetism. Robbed of the beauty of sacred art, the Christian can become blind to the beauty of Divine Revelation. And that is disastrous, for, when sundered from beauty, truth becomes correctness without splendour and goodness a value of no delight. 7.

The holiness of beauty is ordered to the beauty of holiness. Sacred art is intended to encourage saintly life. Both are transparent to Christ, radiate the splendor of His truth. Both, in their different ways, are gifts of God. 8. 

1. The Ratzinger Report Messori, 1988.
2. Hans Urs von Balthasar , The Glory of the Lord: A Theological
Aesthetics: Seeing the Form, #1, 1982.
3. Francis Thompson, frontispiece, The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness
of Beauty, Art, Sanctity & The Truth of Catholicism ,John Saward, Ignatius, 1997.
4. Civilization, Kenneth Clark, Harper & Row, 1969, p. 175
5. Clark, p. 177
6. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Mary, The Church at the Source,1997.
7. Ibid, John Saward, p. 25
8. Ibid, John Saward, p. 84