Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Our Moral Obligation to Vote

Our Moral Obligation to Vote

Catholic education played a vital role in the founding of our nation.
Among the signers of the Declaration of Independence was Charles Carroll, a Catholic landowner who had been educated in Catholic schools in Maryland and in France—even receiving a Catholic legal education in France. Charles Carroll was one of the earliest advocates for American independence. In the early 1770s, he began writing newspaper columns supporting independence. He funded the early tea-protests against British rule. And while many revolutionaries were content writing pamphlets and columns against the King, Charles Carroll was among the first to call American patriots to armed revolution.
Charles Carroll signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. After the war, he became a United States Senator, and he spent the remainder of his political career fighting for the abolition of American slavery.
The ideas about freedom and justice Charles Carroll encountered in Catholic schools led him to envision the American quest for democracy, and for liberty. When he saw injustice, and tyranny, and greed, it was his Catholic formation, and his Catholic conscience that impelled him to support fights for freedom—first the fight of the American patriots, and later, that of the American slaves.
Charles Carroll’s cousin John—the first Archbishop of Baltimore—was also an ardent supporter of the American Revolution. So were thousands of Catholic Americans who fought valiantly to support the American cause. Some of the Revolution’s most successful generals were Catholics. And Catholics disproportionately volunteered to serve in the Continental Army. In fact, the very first Mass celebrated in the city of Boston was a funeral Mass for a Continental soldier, a French volunteer killed during the Revolutionary War.
From the very beginning, Catholics have played a vital role in the success of the American experiment.  And our involvement in public and political life is still essential to the well-being of our nation.  After the Revolution, Senator Charles Carroll spoke to the importance of religious faith in public life.
“Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time;” he observed, “they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion…. are undermining… the best security for the duration of free governments.”
Charles Carroll—and all of the founding fathers—built a nation that reflects Christian principles of human dignity and personal freedom.  But our nation’s founders understood that unless people of faith participate in public life, our democracy could become a very dangerous tool.
Our nation depends, said Charles Carroll, on “the solid foundation of morals.”
Faith allows us to discern the common good.  To make good choices about the best policies for our communities.  To understand the importance of living in accord with who God made us to be—the importance of making law which respects the dignity of every human person, created in the image of God.
Without the influence of truth on public life, the rights of the unborn, the poor, and the marginalized can be discarded.  Without the participation of religious believers, the principles of justice and freedom are replaced with reckless pursuit of comfort and pleasure.  Without active protection of rights, religious liberty—and indeed, all liberty—stands perilously close to being lost entirely.
Our democracy can serve the common good. But only when believers, capable of discerning the common good, participate in public life.
This election year, we’ll consider candidates for state and national offices.  And, if we want our state and nation to serve the common good, we have a moral obligation to vote.  And when we do vote, we ought to consider the candidates and their position in light of the received teachings of our Church. In light of justice.  In light of truth.
Catholics helped to form our nation. And over the past two centuries, Catholics have bled and died to protect it. Their legacy is in our hands. To be faithful Catholics, we’re called to be faithful citizens.  May each of us work to build a just and free nation.  And may we bring the principles of our faith to the public square, and to the voting booth.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared May 9, 2014 on the website of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. The image of Charles Carroll above was painted by Michael Laty ca. 1846.
Most Reverend James D. Conley, STL, is the bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska. Before his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI to the see of Lincoln in September 2012, he served as auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Denver under Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. He earned his Master's of Divinity from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., in 1985 and a licentiate in moral theology from the Accademia Alfonsiana, part of the Faculty of Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi - Saints & Angels - Catholic Online

