Thursday, November 29, 2007

Just an acorn

From an ongoing debate about abortion in Facebook that some of you might find interesting. My screen name is Quo Vadis...

"Can you answer one simply question for me Quo?" -Robin M.

I 'simply' shall try. ;)

"Can you explain to me how an acorn is an oak tree and why I should be held to the same laws against cutting down an oak tree for destroying an oak acorn?" -Robin M.

Ah. The old, "acorn = potential oak tree (no value), and fetus = potential human being (.: no value)" argument.

Problem #1: You are equating oak trees to human beings. To do so is dehumanizing and misleading.

Problem #2: The analogy breaks down the minute we contrast our view of the oak with our view of the human being.

An oak tree -- for a number of valid reasons -- increases in value over time. One reason would be the utilitarian aspect of it. A little oak sprout (let's say 0.5 inches above ground) doesn't do us much good. It isn't worth much at all, and if you trample over it, well, there's really no harm done and no lawsuit will be filed. Yet a one hundred foot oak tree has tremendous value to us from a practical standpoint, and even more so from a cultural standpoint.

Much like an old coin, we place astronomic value in a 400 year old oak. A nostalgic sort of value which increases with each passing year.

But this is not the case with man. We do not say, "The 85 year old man is more valuable to us than the 2 month old newborn, and next year, on his 86th birthday he will be more valuable still." We say their lives are equal in dignity and worth, irrespective of age -- and, if forced to make a choice, would probably spare the infant over the old man. This is anything but analogous to your oak tree example.

Problem #3: The physical remains after an abortion indicate the end not of a potential life but of an actual life.

And problem #4: Even if the analogy were valid (which it isn't, as I have just shown), scientifically speaking an acorn is simply a little oak tree, just as an embryo is a little human being.

The acorn is of the oak family. It has an oak nature. It simply hasn’t yet matured into a large oak tree. Philosopher Norman Geisler observes the following:

"It is a misunderstanding of botany to say an acorn is a potential oak tree. An acorn is a tiny living oak tree inside a shell. Its dormant life does not grow until properly nourished by planting and watering, but it is a tiny living oak tree nonetheless."

Your argument would be accurate if phrased like this: “An acorn has the potential to become a large oak tree but isn’t one yet. The fetus has the potential to become a 5-year-old but isn’t one yet.” The fetus is of the human family. The fetus has a human nature. It simply hasn’t matured into a child or an adult yet. So what? That statement only reveals the unborn to be less developed than born people; it does nothing to reveal that the unborn are not human.

The fetus has the potential to become an adult. It does not, however, have the potential to become a human because it already is a human. In the same way, the acorn has the potential to become a large oak tree. But it does not have the potential to be an oak because it already is an oak.

[Many thanks to CCBR and Randy Alcorn for aiding so much in my own understanding, and the sections of this post which have been stolen wholesale.]

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

200 Reasons Why the Election Matters

Terry Eastland has just written a nice overview in The Weekly Standard on the future of the federal judiciary; a judiciary which hangs precariously in the balance of November 2008.

The other day, at the annual meeting of the Federalist Society in Washington, D.C., Rudy Giuliani observed that there are "200 reasons why the next election is really important." Which 200, you ask? "The 200 federal judges that the next President of the United States will likely appoint over four years in the White House. That's roughly the average that a president gets to appoint." Actually, the average is something under 190. (Ronald Reagan appointed 379 judges in his two terms, and George Bush 192 in his one term. Bill Clinton appointed 372 judges in eight years, and George W. Bush has named 292 in his almost seven years.) But Giuliani is right about the stakes.


Right now the Supreme Court is closely divided, with four judicial liberals (John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer) and four judicial conservatives (Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito) and Anthony Kennedy, whose vote in the most controversial cases often determines which side prevails. No one can say for sure, of course, whether any vacancies will occur during the next president's term, but the most likely justice to depart the Court is John Paul Stevens. At 87, he is by far the oldest justice and with 32 years on the Court has now exceeded the average number of years served by justices appointed since 1970, which is 26. He's said to be in fine health, but if he were to leave the Court, a Republican president could create a conservative majority by picking someone on the order of the candidates' professed models--Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito--while a Democratic president could preserve the status quo, jurisprudentially speaking, by naming a judicial liberal.

Now, the great majority of the judges the next president will appoint will sit on district courts. They are important to the parties before them, and to the people and institutions in their jurisdiction. They, too, are "reasons why the next election is really important." But district judges can be overruled by the courts above--ultimately the Supreme Court, if the case ever gets there. Most don't. The Supreme Court decides many fewer cases than it used to--75 to 80 each term--and the twelve regular circuit courts, which decide 30,000 cases annually, effectively function as courts of final appeal. Which means their rulings in most criminal and civil cases, including those raising constitutional questions, are the law in their jurisdictions. There are 167 judges distributed among the 12 regular circuits, and the judges appointed to these courts from 2009 to 2013 are indeed very important "reasons why the next election is really important."


