Here and there

So, the guest-blogging, some traveling and, now, a cold (as well as that pesky dissertation) have been taking up some time, but some recent things you should look at:

Cardinal Mahony's op-ed in yesterday's New York Times on immigration.

Boston Globe religion reporter's Blog from Rome for tomorrow's Consistory.

John Dilulio's article in the most recent Commonweal on Catholic voting.

And then join me and get up at 4 am EST tomorrow to watch the Consistory on Boston Catholic Television or Vatican Cable Television.

There's your homework...now get to it!



Many, many thanks to Whispers in the Loggia for this one. The pope did receive an iPod earlier this month, pre-loaded with classical music and programming from Vatican Radio.

Speaking of Vatican Radio, there actually is a very good English-language program available, including Vatican news, papal audiences, and, my favorite, the Latin Lover. The Latin Lover features Fr. Reginald Foster, the Vatican's (and perhaps the world's) pre-eminent Latinist. He's absolutely crazy, even by ecclesiastical standards, but runs a stellar summer language program. Also check out the Vatican's project Latinitas, with its Lexicon recentis Latinitatis. (Who knows when you might need the Latin for "hot pants" (brevissimae bracae femineae) or, for Anglican-Catholic dialogue, "gin" (potio iunipera)?


Two nations

So there's an article from today's Globe (doesn't that sound familiar? I do read other things...) on a course here at the hallowed halls of Harvard, Positive Psychology, which "focuses on the psychological aspects of a fulfilling and flourishing life. Topics include happiness, self-esteem, empathy, friendship, love, achievement, creativity, music, spirituality, and humor." You can check out the lectures, on video or (shudder) PowerPoint, at the course website. Now, I'm going to mostly bracket the question of whether this course, despite its obvious value to Harvard's undergraduates, is academically defensible as a credit towards a bachelor's degree, and limit my opinion to a snide, unsubstantiated, two-word comment: It's not.

What I really want to talk about, though, is an apparently offhand remark by a professor Marty Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, the apparent "father" of positive psychology. When asked about the appeal of positive psych to students and to society at large, he remarked

''When nations are wealthy and not in civil turmoil and not at war, then I think, like Florence of the 15th century, they start asking what makes life worth living, and that's what positive psychology is about,"

But wait a minute: we are at war. And who among is all that wealthy? And where in our cities is there not a great deal of turmoil? Among the undergraduates attending Harvard, Penn, and, one might wager, not just the Ivy League but the vast majority of American colleges and universities, these realities of war, poverty, and insecurity really don't exist, for all intents and purposes. But for many, many Americans, those being sent to fight in Iraq, those struggling for their next meal, those who are left working 39-hour-a-week shifts at Walmart so they don't have to be paid health benefits, there isn't the leisure to "start asking what makes life worth living." It's a shocking statement, true only of a certain class of people in Florence and a certain class of people today. But if we're going to be honest with ourselves (and I'm the last person to claim that I'm not thoroughly ensconced in bourgeois academia), then we have to at least notice how different are our lives in apparently the same nation when compared to those of vast numbers of our co-citizens, and be grateful for the chances we have to be movers and shakers. But we have to be careful about assuming that our status is typical, or that we don't have a responsibility to those who are also part of our national community - those who don't have time to take positive psych.


New England Flower Show

So I'm heading down to the New England Flower Show here in Boston on Saturday. OK, let your snickers out about a gay man going to a flower show....go ahead, get it out of your system... I actually have quite a softspot for orchids, which is appropriate, since gay men have a long-standing historical connection with orchids; they were, supposedly, one of the subtle signals that a gay man could use to say, I'm not just single, I also like boys!

I'm still relatively good at killing them regularly, but, well, that happens...I'll report anything exciting that I see down there, orchid-related or not, and get back to you later in the weekend. (See? If I'm not talking about homosexuality or Catholicism, I really have nothing to say....damn...)

One New England shout out: in an interview in today's Globe with the current executive director of the Mass Horticultural Society, a transplant (get it?) from North Carolina, Thomas Herrera-Mishler is asked about giving up the year-round climate of Wilmington for Boston. While he misses his plants there, he claims to love the people of Boston:

But what about the warm Southern hospitality? I'd rather take Yankee straightforwardness any day.

Here, here, for Yankee straightforwardness.


The A-Bomb

So, there's a great question from a comment last night, asking if I've ever published a post on my ideas about abortion and choice, and since I haven't, I thought I'd take the chance to explain what I mean when I say that I'm "pro-life". Let me engage in some meta-chat about the comment first, and then I'll get to (hopefully) a fuller discussion of what I think about life and choice.

First, the meta-chat. The comment asks how I, as a gay man, can live my life as a gay man in dissent with church teaching, and yet, as A writes, cannot "extend that sense of agency to women." I do have a decent sense of moral complexity, I think, though anyone who knows me knows that I do my dardnest to avoid studying moral theology in my professional life; I don't have the gifts for that sort of work. But one principle that might help us here comes from a theory of the church, not from ethics: just because the church teaches on issue A and on issue B, it doesn't mean that it teaches with the same weight. So it's entirely legitimate, IMO, to dissent from one teaching and not from another; it seems to me that the questions around life and death in talking about abortion are more serious than those surrounding same-sex sex.