It would be easy to concentrate on the mystical experiences God gave this saint, rather than on her life. In fact, it would be difficult to do differently, so overwhelming were those gifts from God. The temptation for many modern readers (including the author) would be to see little to identify with in these graces and walk away without seeing more. The other temptation would be to become so fascinated with these stories that one would neglect to dig deeper and learn the real lessons of her life.
But Mary Magdalene de Pazzi is not a saint because she received ecstasies and graces from God. Many have received visions, ecstasies, and miracles without becoming holy. She is a saint because of her response to those gifts -- a lifelong struggle to show love and gratitude to the God who gave her those graces.
In fact Mary Magdalene saw her ecstasies as evidence of a great fault in her, not a reward for holiness. She told one fellow sister that God did not give this sister the same graces "because you don't need them in order to serve him." In her eyes, God gave these gifts to those who were too weak to become holy otherwise. That MaryMagdalene received these gifts proved, in her mind, how unworthy she was.
Born in Florence on April 2, 1566, Mary Magdalene (baptized Catherine) was taught mental prayer when she was nine years old at the request of her mother. Her introduction at this age to this form of prayer which involves half an hour of meditation did not seem to be unusual. And yet today we often believe children incapable of all but the simplest rote prayers.
At twelve years old she experienced her first ecstasy while looking at a sunset which left her trembling and speechless.
With this foundation in prayer and in mystical experience, it isn't surprising that she wanted to enter a contemplative monastery of the Carmelite Order. She chose the monastery of St. Mary's of the Angels because the nuns took daily Communion, unusual at the time.
In 1583 she had her second mystical experience when the other nuns saw her weeping before the crucifix as she said, "O Love, you are neither known nor loved."
Mary Magdalene's life is a contradiction of our instinctive thought that joy only comes from avoiding suffering. A month after being refused early religious profession, she was refused she fell deathly ill. Fearing for her life the convent had her professed from a stretcher at the altar. After that she experienced forty days of ecstasies that coexisted with her suffering. Joy from the graces God gave were mixed with agony as her illness grew worse. In one of her experiences Jesus took her heart and hid it in his own, telling her he "would not return it until it is wholly pure and filled with pure love." She didn't recover from her illness until told to ask for the intercession of Blessed Mary Bagnesi over three months later.
What her experiences and prayer had given her was a familiar, personal relationship with Jesus. Her conversations with Jesus often take on a teasing, bantering tone that shocks those who have a formal, fearful image of God. For example, at the end of her forty days of graces, Jesus offered her a crown of flowers or a crown of thorns. No matter how often she chose the crown of thorns, Jesus kept teasingly pushing the crown of flowers to her. When he accused her, "I called and you didn't care," she answered back, "You didn't call loudly enough" and told him to shout his love.
She learned to regret the insistence on the crown of thorns. We might think it is easy to be holy if God is talking to you every day but few of us could remain on the path with the five year trial that followed her first ecstasies. Before this trial, Jesus told her, "I will take away not the grace but the feeling of grace. Though I will seem to leave you I will be closer to you." This was easy for her to accept in the midst of ecstasy but, as she said later, she hadn't experienced it yet. At the age of nineteen she started five years of dryness and desolation in which she was repelled by prayer and tempted by everything. She referred to her heart as a pitch-dark room with only a feeble light shining that only made the darkness deeper. She was so depressed she was found twice close to suicide. All she could do to fight back was to hold onto prayer, penance, and serving others even when it appeared to do no good.
Her lifelong devotion to Pentecost can be easily understood because her trial ended in ecstasy in 1590. At this time she could have asked for any gifts but she wanted two in particular: to look on any neighbor as good and holy without judgment and to always have God's presence before her.
Far from enjoying the attention her mystical experiences brought her, she was embarrassed by it. For all her days, she wanted a hidden life and tried everything she could to achieve it. When God commanded her to go barefoot as part of her penance and she could not walk with shoes, she simply cut the soles out of her shoes so no one would see her as different from the other nuns. If she felt an ecstasy coming on, she would hurry to finish her work and go back to her room. She learned to see the notoriety as part of God's will. When teaching a novice to accept God's will, she told her, "I wanted a hidden life but, see, God wanted something quite different for me."
Some still might think it was easy for her to be holy with all the help from God. Yet when she was asked once why she was weeping before the cross, she answered that she had to force herself to do something right that she didn't want to do. It's true that when a sister criticized her for acting so different, she thanked her, "May God reward you! You have never spoken truer words!" but she told others it hurt her quite a bit to be nice to someone who insulted her.
Mary Magdalene was no pale, shrinking flower. Her wisdom and love led to her appointment to many important positions at the convent including mistress of novices. She did not hesitate to be blunt in guiding the women under her care when their spiritual life was at stake. When one of the novices asked permission to pretend to be impatient so the other novices would not respect her so much, Mary Magdalene's answer shook this novice out of this false humility: "What you want to pretend to be, you already are in the eyes of the novices. They don't respect you nearly as much as you like to think."
Mary Magdalene's life offers a great challenge to all those who think that the bestpenance comes from fasting and physical discomfort. Though she fasted and wore old clothes, she chose the most difficult penance of all by pretending to like the things she didn't like. Not only is this a penance most of us would shrink from but, by her acting like she enjoyed it, no one knew she was doing this great penance!
In 1604, headaches and paralyzation confined her to bed. Her nerves were so sensitive that she could not be touched without agonizing pain. Ever humble, she took the fact that her prayers were not granted as a sure sign that God's will was being done. For three years she suffered, before dying on May 25, 1607 at the age of forty-one.
Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, pray that we will make a commitment to seek the presence of God in prayer the way you did. Guide us to see the graces God gives us as gifts not rewards and to respond with gratitude and humility, not pride and selfishness. Amen

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Manly Voice on Matters Gay and Christian