Of course, in any discussion of judicial selection it is necessary to point out that if a president faces a Senate controlled by the opposite party, it may be harder for him (or her) to appoint the most compelling exponent of his (or her) judicial philosophy. Imagine the no doubt affirmative confirmation vote that would have occurred had Robert Bork been nominated in 1981 or 1986, when Republicans held the Senate. Or imagine how Roberts or Alito might have fared in the Senate had the Republicans not controlled it by a wide margin. The future of the judiciary is also at stake in the 34 Senate elections next year. And there it is not looking so good for the GOP, which, having to defend 22 seats to the Democrats' 12, could lose seats in Colorado, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Virginia. That would reduce the number of Republican senators to 45 and make it relatively easy for a Democratic president to populate the courts with living Constitution judges.


Giuliani is right. The future of the federal judiciary is at stake on November 4, 2008. This is not an issue that divides the Republican candidates. It is an issue that divides the two parties. It is also an issue that voters, distracted by the horse-race aspect of the long campaign, may have to be reminded about, and often.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Kreeft on abortion

Boston College philosophy professor Peter Kreeft (pictured here) has an outstanding essay on abortion titled Human Personhood Begins at Conception. I would strongly encourage you to give it a read, or if you are limited on time, at least skim through it allowing the sections that catch your eye to keep it.

He makes compelling arguments throughout, but I am particularly pleased with how he ends it:

Suppose I was wrong in my very first point, that abortion is a clear evil. Suppose abortion is a difficult, obscure, uncertain issue. Even if you take this “softest pro-choice” position, which we can call “abortion agnosticism,” you stand refuted by the following quadrilemma.

Either the fetus is a person, or not; and either we know what it is, or not. Thus there are four and only four possibilities:

that it is not a person and we know that, that it is a person and we know that, that it is a person but we do not know that, and that it is not a person and we do not know that.

Now what is abortion in each of these four cases?

In case (1), abortion is perfectly permissible. We do no wrong if we kill what is not a person and we know it is not a person-e.g., if we fry a fish. But no one has ever proved with certainty that a fetus is not a person. If there exists anywhere such a proof, please show it to me and I shall convert to pro-choice on the spot if I cannot refute it. If we do not have case (1) we have either (2) or (3) or (4). What is abortion in each of these cases? It is either murder, or manslaughter, or criminal negligence.

In case (2), where the fetus is a person and we know that, abortion is murder. For killing an innocent person knowing it is an innocent person is murder.

In case (3), abortion is manslaughter, for it is killing an innocent person not knowing and intending the full, deliberate extent of murder. It is like driving over a man-shaped overcoat in the street, which may be a drunk or may only be an old coat. It is like shooting at a sudden movement in a bush which may be your hunting companion or may be only a pheasant. It is like fumigating an apartment building with a highly toxic chemical not knowing whether everyone is safely evacuated. If the victim is a person, you have committed manslaughter. And if not?

Even in case (4), even if abortion kills what is not in fact a person, but the killer does not know for sure that it is not a person, we have criminal negligence, as in the above three cases if there happened to be no one in the coat, the bush, or the building, but the driver, the hunter, or the fumigator did not know that, and nevertheless drove, shot or fumigated. Such negligence is instinctively and universally condemned by all reasonable individuals and societies as personally immoral and socially criminal; and cases (2) and (3), murder and manslaughter, are of course condemned even more strongly. We do not argue politely over whether such behavior is right or wrong. We wholeheartedly condemn it, even when we do not know whether there is a person there, because the killer did not know that a person was not there. Why do we not do the same with abortion?

H/T: Andrew St.Hilaire

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bush is right

There's an excellent post by Andrew Hyman over at Confirm Them. I think he's done a pretty good job of making his point, and there's nothing really for me to add. Here it is in full:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont is doing a great job advocating for a judicial pay increase. He recently explained that, "The quality of the judiciary is threatened if judges' salaries are inadequate to attract and retain our best legal minds." Hopefully, the bill he introduced will pass.

And, there's something else that Senator Leahy could do to attract and retain the best legal minds. President Bush explained a few days ago:

Lawyers approached about being nominated will politely decline because of the ugliness, uncertainty, and delay that now characterizes the confirmation process. Some cannot risk putting their law practices -- their livelihoods -- on hold for long months or years while the Senate delays action on their nominations.