There's another important assumption, I think, to be countered here though. While one's moral decisions are always personal, they're never entirely mine. This comes out clearly in the prolife argument that abortion involves not only the mother, but also her potential child (and possibly the father, but that's a little more distant). But it should also be there in regards to same-sex sex. I'm obviously hoping that same-sex commitment will one day be recognized and celebrated within the R.C. church (indeed, within the church taken as a whole, it already is in some parts); but I'm also respectful, even in a strange way grateful, for the challenge within the church for me to explain myself, to tell the truth of my life, to defend myself against the charge that I'm deceiving myself. I obviously want that discussion to be respectful, charitable, and more open than it is today; but if no one in my community challenged the fact that my life seemed to upend a relatively settled value of the community, that wouldn't show a respect for my choice, it would show a lack of love, a lack of concern for me. Similarly, A is right to note that I'm not going to personally have to deal with a problematic pregnancy, in that I'm not going to be pregnant, nor is my partner, however open to the miracle of life we might be. But if I take my commitments to those around me seriously, if from a Christian perspective I take the priority of the family of the church over our families of origin seriously, then I will, and should, be concerned about the difficult choices around pregnancy.

So if I want the right to live my life, being challenged, but not prevented, why shouldn't I approach abortion the same way? Why do I insist that challenging, when it comes to abortion, might extend to legal coercion?
It's rooted in my belief, and the belief of a long tradition in Christian history, that while a fetus isn't morally equivalent to a child, it more similar to a child's life than different. My ethicist friends can make better distinctions about the difference between abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy and later in term, but the weight of the tradition, for me, suggests a presumption for the life of that fetus. And, in comparison with same-sex activity, the imperative to intervene on behalf of that life or potential life, is stronger than is the case for same-sex activity. And while I don't want to impinge upon the rights of women in very difficult situations lightly, I don't think that the decision of whether to end that life is entirely her own choice, for similar reasons that as a society we don't think ending a child's life after that child is born is an individual's private choice.

That being said, my understanding of being pro-life has a lot of sympathies with Hillary Clinton's "safe, legal, and rare" position. I think that it is entirely irresponsible, and far too typical, for pro-life activists to abandon women and their unwanted children as soon as they are born, and to ignore their own responsibility for putting women in those situations in the first place (though some are getting better on that). I also think that the myth of the rich white suburban woman having an abortion on a whim in order not to hurt her legal career does tons of harm in distancing pro-life activists from the real faces of women in near-desperate situations, and creates an easy scapegoat to make them feel good about how morally upright they are. I think that the church's teaching on artificial contraception is sinful in its complicity with backing women into a corner with regard to their legitimate reproductive rights; there are, and there should be, other options for women to have control over their own bodies besides abortion, and the lack of free, easily obtainable contraception is a scandal for which we who are Catholic will have to answer to God and to history. I also don't think that it's realistic, absent a massive social overhaul of the way we care for women, particularly the most vulnerable members of our society, to suddenly remove abortion as an option. It's also not realistic to ask a woman to sacrifice her own health or life for the sake of her child; while that sacrifice might be admirable, one can't require heroic virtue. And that's how I vote.

Does that make me pro-choice? I don't think so, because I refuse to accept that the current state of affairs is the best that we can do. I refuse to accept that we cannot create a society in which abortion is no longer the best symbol of our respect for women and their rights. I jump at the chance to vote for candidates who combine a suspicion with regard to abortion with a commitment to the lives of the poor and the rights of women. And just as I don't think it's legitimate to ask me to ignore the moral choices of women because I'm not going to individually face the same situation, neither is it legitimate for me to ignore my own guilt in creating and maintaining a society in which women are regularly backed into tragic corners.


Can we just sit on our anti-gay hands for five minutes?

The conflict within Catholic Charities over placing orphans with gay parents is building, with Gov. Romney now stepping back into the fray (thank you, Dan Wasserman and the Globe, for this cartoon).
I entirely understand taking a position upon principle and sticking with it, even if it's unpopular. But I have to ask: I may be biased as a gay man, but I can't help but think that the amount energy the archdiocese is pouring into gay and lesbian issues right now must look obsessive to the majority of Catholics in the pews who are most worried about their churches' and schools' being closed, their priests' demoralization, and the fact that the Catholic church seems more fragile here in Boston than it ever has. Maybe I'm being naïve or simplistic, but can we just keep quiet about the gays for a bit, whether or not we think that's an important issue, for the sake of the church of Boston's health?


Guest-blogging is swell

So I've been writing things up over at BustedHalo.com's Spiritual Smackdown, and am having a rather enjoyable time chatting with my "conservative" counterpart. I put the scare quotes in not in any negative sense, but in the same sense in which I'm the "liberal" blogger; while we obviously are not eye-to-eye on everything, we're both so moderate that I feel as though we're virtually sitting down with a nice pot of tea.
Although today I dropped the A-bomb into the chili, so we'll see if that spices things up. I'm not concerned about my fellow blogger, as he's a remarkably nuanced and thoughtful person, and I'm sure that I'm going to learn something in this path of conversation; I'm more interested to see what we get in terms of comments.