A Manly Voice on Matters Gay and Christian

A gay guy gets up in the morning, does something, and nobody writes about it. Now that would be news.
Will we ever see that day when we as a culture do not stare slack-jawed and unblinking—so as not to miss a single thing—at all things gay?
There’s an old joke about how many lesbians it takes to screw in a light bulb. Five. One to screw it in and four to write about it. That’s pretty much where we are now and there’s no relief in sight. A society of 300,000,000 force-fed the nanosecond by nanosecond trials, tribulations, triumphs and television kisses of a comparatively scant few.
We are running out of “first woman this” and “first woman that” but we’ve only just started with the “first gay this, that and the other.”So, there will be decades of reading about the “first trans this and that.”And since there are 58 genders and counting presumably we will have the first gender-questioning county supervisor” and the “first cisgender-female mayor in a city with a population of 1 million at or near a major body of water.” I know I can’t wait.
A writer at something called “Letters to Christopher” explores a variant of this enforced obsession and that is the insistent obsession of “gay Christians”on, well, themselves, how we see them and deal with them and speak to them and minister to them and everything about them.
In “My Cross Isn’t Greater Than Yours, or, Enough with the Whining” this anonymous blogger says, “Show me a man who doesn’t suffer, and I’ll show you a dead man. One of the more irksome aspects in the current conversation of LGBT issues and Christianity is the remarkable amount of dreary and droopy writing I hear from folks like me who grew up in the Church and realized they had an attraction to men.” He calls it the “we’re gay and Christian and you should listen to us about how to minister to us blogosphere.”
He quotes one such blogger:
“It would be beneficial for Christians and Christian traditions as a whole to consider [the] question: are we imposing sexual abstinence as an unfunded mandate with dire consequences for LGBT people who do not succeed? Especially as more people are coming to awareness of their sexual orientations and gender identities at a younger age (emphasis mine), it is irresponsible and cruel for churches to repeat ‘You can’t have sex!’and refuse to offer any additional support.”He says there are only two options, forced abstinence and a life of suffering, or sex and excommunication from Church, and family. He says “numerous young LGBT Christians find themselves crushed by the pressure from priests, pastors, parents and faith communities.”
“Letters from Christopher” hates “that sort of portrayal of what my life must have been like back when I was a teenager in the eighties, or how that must be what the life is today for a 15 year old. How fatalistic. How could that ever inspire a teenager to fight the good fight of chastity if they were to ever read that?”
He says, “Sure, it’s hard. But we are made of the stuff of God. We are made in the image of a God who willingly went to the Cross. That’s the building block of our humanity. Boys and girls with same sex attraction aren’t witless victims of the vagaries of fate if they find themselves attracted to the same sex—they have a choice, and God has promised that He will always provide his children the grace to live out the most difficult of demands.”
One word describes this column from this anonymous blogger—manly—something quite distinct from the “oh woe is me” school of “gay Christians.” He calls them back to the “buck up” school. Get on with it. Stop whining, he says.
There are plenty of folks who have complaints about feeling isolated in the Church. The typical Catholic Church is not exactly a warm and welcoming place. If a greeter ever appeared at a Catholic parish, he might get slugged. Many can barely manage the sign of peace. Father George Rutler talks about how the Church allows for anonymity, that you can walk in, walk around, check things out, look at the statues, and no one bothers you.
And don’t we all know lots of single people struggling with the fact they have not found a mate, are basically alone and probably will be for life? Twenty turns to thirty turns to forty and beyond and they have to come to the same conclusions those with same-sex attraction have to come to: no sexual expression, perhaps no affection.
The same-sex attracted say the Church doesn’t do enough for them, does not recognize them, does not help them. And, let’s face it the teaching is rather paltry. But it is hard to believe the Church will conclude anything other than what it has already concluded; that the attraction is disordered and the act is intrinsically disordered and, well, evil.
So, what are they to do?
I think of a woman I will not name. She spent years as a chastity educator. She is beautiful and funny and never married. She is full of life, and humor, family and friends. She is not moping her life away, disgruntled, and as far as I can tell not boring folks with her unmarried plight.
I am quite sure this is not the life she envisioned. She no doubt envisioned marriage and children, probably lots of them. But that’s not what she’s been dealt. She has gotten on with a life rich in service to others. She bears their burdens and does not force her burden on others. And she knows this. Chastity is not a consolation prize.
Letters to Christopher says, “I don’t really care very much to hear about what the celibate ‘gay’ Christians have to say to me, or to the Church about how the Church should minister to people like us. Sometimes the sheep can help point out their needs to the shepherds in their care, but rarely. Most writing on the subject of same sex attraction and Christianity today seems to be the sheep shouting to the shepherds: ‘you’re idiots when it comes to this flock. Oh, and we’re the ones who can point your shepherds crooks in the right direction.’ ”
He’d rather assume your cross is heavier than his and offer to help you shoulder it.
Only one word for this guy. Manly. May his tribe increase.
Editor’s note: The image above titled “Christ Carrying the Cross” was painted by Titian in 1565.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Jackie Kennedy's struggles with faith

Letters to Irish priest reveal Jackie Kennedy's struggles with faith
LETTERS-KENNEDY May-13-2014 (450 words) xxxi

Letters to Irish priest reveal Jackie Kennedy's struggles with faith

By Michael Kelly
Catholic News Service

DUBLIN (CNS) -- Newly released letters between former U.S. first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and a Dublin-based priest reveal Kennedy's struggles to keep her faith after her husband's assassination.

The letters exchanged by Kennedy and Vincentian Father Joseph Leonard, who died in 1964, are set to be auctioned in Dublin in June. Excerpts were published in The Irish Times newspaper.

Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as U.S. president as former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, right, watches in this Nov. 22, 1963, file photo. (CNS/courtesy LBJ Library)
One letter, dated January 1964 -- just weeks after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated -- revealed how the tragedy left Kennedy struggling with her Catholic faith. "I am so bitter against God," she wrote, but added "only he and you and I know that."

She explained that she did not want to be bitter "or bring up my children in a bitter way" and was "trying to make my peace with God."

She wrote: "I think God must have taken Jack to show the world how lost we would be without him -- but that is a strange way of thinking to me."

Kennedy wrote in the same letter that "God will have a bit of explaining to do to me if I ever see him."

She asked Father Leonard to pray for her and said she would pray too in an effort to overcome her bitterness against God. "I have to think there is a God -- or I have no hope of finding Jack again," she wrote.

