Catholic Apologetics
Sunday, January 25, 2004
Amazing how time does fly, isn't it? Today we celebrated the birthday of my oldest boy, and I am stunned at how old he is getting. Tall for his age, broad-shouldered and smart, I am pleasantly expecting him (and each of his brothers) to out-do me someday soon. I look forward to eventually meeting my future daughters-in-law and helping raise grandkids. I am striving to raise my sons to be responsible, thrifty men who work hard, don't waste their money, and provide for their families so that, if they wish, these self-same daughters-in-law can stay home and raise children. Imagine my surpise earlier today when I learned that this makes me an oppressor of women.

A new book, The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels, talks about the 'new momism' and how it is presenting ideals that canot be reached, filling women with guilt. These ideals? Well, I don't want to get too deeply involved (I have some reading to do), but apparantly it is the concept that women can have children, stay at home to raise them, and find it a rich, fulfilling experience. Based upon what I have read so far, Douglas and Michaels look to the media's portrayals of an idealized motherhood, conclude that such an ideal is impossible, and determine that this is making women unhappy.

No, really - that seems to be it. They conclude that since TV and movies depict an idealization of perfection that can't be reached in real life, women are being oppressed by having their expectations set too high. Now, I don't know about you, but I understand that the goal of media, expecially entertainment media, is to paint with broad strokes. When it was made Leave it to Beaver was not meant to reflect reality, nor to set goals - it was a morality tale, writ large, of what people wished to be. To state that since no man can be as unflappable as Ward means that this is part of a movement (meaningful or not) to oppress men would be ridiculous.

Just as importantly, I dispute the argument that being a stay at home mom is a path that cannot lead to fulfillment. I know a lot of women, mothers or not, who work and hate it. Their job is less than fulfilling, they are often saddled with the debt of student loans, and see no prospect of ever stopping - after all, most prospective partners seem to expect the income of a working woman, not the 'drain' of a stay at home mom.

I also know women who are stay at home moms and wouldn't exchange it for the world. My wife talks about the challenges of running a house and how challenging it is - and my wife went to Smith! If my wife ran a day care, a cleaning service, a catering company, or a tutoring firm, she'd be a paragon of enterpreneurship. By doing all of these things, however, she is often devalued by other women who call themselves feminists.

In fact, this devaluing is probably a strong motivator for the writing of this book. Douglas and Michaels are both working mothers and call themselves moms with 'attitude'. In the last few years more and more women, especially young women, are opting to be wives, mothers, and stay at home to do both. This 'backlash' seems to rattle or anger many self-proclaimed feminists. The recent article about 'opting out', the phenomenon of women leaving work to raise children, seems to have raised some hackles - virtually every review of The Mommy Myth that I can find references it.

Why? Simple; women giving up a career to raise children is a message to liberal feminists that they are wrong (no, 'liberal feminist' isn't redundant, although it seems that way. Phyllis Schlafly is a feminist, and she's no liberal). If women can and do find fulfillment as "just" a person who runs a small business while raising and educating children, what justification is there for the extreme theorizing that the feminist movement has wrought?

Monday, January 12, 2004
Hello, everyone. Well, actually, at this early date this is probably a 'hello, wife' post! After a lot of thought and much prodding, I finally started a blog on Catholic Apolgetics.

Now, before you run off, this is not the terribly dry, boring, put-me-to-sleep academic subject with no bearing on the Real World. Theology can be those things, but theology doesn't have to be mind-crushingly boring.

This is largely a sample post, so I will end shortly for now with a promise to follow up with more about movies, books, and Life. Thanks for dropping by.

There has been a huge reaction to the statement of a Catholic Bishop that pro-choice politicians are not to received communion. Bishop Burke of Wisconsin has notified politicians that if they support abortion laws, they cannot receive communion. Pretty simple - break the rules of the organization and you cannot receive the benefits of the organization.

But, man oh man, are people upset! In my initial viewing, non-Catholics seem most upset, too, which I find interesting. Barry Lynn, from 'Americans United for the Separation of Church and State' said "...elected officials have to represent people of all faiths and none, and not adhere to one religious demand like the bishop's."

But this doesn't make much sense, for two reasons. The implication is that members of religious groups who are politicians can do whatever they want and remain a full member of that group. This implies either that politicians have a special status or that religions have no authority to define themselves (I suspect Mr. Lynn believes the latter). The second reason is that politicians can't and shouldn't represent "everyone". Here's an example;

"Hey, you can't hold me accountable," says Joe Politician, "I voted for the legalization of homosexual intercourse with boys as young as 9 because I represent the 150 NAMBLA members in my district just as much as I represent the bible-thumpers."