At least have the decency to reject nominees promptly in committee or on the Senate floor. Please don't leave them dangling forever. Senators get straightforward decisions from voters every six years, like clockwork. Why not give straightforward and timely decisions to judicial nominees?

Monday, November 19, 2007

40 years in the desert

It's been almost 40 years to the day since the close of Vatican II on December 8, 1965. And the Promised Land is now in view.


* Cardinal Ratzinger, the then-most renowned conservative Prince of the Church has been elected to the Papacy.

* As pope he has stirred global controversy with his infamous Regensburg speech, driving home the unspoken message that Muslims will respond violently to anything, including comments on Muslim violence.

* Summorum Pontificum

* Bishop Skylstad has been replaced by Cardinal George as president of the USCCB

* And, perhaps more exciting even than the last bullet (which is a wonderful change of pace in itself), Bishop Donald Trautman's term as head of the Committee for Liturgy ends.

Trautman (or 'Trautperson' as he is affectionately called among Catholics who still believe in things like an all male priesthood), whom we have to thank for the banal, gender-neutral pablum that is our American Mass, has been replaced by Bishop Arthur Serratelli.

It's hard to envision a more dramatic change of command, as Serratelli is known to be outspoken on both life and liturgical issues, and shares in the rare distinction among his brother bishops of actually having supported Papa Benny during the 'fallout' (read: Muslim violence and MSM anti-Catholic hysteria) from Regensburg.

This, in contrast to Trautperson, who is known for his dedication in making the Gospels more apropos to pew-warming Catholics like myself. Take, for instance, his committee's rendition of Luke 13:6-7,
There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener...
It's extremely important to realize that anyone could have owned that fig tree. A man, a woman -- it doesn't really matter; and Our Lord would have used the gender neutral term "person" if he was here today. That's why he gave us the Church, and bishops like Trautperson. Well, that, and to restrict the unrestricted celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass.

Anyway. Back to Serratelli who writes:

The Liturgy of the Church is a moment where all the dimensions of our lives come before the living God. It is the place where we have an active encounter with God. It is the place, therefore, where we can rediscover the sacred in our lives.


Certain settings demand their own particular etiquette. Dress at a wedding reception differs from dress at a sports event. Conversation in a bar is louder than in a funeral home. The more we realize we are coming into the Presence of God in Church, the more respectful and reverent our whole person becomes. Chewing gum in Church, loud talking, beach attire and immodest dress simply do not belong!

In church, we need to cultivate a sense of God who is present to us. This is why we are called to observe moments of silence. Both before Mass begins and during Mass. Liturgy is much more than our joining together. It is our opening ourselves to God. By our singing and praying, we respond to the God who addresses us in Liturgy. A constant torrent of words and songs filling every empty space in the Liturgy does not leave the heart the space it needs to rest quietly in the Divine Presence.

In the Annunciation, after the angel announces to Mary that she is to be the Mother of the Lord and Mary gives her fiat, there is silence (cf. Lk 1:38). In this pregnant silence, that Word becomes flesh. Mary remains the model of the disciple before the Word of God. She reminds us that we need moments of silence for God to enter our life. We need those moments in our personal prayer and in the Liturgy.


We are not just spirit when we pray. We pray in our total reality as body and spirit. And so, to recapture the sense of the sacred, therefore, we need to express our reverence through our body language. The norms of the Liturgy wisely have us stand in prayer at certain moments, sit in attentive listening to the readings, and kneel in reverent adoration during the solemn prayer of consecration. These norms are not arbitrary nor are they left to the discretion of any individual celebrant.


Observing the norms of the Liturgy helps to create a profound sense of the sacred in each of us at Mass. Celebrating Mass and observing liturgical norms also makes us visibly one with the entire Church to which we belong. “Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to those norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 52).

Today it has become commonplace at the end of the Liturgy to recite a litany of gratitude for all those who, in some way or another, have made the celebration beautiful. No doubt there is a way to express gratitude at the end of Mass. But is it possible that each time applause breaks out in the Liturgy at the end of the Mass for someone’s contribution, we lapse into seeing the Mass as a human achievement? Sometimes even during the Mass after someone has sung a beautiful hymn, there is spontaneous applause. At such a moment, does not the real meaning of Liturgy lapse into some kind human entertainment?

The 40 years of wandering are coming to a close. Deo Gratias.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Balancing act

In reading up on presidential candidates' positions regarding embryonic stem cell research, I came across this July 2006 statement from Hillary Rotten Clinton. It was delivered on the Senate floor calling for passage of a bill that would allow federal funding for research on new embryonic stem cell lines. Thank God our president immediately vetoed the bill which passed through congress. (Another reason we need a solid pro-lifer in the Oval Office come January '09.)