Father Leonard taught at All Hallows College, the Vincentian seminary in Dublin, and first met a young Jacqueline Lee Bouvier in 1950 when she visited Dublin. The two struck up an immediate friendship and corresponded regularly.

The letters reveal that Kennedy often turned to Father Leonard at times of darkness. In 1956, she wrote to the priest after the birth of a stillborn daughter, Arabella, and said: "Don't think I would ever be bitter at God." She observed that she could "see so many good things that come out of this -- how sadness shared brings married people closer together."

The letters reveal that Father Leonard rekindled Kennedy's interest in her Catholic faith. In early 1952, she wrote: "I terribly want to be a good Catholic now and I know it's all because of you. I suppose I realized in the back of my mind you wanted that -- you gave me the rosary as I left Ireland."

She was 22 and told the priest: "I suddenly realized this Christmas when my sister and I decided -- after not going to church for a year -- that we desperately wanted to change and get close to God again -- that it must have been your little prayers that worked -- all the way across the ocean."

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The catastrophe of suicide

The catastrophe of suicide


How suicide hurts us all.
Édouard Manet, The Suicide, 1877–1881

Over the past few months, there have been several heartbreaking reminders of the rise of suicide across this nation, a topic I wrote about in my first "Manners & morals" column in October ("Life on the island").  The most high profile of these suicides was L'Wren Scott's.  The forty-nine-year-old fashion designer was found dead in her New York City apartment, reportedly bought for her by then-boyfriend Mick Jagger.
A week later, the New York City schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, convened a private meeting of principals to discuss the suicide epidemic among the city's students.  Thanks to the New York Post, which broke the story, we now know that suicides are on the rise among the city's youth: two years ago, nine students committed suicide; last year, fourteen did; and already, four months into 2014, twelve have committed suicide in New York.
In March, volunteers gathered in Washington to plant 1,892 American flags on the National Mall commemorating each veteran who had committed suicide since the beginning of 2014.  Do the math:  that's twenty-two veteran suicides a day.  Another tragic figure: Since 2001, the year marking the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more active-duty soldiers have killed themselves than have died in combat.
The rise in suicide has been accompanied by a loss of the moral questions that once surrounded it.  G. K. Chesterton was one of our last full-throated critics of suicide.  His insistence that suicide is immoral sounds strange to our individualistic ears:  "Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin," Chesterton wrote:  "It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life.  The man who kills a man, kills a man.  The man who kills himself, kills all men;  as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world."  Chesterton goes on to say that the act of suicide is selfish:  "A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything."  It would be difficult to imagine anyone writing such a polemic today.  We do not consider suicide the moral catastrophe that people like Chesterton once thought it was.
Rather, our contemporary culture treats suicide as a medical problem — a "public health concern," as Joshua Rottman, a psychological researcher, recently told The Atlantic.  According to his new research, religious and non-religious people have a moral bias against suicide, and the bias stems from "disgust reactions" they have when confronted with stories of suicide.  Committing suicide, people think, taints the soul.  To Rottman, this is a problem.  These reactions are irrational and, therefore, harmful:  "The million-dollar question," Rottman says, is "how to de-stigmatize suicide as impure." He went on to say, "That's not to say that we should start thinking that suicide is perfectly OK, but I don't think we should treat it as taboo (and therefore avoid bringing it up in polite conversation).  Instead, we should engage with it as a public health concern and find ways to effectively increase prevention."  But Rottman is wrong to demoralize the notion of suicide.  If we are serious about helping people overcome the dark nights of their souls, we must insist with Chesterton that suicide is a moral, not just a clinical, problem.
Western civilization

