Monday, February 23, 2004

More About Tony's Funeral

A handyman came over today. He was sent by Ruby, who was the good woman friend to Tony, who was buried a few weeks ago. In my blog about Tony' funeral, I was concerned for his soul ( I know, the nerve of me, I know) because I thought he had an illicit relationship with Ruby. I tried to keep an open mind. What threw me off was her telling me, "I loved him. He was my life."

Ruby bowls with the handyman, Carlos, and told Carlos that her relationship with Tony was platonic. I believe her/him. Object lesson: don't believe the worst. Tony, I'm sorry for my suspicions. God rest your sweet soul

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Books I'm Reading: American Jesus: How the
Son of God Became a National Icon

What I've learned so far from this book and my commentary follows.

Thomas Jefferson did his own one man original version of the "Jesus Project" when he was in the White House. He bought two King James versions of the Bible and cut out the parts he didn't like. He compiled out of the remainder a set of sayings of Jesus that suited him. Later he came up with another thin volume of deeds of Jesus that suited Him. (He was convinced by the teachings on the "authentic" Jesus by scientist J. B. Priestley, but Jefferson also added a few twists of his own.)

And then in the mid-90s, a bunch of modern day theologians did the same sort of thing in the Jesus Project in America. First they voted on all the sayings of Jesus and came up with a small set of sayings they agree that Jesus actually said. Later they came up with deeds they agree Jesus did. Theologian Funk, eager to attract press notice of this spectacle, threw around blasphemous phrases, such as when he said that Jesus was a b*st*rd sage.

They believe that the Jesus of the Scriptures and the Creeds is a creation of the community that followed Him, and they believe (with incredible chutzpah) that they are able to discern what the real Jesus said and did. They come about their conclusions by removing all miracles, for example.

The modern theologians and Bible critics we are studying in the Institute for Leadership in Ministry have much the same approach. They seem to "know" which letters of St. Paul were real and which were created under St. Paul's name. They have "discovered" that the books written by St. John were written by another person whom they call "the beloved disciple." Never mind that the Church has always believed that John the apostle wrote those books and that he used the term "the beloved disciple" to refer to himself, out of modesty.

They believe that all the Gospels were written long after Christ died. They weren't written by the authors whose names are on the books. They were written by the community.

Horse feathers, I say.

I say that if the Bible wasn't written by the authors whose names are on the books as the Church has always believed and that if the Bible doesn't describe what Jesus really said and did, then (like Flannery O'Connor said about the idea that the Eucharist is only a symbol): If it isn't what the Church has taught about it for all these centuries, I say the hell with it.

These theologians and critics are somehow able to base their faith on what they believe is a fiction. They believe that each book of the Bible was written by a "community" long after the fact (so there was never any prophecy), to promote its own agenda.

How can they believe that a community can write anything? What community have you ever been in that could create something as marvelous and moving as the Gospels of Luke or John?

They change the dates to discount all prophecy. The prophecies of Isaiah that a king called Cyril would send the people of Israel back to their promised land thrilled me and convinced King Cyril to actually do just that. But the modern critics say that the mention of Cyril in Isaiah must have been added afterwards. And for the same reasoning, they believe that Jesus's prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem must have been added afterwards, and that belief is one of the reasons why they date the Gospels after 70 A.D.

First premise: Prophecies cannot be true.
Second premise: A book of the Bible contains a prophecy about an event that actually happened.
Conclusion: That book must have been written after the event

And how are ordinary believers supposed to react if they accept the "higher knowledge" of these current day sages?

The infancy narratives of Luke are fiction. Well thank you Catholic Church for teaching me lies my whole life about how Jesus was born. Our Lady didn't actually say the canticle we call the Magnificat according the New American Bible notes, mainly it seems to me because The Magnificat seems disconnected and derivative to the critic. The critic doesn't understand how much Scripture the average Jew and Jewess carried in their heads (magazines, novels and TV) The critic probably never heard of or discounts the tradition that said Mary was brought to the Temple to live at an early age (where she could have been steeped in the Scriptures that use almost the identical words she used about how the Lord lifts up the lowly and puts down the mighty). There is no appearance to the shepherds. They "debunk" one thing after another.

And there isn't a Santa Claus either.

At the same time they are somehow able to keep their faith in spite of their belief that the Scriptures are both false to the facts. Even though fictional, they believe the Scriptures are inspired by God.