Her Thighness begins:

I welcome this vote on such an important piece of legislation, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.
Funny how they always forget to specify which type of stem cell research they are talking about. Here the Senator from New York is speaking of the kind that kills innocent human beings.
A broad consensus in New York and across our country has brought us to this debate and vote. There has been an upsurge of demand. It has crossed every line we can imagine, certainly partisan lines, ethnic, racial, geographic lines, people in every corner of our nation demanding that we in Washington open the doors to this promising science.
True. But those aren't the only lines being crossed.

So long, reason and the dictates of the natural law; enter emotional appeal:
You know, my friends Christopher and Dana Reeve, whom we have lost in the last several years, were eloquent, passionate advocates for this research. Christopher, from his wheelchair, performed his greatest role. He may have been Superman in the movies, but he was a super human being after his accident which paralyzed him, consigned him to a wheelchair, to help with his breathing and respiratory functions. But he never gave up. He launched his greatest battle to try to bring our nation to the point where we would take advantage of the most innocent and defenseless among us without the distractions and frustrations of morality and bio-ethics.
Oops. Strike that. Here's what she actually said.
He launched his greatest battle to try to bring our nation to the point where we would take advantage of the science that is there. He worked and struggled on behalf of all who might benefit from stem cell research and other scientific breakthroughs.
All, that is, except those countless thousands who might be forced to give their lives in pursuit of promised breakthroughs.
His brave, beautiful wife, Dana, who passed away just this past March, showed a devotion to her husband and her son that was just inspirational. She, too, continued Christopher's work through the Reeve Foundation, and I know that both of them are looking down upon this debate and so pleased and relieved that this day has come.
How does Mz. Clinton know they're "looking down"? I suspect they might be looking up. But who knows. Continue...
As I travel around New York, I run into constituents every time I'm anywhere who speak to me about this issue. They're living with Type I diabetes or their children are. They're suffering from Parkinson's. They have a relative who is struggling with Alzheimer's. They're paralyzed from an accident, like Christopher was. And they believe that this holds promise for their lives, for their futures, and if not for them in their lifetimes, certainly for their children and their grandchildren.
It goes without saying that Mz. Clinton is unfamiliar with and not interested in Catholic theology which distinguishes between suffering (not intrinsically evil, sometimes good and benefitial -- cf, the Cross) and sin (intrinisically evil). This understanding was perhaps best captured by Cardinal Newman who expressed it thus:

The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.
We need to have additional stem cell lines in order to pursue the promising avenues for research.
Promising avenues? Oh, those.
But we can't make the progress that we need to make for sake of new treatments, for the sake of new discoveries, for the sake of new hope, for countless millions of people who are alive today, who are suffering, for those who are born with diseases and conditions that could be ameliorated, even cured.
Translation: We can't make the progress that we need to make without breaking a few eggs. No pun intended.
This is a delicate balancing act. I recognize that and acknowledge it. I respect my friends on the other side of the aisle who come to the floor with grave doubts and concerns, but I think we have struck the right balance with the legislation we will vote on this afternoon.
Balancing act indeed.

Perspectives on Life

H/T to Monica Lynn Snyder.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Uncle Di

Nobody says it better than Diogenes. Here's one of his latest:

if you can't be good, be careful

"Since they're going to do it anyway, they might as well do it safely."

You might not be edified by that argument, but you shouldn't be surprised. It is, essentially, the argument for the distribution of condoms to teenagers, or clean syringes to drug addicts. You can hear similar arguments made for the legalization of marijuana. And now a bishop has advanced the cause, endorsing a proposal to license brothels. He calls it the "pragmatic view," and stresses that he does not approve of prostitution. Which is reassuring.

Now let's see: If the government is licensing prostitutes, there will have to be regulations, and perhaps inspections, and certainly taxes, and... The comic potential here is enormous, but not appropriate for a family-oriented site. But I digress. My main point was the moral argument.

It's true; we're not likely to eradicate prostitution-- or drug abuse or fornication or drunkenness. "Temptations to sin are sure to come," we read in St. Luke's Gospel. It's the rest of the line-- "but woe to him by whom they come!"-- and the next verse-- 17:2-- that makes me question the "pragmatic" approach.

I'll save you the google search.

Luke 17:2, "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble."

Monday, November 5, 2007

What's wrong with the Catholic Church?

I think G.K. Chesterton got the answer to this question right. And he used only two words to formulate a comprehensive and compelling response to the ills of the Mystical Body of Christ.

What's wrong with the Church?

"I am."