An important new book does just that.  Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It by the poet and philosopher Jennifer Michael Hecht challenges our culture's acceptance of suicides and reinvigorates the moral arguments against it.  At a time when few philosophers or intellectuals are offering strong, compelling, secular arguments against suicide, Hecht's book steps in as a reminder that our liberal stance toward suicide is relatively new, in fact quite radical, and should be unequivocally challenged.  Partly an intellectual history and partly a polemic — a gentle one — against suicide, the book fills a hole in the cultural conversation about choosing to end one's life.  Hecht writes,
"The arguments against suicide that I intend to revivify in public consciousness assert that suicide is wrong, that it harms the community, that it damages humanity, that it unfairly preempts your future self."
Hecht reminds us that throughout history — in the West at least — there have always been strong social sanctions and philosophical arguments against suicide.  Though the ancients for the most part wrote against suicide, those positions were advanced most forcefully by Christian thinkers, who viewed suicide as a sin — a violation of God's moral law.  Christian beliefs about suicide were articulated most clearly by St. Thomas Aquinas, who thought, as Hecht writes, that "Suicide is cruel to the community, it is cruel to oneself, and God has ordained against it."  Those who violated the moral law, by taking their own lives, faced a grisly posthumous fate.  Their bodies would be tortured, dragged through the streets, their estates seized by the church, their families left impoverished.
This view began to evolve during the Enlightenment.  The secular philosophers of that age, like David Hume and Baron d'Holbach, did everything they could to argue Christianity into philosophical irrelevance.  One of the casualties in the war against religion was the moral sanction against suicide, which Hume associated, as Hecht points out, with "modern European superstition."  It was a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  To Hume and d'Holbach, suicide was a permissible way to escape suffering, and their justification was often chillingly inhumane.  D'Holbach asks, "Besides, what assistance or what advantage can society promise to itself from a miserable wretch reduced to despair, from a misanthrope overwhelmed with grief, from a wretch tormented with remorse, who has no longer any motive to render himself useful to others, who has abandoned himself, and who finds no more interest in preserving his life?"
The pro-suicide view, which is "now a defining stance of secular culture, is a mistake and needs rethinking," writes Hecht.  It has led to moral confusion.  The secular among us may reject Christianity and the Christian ideas about suicide — and certainly the medieval response to it — but that does not mean we should conclude that suicide is permissible.  The secular argument against suicide has, after all, been championed by an impressive group of thinkers, from Kant to Durkheim to (the suicidal) Wittgenstein.  As a culture, we have forgotten their arguments but we must revive and champion them in order to save suicidal people from the tyranny of their emotions.  The suicidal person must be brought to realize that suffering is a natural and passing part of life, that he must persist, and that he lives not just for himself but for the sake of others.
The moral weight of Hecht's argument becomes clear when we consider the far-reaching effects of suicide.  They extend beyond the death of the suicide and the grief of his loved ones.  Suicide, like an infectious disease, is contagious.  When one person in a community ends his or her life, it is not uncommon to find other people following suit, creating what scientists call a "suicide cluster."  This is why, in a powerful rhetorical flourish, Hecht calls suicide "delayed" murder.  When you decide to take your life, she argues, you are not only killing yourself, you are killing your neighbor down the street, your peer at school, your brother-in-arms.
The very idea of suicide can lead to self-murder.  Goethe's novella The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) — about a young man who kills himself when the woman he loves rejects him — set off a rash of copycat suicides in Europe when it was published.  The "Werther effect," as it is known, should make us pause and reflect on the way the media covers real suicides and the way artists and creators address suicide in their works.  Hecht, to this end, cites a study from The New England Journal of Medicine about three movies with suicides as central aspects of the plot.  The study "found that suicide increased after two, both of which concentrated their attention on the suicide victim.  One movie that was not associated with a rise in the suicide rate concentrated on the grieving parents."  Ideas have consequences: "They can influence people both toward and away from death."  Hecht cites research showing that most people who tried and failed to commit suicide are grateful they failed.  They do not make another attempt to end their lives and admit that "their initial attempt was an act of impulsivity."
In my column last October, I pointed to research — from Durkheim and modern social science — showing that the rise of suicide has been accompanied by a rise in individualism.  The role of the individual in society has changed dramatically since the Enlightenment.  Before, the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition in the West placed moral constraints on an individual's will.  Morality was organized around God's will and our duties to the community — and suicide was considered an affront to both.  Today, though, our sense of right and wrong is organized more around the individual's experience than on the health of the community.
The popular movie Dead Poets Society (1989) is a good example of the modern and individualistic response to suicide.  The film is about a group of high school seniors at an elite all-boys New England boarding school.  The group's ringleader, Neil, faces a common adolescent dilemma.  His parents want him to go to medical school, but he wants to be an actor.  Against his father's wishes, Neil performs as Puck in the school's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, so his father decides to pull him out of the idyllic boarding school and send him to military school, which will better prepare him for Harvard and a career as a doctor.  When Neil returns to his home, he is in emotional turmoil.  He thinks his life is over.  He thinks he won't be able to live out his dream of being an actor.  His self-righteous solution to his problem is to kill himself in the home of his parents, who discover his body later that night.
Regrettably, the story romanticizes his suicide.  Neil puts on a crown of thorns before he ends his life, drawing a spurious connection between his ultimate act of willfulness and Christ's acquiescence to his Father's will.  The teenage boy, we are meant to conclude, is a victim — and his father is the villain, responsible for his death and deserving of the suffering he feels when he sees his dead child.  The film invites us to sympathize with Neil's plight.  Neil's death is meant to be an expression of freedom, an escape from misery, suffering, and the other barriers that would prevent him from living his life as he would like to.  But the fact is that Neil's decision is rash and, above all, selfish.  Unlike Christ, he does not lay down his life out of love of others; rather, his suicide is an act of revenge.  Yet we are meant to conclude that he is some sort of hero, who dies because the world is amiss and he cannot fulfill his artistic ideal.
Hecht urges us to "retire the idea that we are each free to end our lives."  Here Hecht is really insisting that we rethink the individual's relationship to his or her community.  Suicide, which may end the misery of the individual, leads to untold amounts of misery in the community.  Ending one's life is therefore not just a personal choice whose effects are borne only by the dead.  It renders a profound judgment against the world we all share together.
Our attitude toward suicide says a lot about how we value life and the communities that sustain us.  It shouldn't surprise us that suicide has gained acceptance in our culture; our communities are dissolving, and the individual, free from many of the traditional constraints, is considered the master of his own fate.  Though there are certainly cases when death is justly considered a deliverance from suffering, it's time to reconsider our belief that, as individuals, we are free to choose the time and place of that deliverance.  As Hecht writes, "The meaning of life is bigger than the individual."