And then get this: they are all for everyone reading the Bible. They deplore that Catholics just don't read the Bible enough, like the Protestants do. First they explain away the truth of the Bible and then they expect people to turn to it eagerly. What are they smoking?

One night I was at Our Lady of Peace and nice, tired, old Father Stout, who teaches at some college, was doing his usual prefatory remarks, introducing the current reading by telling the critics' positions: "This Gospel was written in CE 70 after the Gospel of XXX and includes 65.4% of that Gospel. XXXX Gospel was written for the XXX community . ..." Blah blah blah. I kind of cringing while he said all that. Then he stopped.

Based on no evidence at all except my own perception of things (why should I be any different from the modern theologians?) I believe that it dawned on Fr. Stout that people need to hear what God is saying in the Gospel, not what the bible critics are saying. My sense is corraborated by the fact that I've never heard him introduce the Gospel reading with a similar preface again.

Here is something else that gets me. They concentrate on the humanity of Jesus, and they believe that since He was human, they actually believe that they can know more than Jesus. They believe that more than 2000 years after Christ, who with His people was much closer to the events than we are, they proudly think they know more than Jesus!

One author said that Jesus like all the Jews of His time believed that Deutoronomy was written by Moses with a coda added describing Moses' death by Joshua. But modern Bible critics know better!

Following is a prayer from St. Augustine that I wish all the theologians and Bible critics and professors in all the Catholic colleges would memorize and hang over their computers as they type:

"Plea to God the Father (Confessions XI, II, 3-4)

. . ..
Circumcise my lips from all rashness and lying, both within and without. Let Your Scriptures be my chaste delights. Let me neither be deceived in my interpretation of them nor deceive others in teaching them. O Lord my God, Light of the blind and Strength of the weak, You Who are simultaneously the Light of those who see and the strength of the strong, listen to my soul and hear it crying from my depths.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Books I'm Reading: flat broke with children

Hays, Sharon. flat broke with children: women in the age of welfare reform. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hays is an assistant professor in Sociology and Women's Studies who visited welfare offices and the homes of welfare clients for three years, doing research on the effects of welfare reform. She is very sympathetic to the women who are being affected by the new welfare laws. The reformed welfare regulations limit how many years during her lifetime a woman can collect welfare for her family.

As part of the welfare reform, programs were put in place to encourage welfare mothers get married.

I think that teaching people that marriage is the place for sex and children is the right thing to do.
Most of the case workers interviewed agreed with what the government's trying to do. But the attitudes of many people have hardened against the idea.

I can hear the attitudes of my close relative who had three daughters fathered by three different men and whose youngest daughter has given her three grandchildren who were also fathered by three different men, two of whom are in jail and the other one dead by shooting. I said to her last year that children deserve to have a father, and she retorted, "They have a father." Biological fatherhood fills the requirement as far as she's concerned, I see.

I meant a married commited father who supports his family and lives in the home, and so I was rendered speechless with the hopelessness of standing up against her convinctions. To her and many others single parenting is just as good as any other kind of parenting. Don't you dare imply, as the Pope recently stated, that having same sex couples or single sex as parents cripples children, takes away from them a part of their human birthright!

A welfare caseworker is quoted as saying similar anti-marriage attitudes: "I think that a tremendous number of men are not worth it, even though they're fathering these children. I don't believe it would be good to even have these men in their homes, let alone marry them." She says these things enmeshed in the middle of a lot of moral rule-breaking, and it's hard to think your way out of a mess like the one we have now in society. We can't fix these problems "in media res," in the middle of things.

The first rule that should apply: Don't have sex outside of marriage. Get married only with God's blessing. For God's sake and your own sake and the sake of your children, don't sleep with someone you wouldn't marry. If there are no suitable men around, accept that. Be chaste. Respect yourself. Don't throw yourself into the arms of someone who doesn't care for you. Don't use someone you don't respect.

The author writes disapprovingly about how one woman, Sheila, "allowed herself to get pregnant." But she doesn't write disapprovingly about how Sheila allowed herself to have sex outside of marriage. The author describes part of the problem that "a substantial number of sexually active young men and women do not use birth control faithfully enough." p. 145. She does not see the root cause, that these problems would not exist if unmarried people simply were not sexually active.