See? Doesn't make any sense.

Many modern people seem to think that they operate in a world of 'moral neutrality', meaning their actions have no inherent consequences. This is the concept that the only consequences of an action are what other people think and do if you get caught. The natural extension of this is to try to deny others the right to think and react negatively to your actions. 'You have no right to judge me', they cry - mainly because they think that the judgment of others is the only consequence of anything they do.

Of course, one problem with this is when you try to identify yourself as a member of a group that will judge you. The amazing thing to me is that outsiders get so darn ANGRY about this. The Boy Scouts have rules on membership - if you don't meet those rules, you can't join. But people are trying to force them to change their rules with boycotts, letters, a denial of funds, etc. Yet, I have a funny feeling that some of those same people are angry that Bishop Burke is applying pressure on Catholics to adhere to the rules of the Catholic Church.

Another interesting aspect of this entire thing - Bishop Burke is simply pointing out that those who are in a state of grave sin cannot receive communion. This is not a 'new rule', but a very, very old one that he is only enforcing. He is not excommunicating these politicians, he is simply pointing out that they are, in effect, denying themselves access to communion.

Another thing that I am seeing is the focus on the belief that a relationship with God is 'personal'. For example, Bishop Burke is being installed in St. Louis as their bishop and Missouri state Rep. Tom Villa, D-St. Louis, said, "I would have a problem with anybody telling me I can't receive communion. Your faith is something that's very personal."

This is not a 'typically Catholic' view! The Catholic concept of faith is that it exists as a communal experience. "Whenever two or more of you are gathered together" is when God is amongst us. When you are baptized Catholic we don't say "you now have a personal relationship with Jesus", we say "you have joined the Body of Christ", meaning 'you are now a member of our community'. The sacrament of Communion is not just about an encounter with Jesus, but about sharing with your community.

[Don't get me wrong; a personal relationship with Jesus exists and is important. It just can't exist without a communal relationship, too.]

Outside of the community of believers, you can't receive Communion anyway. By separating yourself from the Church you are also separating yourself from Communion... and from God.

"But what about the separation of church and state?" you say? Well, what about it? Two things - the 'wall of separation' is, according to the constitution, about not allowing the state to dictate to the churches or to establish a particular church as 'official'. This has been greatly broadened by the Supreme Court to an almost 'freedom from religion' clause, yes, but! That is not what this is about. Bishop Burke is simply telling these politicians 'if you vote in a manner contrary to the teachings of the Church, you can't receive communion'. If these politicians were actually voting their consciences without reservation, then they would simply say "Oh. OK"; after all, if they are voting for pro-abortion measures because they believe them to be morally correct AND they understand what the Catholic faith teaches, then they wouldn't be receiving Communion anyway, right?

But they are not simply acknowledging Bishop Burke's statement as self-evident. They are upset and want to be called a Catholic and still do whatever they want without fear of consequences. This leads me to conclude that one of four things is happening. The first possibility, let's call it the 'unexamined life' option, is that these politicians are trying to do what they think is right but have not examined their actions and beliefs in a rational manner. As a result, they are morally inconsistent. If this is the case, then Bishop Burke's letter is exactly what they need; it will force them to examine their actions in light of their faith.

The second possibility, the 'politics is secular' option is that these politicians do believe that their own morals are irrelevant to politicians and that they must uphold the majority opinion of their constituents. I hope that this is the case and that Bishop Burke's letter will remind these people that if their morals clash with their duties they either need to work to change their duties or step down and not participate with immoral activities.

The third pssibility, the 'cultural' option, is that these politicians are 'cultural Catholics' who don't believe what the Church teaches but want to call themselves Catholic because its what their mother told them they are. The do uphold pro-abortion ideals and reject the Churches teachings, but want to call themselves Catholic simply because they always have called themselves Catholic.

The fourth option, the 'cynical' option, is that these politicians are after their own self-interests only. They either vote pro-abortion because it will gain them votes, or they call themselves Catholics for votes, or both.

I certainly cannot claim to know what is in the hearts and minds of these individuals, but these are the scenarios that I can imagine that would cause the politicians who have reacted negatively to do so.

Oh, and a special note for Professor Dan Maguire of Marquette University; Professor, your ignorance of canon law and the authority of bishops is shocking for someone who is listed as teaching systematic theology and ethics. Because of the date of your degree (1969) I hope that you are simply a product of your times and not willfully ignorant. As a fellow Catholic theologian I am embarrassed by the statements that you made concerning Bishop Burke's actions.

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