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTEmily Esfahani Smith.  "The catastrophe of suicide." The New Criterion (May, 2014).
Reprinted with permission of the author, Emily Esfahani Smith.
The New Criterion, founded in 1982, is a monthly review of the arts and intellectual life.  Written with great verve, clarity, and wit, The New Criterion has emerged as America's foremost voice of critical dissent in the culture wars now raging throughout the Western world.  A staunch defender of the values of high culture, The New Criterion is also an articulate scourge of artistic mediocrity and intellectual mendacity wherever they are found: in the universities, the art galleries, the media, the concert halls, the theater, and elsewhere.
Emily Esfahani Smith is the Managing Editor of The New Criterion.  She writes about culture, relationships, and psychology. Her writing has appeared at The Atlantic, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The Daily Beast, and other publications.  She serves as the managing editor of the Hoover Institution's Defining Ideas.  A Senior Fellow at the Independent Women's Forum, she is also the editor-in-chief of Acculturated, a blog about the virtues and vices of pop culture.  Born in Zurich, Switzerland, Emily grew up in Montreal, Canada, and now lives in New York City.  She graduated from Dartmouth College, where she was editor of The Dartmouth Review.
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Monday, May 19, 2014

Socialism is Not Compassionate

Socialism is Not Compassionate, and Why This Should Matter to Christians  

great article - share the information to educate others...

Christians should care about politics because, ultimately, we care about people. Government has an increasingly large influence on the lives of people, thus we cannot ignore politics. Further, almost every law reflects someone’s idea of morality. Since God’s morality is ultimate and universal, society benefits by the Christian’s participation in the public square. That is, society benefits when biblical truth is reflected in law.