I know, I know, anyone who reads this would pooh pooh what is currently believed to be a simplistic approach and most would say I'm preaching an ideal. I have a lot I can say in reply, but not now, not today.

To the author, another part of the problem is that the poor and working-class are much less likely to get an abortion "than financially privileged young women who find themselves pregnant before they are ready . . .."

No time is spent writing about how these women should not be having sex without being ready to have children--in the security of a loving marriage. She implies the values of a woman who won't have an abortion are "bad values" (p. 146).

The author seems to believe that the thing that would have prevented many of these women from having to seek welfare is conscientious use of birth control, and having what she seems to imply would be the self-interest or smarts to abort a child they aren't ready for.

THe summary at the end of the book offers some alternative solutions, including returning to the old way in which women were paid a check to stay home with their kids. Even Margaret Sanger supported allowing women to stay home and raise their families.

I remember Barbara Bush's statement to the press when welfare mothers were demonstrating for higher benefits on the capitol steps of the Texas governor's mansion where she and George on were living. Why don't they just go get a job? I was on welfare then, after my divorce, and I resented Barbara's complacency. She was being supported by her husband so she could care for her children.

Books I'm Reading: A Girl of the Limberlost

Stratton-Porter, Gene. A Girl of the Limberlost. Reprint published in Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984. Originally published in New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1909.

The jacket says this is the most popular of all the books by Hoosier authors. I had never read it before, and I loved and disliked it at the same time. The heroine is a girl who is beautiful and resourceful hardworking and brilliant, and the young lawyer who falls in love with her and woos her loves her for the things they have in common. What an attractive ideal that is.

I guess I am reacting against this book a liittle because it is pretty secular. God is referred to, but church (and the community of believers that make up the church) have no place in the lives described. The characters are moral, but only because they live in an era that would not tolerate their not being moral. It would be unthinkable to be premaritally intimate, for example.

The most appealing part for me is how Mrs. Comstock, the heroine's mother, finds God in nature. Here is how she describes God at first, "With a whole sky full of worlds on His hands to manage, I'm not believing that He has time to look down on ours . . .. "

On p. 245, she prays that God will send a moth her way of a certain kind. She needs to catch that kind of moth repay her daughter for hatefully killing a similar one that the daughter needed for a collection. "This way, O Lord! Make it come this way! Please! You know how I need it! O Lord, send it lower!"

She ends up catching the moth, which sprays her and attracts so many other moths she doesn't have a way to hold them--until a dangerous thug who hangs about the swamp appears. He suddenly turns into a Godsend because he helps her find and keep many more moths, because she fearlessly orders him to help her. And the swamp bum like her mother deeply loves her young daughter in a miraculously respectful way, so he works with her also just to help the girl.

Later, on p. 295, Mrs. Comstock has a spiritual awakening and soon after finds the rarest moth in America, a "Citheronia Reagalis, which had just emerged from its case . . .." She watches it develop its wings and breaks into a spontaneous sermon.
"Young people," she said solemnly, [to her daughter and the young lawyer who are hunting moths together with her] "if you're studying science and the elements has ever led you to feel that things just happen, kind of evolve by chance, as it were, this sight will be good for you. Maybe earth and air accumulate, but it takes the wisdom of the Almighty God to devise the wing of a moth. If there ever was a miracle, this whole process is one. . . .

"There never was a moment in my life," she said, "when I felt so in the Presence as I do now. I feel as if the Almighty was so real, and so near, that I could reach out and touch Him, as I could this wonderful work of His, if I dared. I feel like saying to Him, 'To the extent of my brain power I realize Your presence, and all it is in me to comprehend of Your power. Help me to learn, even this late, the lessons of Your wonderful creations. Help me to unshakle and expand my soul to the fullest realiztion of Your wonders. Almighty God, make me bigger, make me broader.'"

In a digression, it seems to me that in her beauty, popularity, resourcefulness, and intelligence, Elnora, the heroine, is like Margaret Sanger. (But fortunately I can't imagine Elnora having multiple adulterous affairs later in her life like Margaret Sanger, unless maybe she moved to the city and fell in with a crowd of free-thinking socialists and free-lovers . . .. Nah, not a nice girl like Elnora.