What we encounter in discussing societal issues today with Christians is that many think socialism is good. In fact, they think that it is distinctly compassionate, thus truly moral. In this essay we will examine why socialism—and its compadres marxism and liberalism—are in fact immoral and inhumane. Conservatism and capitalism, on the other hand, not only objectively produce better results for society, but are the most moral.
When I was younger, and filled with idealism, I embraced socialism. But over time, as I studied the evidence and really thought it through, I realized that my thinking was mushy. Truth became more important to me than my faulty idealism. I moved away from liberalism and socialism.   ---Chris
First, let’s define our terms. Socialism is government mandated activities or government control of assets. Marxism is using the power of the state to take money from some groups of citizens and give it to other groups (“redistribution of wealth” or “social justice”). Liberalism is a broader term that encompasses both of the above. Progressivism and statism are synonyms for liberalism. Because there is so much overlap, we will use these terms more-or-less interchangeably.
Ten reasons why liberalism is not only ineffective but indeed immoral and inhumane:
1. Redistribution of wealth is not JUSTICE, it is THEFT. God did not give the Ten Commandments to Moses that read, “Thou shall not steal, unless Congress passes a different law.” In fact, the Ten Commandments rule out socialism because socialism legalizes theft (Eighth Commandment) and institutionalizes envy(Tenth Commandment)! Contrary to liberal thought, forced redistribution of wealth is immoralTrue effective compassion is voluntary—from the heart—and for the recipient it is (a) challenging, (b) personal, and (c) spiritual. In other words, the down-and-out need more than money; they need encouragement and spiritual food. Government offers none of these criteria. Whenever wealth is redistributed, an injustice is done to at least one party. While government may legitimately encourage voluntary giving—and encourage institutions that facilitate it such as Christian organizations—it has no moral authority to force people to give by the heavy hand of the state. (Helpful book: The Tragedy of American Compassion by Marvin Olasky.)
"The only lasting solution to poverty is wealth, and only business—not government, not non-profits, not even the church—creates wealth....The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil; its pull is powerful, causing some to even walk away from the faith (1 Timothy 6:10). And we in the U.S., who are wealthier than any people have ever been, need to be constantly warned. But that doesn't mean that there isn't a moral quality to wealth. Nor does it mean that the essence of capitalism is greed. Market economies work, Jay Richards says, because they allow wealth to be created. Only wealth can reduce poverty."   ---Richard Doster,
2. Socialism and marxism reduce our freedoms, thus leading to tyranny. Freedom, we argue, is a legitimate moral end in itself—an unalienable right. Remember the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is the foundational principle of America’s Founders, who, incidentally, were overwhelmingly Christian. It is no less true today than in 1776. America’s founders referenced 2 Corinthians 3:17 in support of freedom: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The Liberty Bell declares from Leviticus 25:10, “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” With liberty, one's soul breathes. (Helpful book: Christianity and the Constitution by John Eidsmoe.)
3. When the government redistributes wealth it even hurts the people it is trying to help! This is not necessarily intuitive, but observable. The welfare mess is a classic example of failed government intervention.  We have 50 years of experience which proves that oppressive utopian ideas of “compassion” only imprison the welfare class into perpetual poverty. An interesting current comparison is Texas vs. California. Texas has a conservative philosophy of government while California has taken the liberal utopian route. Texas, as of October 2009, had an 8.3% unemployment rate, while California’s unemployment rate was 12.9%—55% higher than Texas. Who is doing a better job for its citizens, including for the working class? Socialism is oppressive to the poor. (A book that is crucial to understanding the problem is Uncle Sam’s Plantation by black author Star Parker.)! excellent! Watch this fascinating short clip of Milton Friedman on the Phil Donahue show:
"Business, working through free markets is possibly the greatest force for good on the planet today....Business increases prosperity, ends poverty, improves the quality of life, and promotes health and longevity of the world's population."   ---John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods
4. Every time the government gets involved in something, in the long run it hurts the economy. We must get over the ignorant idea, however well-intentioned, that the economy is a static entity—and like a pie—that if one group of people has a larger piece of the pie, others get a smaller piece. A market economy is not a zero-sum game. The accurate view is, if government policies do not stifle the economy, the whole pie grows producing greater benefits for all. A dynamic economy creates wealth. Economics is about growing the pie, not dividing it. The simple fact of life is that the sectors of the economy that have the larger pieces of the pie are the most productive ones that generate the pieces of the pie for everyone! Remember that the government does not produce anything. So every dollar taken out of the productive economy (or distorts the productive economy) reduces the total output of the economy. Interference in the economy either by direct action or through regulations ends up decreasing the wealth of the country rather than increasing it. Regulations add to the cost of production, lessening efficiency and raising prices—which in turn lowers demand. When this occurs, those at every income level suffer. Further, armed with the power to tax, government fosters stupid economic decisions because it is blinded without a profit motive. A recent example is how the federal government—through both legislation and Federal Reserve policy—encouraged banks to make home loans to people who could not afford them, precipitating the housing collapse. One must be blinded by pre-conceptions to fail to see that any intrusions into the economy with Soviet-like utopian ideologies are ultimately disastrous to its people. The more utopian liberalism is introduced into the system, the poorer it performs. (Important books: How Capitalism Saved America by Thomas DiLorenzo and How Capitalism Will Save Us by Steve Forbes. Also, watch this short video about how the government worsened the Depression:
5. Socialism reduces the incentive to innovate and produce. Christians are often not used to thinking about economics. But we should. If we are interested in increasing charitable giving, we should grow the economy as much as possible so that philanthropy is possible. Is your church’s giving better when the economy is healthy or when more people are on welfare?Capitalism has a firm historical and intellectual foundation in Christianity, yet is attacked by liberals as not compassionate. Liberals have the misplaced notion that profit is immoral.The voluntary exchange of goods and services for profit is not immoral. The fact is, the profit motive is the engine that grows the economy and has produced every modern convenience. Just take a moment to think through the things in your life and ask yourself why they are there. From the food you eat to the products you use, there has been an enormous amount of entrepreneurial energy and innovation that has made these things available to you. Government, on the other hand, not only does not produce anything, it creates shortages. Milton Friedman said, “If the Government was in charge of the Sahara Desert, there would be a shortage of sand.” An example in the real economy would be government health care. It is a certainty that the currently proposed government takeover of medicine will lead to fewer doctors. In one study, 45% of doctors would consider quitting if Congress passes health care overhaul. Bright students, faced with huge costs to attend medical school, will choose other fields. Such is a logical outcome from absurd policies. If we cover more people, we would need more doctors, more nurses, more hospitals, and more clinics. Promises of universal coverage cannot overcome the reality of universal shortages—leading to poorer service and rationing. This is certainly immoral. Socialism actually reduces incentives for productive activity of both the classes from whom the money is taken and to whom the money is given. If a father continually takes money from a successful son and gives it to a slothful son, eventually both sons will become less productive and tainted. (For a discussion on biblical capitalism verses darwinian capitalism, see
Steve Forbes (see his book How Capitalism Will Save Us) contends that with the rise of democratic capitalism humankind has become wealthier and healthier than in all previous centuries combined. In a democratic capitalist economy, he says, people interact in networks of cooperation that "teach discipline and moral lessons—from the importance of showing up for work and handling money responsibly to the value of teamwork."
6. Studies show that government is much less efficient at the same tasks as private enterprise or charity. At least one study ( showed that Government administrative costs consume 35-55% of the total expenditures. So in the health care debate, for example, if insurance companies make a 3-7% profit on sales, they are still hugely more efficient at delivering health care services than government. And unlike the profit made by private concerns, that 35-55% loss by government benefits nobody—it is essentially lost (wasted). Is there not yet enough outrage at story after story of pork barrel spending in Congress? How numbed does one have to be to fail to see that government by its very nature not only wastes money but is bent to cronyism and fraud? Of course, man’s inherent sinfulness can show up in any organization. But the government has never run an efficient system of any kind anywhere, with the possible exception of the military.
7. Socialism rewards failure.  Consider the takeover of General Motors. There have been hundreds of automobile companies that have failed in our history. Every once in awhile, the free enterprise system purges itself of the losers, only to be replaced by more efficient producers that have a better model how to deliver more goods and services that consumers want to buy at a price they can afford. It is suicidal for society to resist this trend. A key tenet of investing is to cut your losses and reinvest in more promising things. In an investment portfolio, nursing your losers leads to a stagnant portfolio of trash. One may think, at first glance, that it is compassionate to save jobs by government interference. But in the long run, the economy is held back by government interference, hurting everyone. Check out this article which explains how even our prized anti-trust laws and the progressive income tax tend to reward the inefficient producers and slow growth:
Socialist communities fail because non-productivity is tolerated. In socialist economies, high goals aren't set, lousy work is condoned, there's no motivation to improve one's living standards, government quashes incentive and innovation, and assets are routinely misapplied. Therefore, there is nothing to encourage the investment of one's time, effort, or assets.
8. Socialism and marxism ultimately lead to financial destruction. The U. S. budget death spiral in which we now find ourselves places us at a very serious risk of economic collapse. See our blog entry, “U. S. Budget Death Spiral”: Margaret Thatcher said, “Socialism works until you run out of other people’s money.” Let’s just consider the centerpiece of the liberal socialist agenda—Social Security. It is a madoff/ponzi scheme. It taxes workers to pay for those who are retired. There is no actual “Social Security Trust Fund”—even though this term is still commonly used. The liabilities of the Social Security system are unfunded promises to pay retirees. Together with Medicare, these transfer payments are by far the largest item in the federal budget, and are the primary reason why the federal government is on the brink of bankruptcy. The Social Security tax burden hits the low income worker’s budget the hardest. And studies show that if workers were to put what they pay in taxes instead into a conservative personal investment account over their working lifetime, they would have substantially more income at retirement! And they would own the account and thus have something to pass on to their heirs. See
9. Liberalism destroys the Rule of Law. America is the heir of the Rule of Law, which originated with the Hebrews in ancient times. America’s Constitution is quite clear that there are specific enumerated powers of the federal government, and all powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states. The liberal agenda in legislation and court rulings has openly ignored the Constitution. Considering federal health care legislation, there is absolutely no authority in the Constitution to force people to buy something they do not want—yet our legislators could care less. When the Rule of Law is destroyed, despotism takes over. The result is predictable: If history is any judge, in time the Constitution will completely crumble into shambles and the United States of America will dissolve. History proves that the yearning for freedom always pushes man to demand the freedom that he is convinced is a God-given right.
"Jay Richards poses the question: How is wealth created? Economists, he explains, can't easily answer the question, but Christians can. The key source of material wealth in a modern market economy, he says, is not material—it's spiritual. According to Richards, 'Wealth is created when our creative freedom is allowed to prosper, when it's undergirded by the rule of law and suffused with a rich moral culture.' Mankind's unfettered creativity reflects God's image, and this, Richards points out, is one of the least appreciated truths of economics."   ---Richard Doster (

10. Liberalism not only breeds hatred but indeed contributes to people’s deaths. Because liberalism is a relativistic worldview, some people are ultimately expendable. We see this in every leftist government, but fail to make the connection to this ideology at home. Liberals attack conservatives as being self-centered, money hungry, and uncompassionate. But who are more likely champions of the innocent unborn and the elderly? The current health care debate should heighten the awareness of who is concerned about the almighty dollar over human rights. It is the liberals who are willing to cut back on mammograms for middle-aged women to save a few dollars. It is the liberals who would ration care to seniors to save money. It is liberals who want free abortions—taking the lives of millions of innocent unborn children. We ask: who are truly compassionate and who are the hypocrites? Further, liberalism pits one class of citizens against another. It especially fosters hatred, envy, and covetousness toward the successful rather than admiration and inspiration. Bitterness filters down in an organization too. We ask you to consider how you are treated by government employees such as those behind the counter at the Post Office or tax office compared to most for-profit business. In which setting are you more likely to get more personal warmth and upbeat, caring service? Ironically, socialism is inherently heartless, while capitalism is inherently caring for the customer. Remember that a business’s survival depends on the satisfied customer. Related to this in an important way, liberalism also often discourages faith in God or creates new gods suitable to a pre-conceived ideology. It is no accident that the further left a government becomes, the less religious it is. Full-blown leftist governments are atheistic. (Helpful book:Godless: The Church of Liberalism, by Ann Coulter.)
We remind our readers that both Nazi Germany and Communist Russia had Socialist in their names. Nazism is short for National Socialism. The party led by Adolph Hitler was the National Socialist German Workders Party. Communist Russia was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Objections Considered: The socialist may object to these arguments by saying, “But wait. People have rights.” For example, in the current health care debate, we hear that people have a right to health care. But this is incorrect. Health care is not a right. It is a good/service—like food, clothing, shelter, or life insurance. And the way to distribute these things that is the least expensive to the consumer with the best quality is through private enterprise. The free exchange of goods and services is the most moral and the most effective means of distribution. America’s Declaration of Independence is an historic document that philosophically defines rights. Rights are God-given to personhood rather than something conferred by government. In particular, life is a right. A good or service is not a right.
Indeed, America's Declaration of Independence explains that liberty—that is, freedom from government interference—is also a right. So liberals who say that something like government health care is a right in fact have it backwards. Government interference into health care tramples on liberty and thus tramples on (that is, abrogates) our rights!
Liberals place large emphasis on the spread between the most successful and least successful in a capitalist country. But That spread is even larger in socialist countries. Huge wealth is obtained in socialist countries by cronyism, using political power to garner an advantage. In true capitalism, political power advantage to a few is eliminated. Under capitalism, wealth is obtained by those creating the greatest service or most desirable products that others freely purchase. Which system is the most moral?
Summary: Conservatism is constructive. Liberalism is destructive. And nowhere in the Scriptures do we read anything that even remotely resembles socialism. We are not arguing that government has no role to play in society. We are arguing that there are usually constitutional solutions in the free market that are much more effective while being morally upright, consistent with human rights—and biblical.