Books I'm Reading: Margaret Sanger: Her Life in Her Words, Continued

On page 280, Miriam Reed quotes Sanger as writing to a granddaughter "H. G. Wells said I was the greatest woman in the world." Reed goes on to agree "And so she was."

p. 282 concentrates on the Catholic Church as the enemy.
Throughout her life, Margaret Sanger waged a lonely and unacknowledged battle against conservative forces that would permanently subjugate women. The force most fiercely conservative in the West was and is that of the Vatican . . .. The steady assault by the Roman Catholic hierarchy on a woman's right to control her fertility and on Margaret Santer as the figurehead for that right has never lessened.

Her life didn't seem very lonely to me. She was popular, had several children and husbands, travelled and spoke and was welcomed into the homes of liberal intellectuals all over the world.

The author sees the fight against abortion as a Catholic ploy to keep women downtrodden. In the paragraphs that follow the above quote, she writes that "the need for freely available contraception and the dangers of overpopulation ... have been deliberately subsumed by the Vatican and its New Right subsidiaries into a sentimental and vicious debate over abortion."

Even though Sanger was generally against abortion and saw contraception as a way to prevent the "need" for abortion (while allowing that in some cases abortion would be justified), Reed is strongly pro-abortion: "Through an ongoing public education effore, an unaware and sentimental public has been adroitly manipulated, the rights of the mother and the symbiotic status of the unborn child ignored, and the developing fetus, aven as a collection of undifferentiated cells, has become a TV-perfect "baby"--this tactic to be recognized for what it is: a prelude to enforced motherhood. .. . . [T]he position set out by the Vatican in the Humanae Vitae of 1968, which is [sic] alterably opposed to contraception and abortion, increasingly permeates United States government policy." p. 281.

I cannot see any evidence of any support anywhere outside of official Church documents against contraception, and the author does not give any evidence for her claim.

p. 282: "How dare an arrogant state or pietistic religionists interfere with a woman's right to her life?"
Later on the page, the author claims that is a quirk of the feminine spirit that women choose to have smaller families. "The feminine spirit . . . demands that woman take control of their lives."

From my lived experience, I believe that sex without love, commitment, or children, divorces women from themselves and from their own deepest needs. Calvin Trillin wrote recently that contrary to Hugh Hefner's assertions that free love is good for women too, when Playboy bunnies were asked what is important to them, they put having a family among their top goals in life. Trillin wrote, free love is neither free nor love.

From the endnotes, p. 374: II. 42. Overpopulation and the Draper Request, note 12, Reed has the following quotation, which I believe still sums up the current official teachings of the Catholic Church: "On November 25, 1959, the Catholic bishops of the United States released this statement from Washington, D. C.: "United States Catholics believe that the promotion of artificial birth control is a morally, humanly, psychologicallly, and politically disastrous approach to the population problem. . . . THey will not support any public assistance, either at home or abroad, to promote artificial birth prevention, abortion, assistance, either at home or abroad, to promote artificial birth preventions, abortion, or sterilization, whether through direct aid or by means of international organizations." "Statement by Roman Catholic Bishops of U.S. on Birth Control," "Special to the New York Times," New York Times, November 26, 1959, p. 43. However, I do not think the bishops of today would have the courage to come out against contraception. We are being taught in the San Jose Diocese's leadership course that individual conscience trumps the Magisterium on artificial birth control and every other issue (except one's that the moral theologians have in their list of evils, like slavery or burning people at the stake).

Just want to not an important document that affect many people in my generation, called the Population Bomb, which is mentioned in Reed's book. It was written in the 50s by Hugh Moore.

And one more thing to record, the strikingly "modern" language used in a cartoon published in 1919 in Birth Control Review titled HER LEGAL STATUS. A woman struggles to move forward while bent to the ground under a roll of documents labeled LAWS CONTROLLING WOMEN'S BODIES, while a tiny policeman labeled THE STATE walks ahead of her with his upraised club.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Margaret Sanger: Her Life in Her Words

Reed, Miriam, Ph.D. Margaret Sanger: Her Life in Her Words. Fort Lee: Barricade Books, 2003.
In the Introduction to Margaret Sanger: Her Life in Her Words, we find out that Margaret Sanger was a redhead, a "charismatic woman," daughter of a free-thinking father--a point which I think is very significant. The photo on the cover of the book shows her as a lovely apparently loving mother holding a smiling baby about a year old.

When Sanger was a child, the sixth and middle child of a total of eleven children, her father read and discussed the ideas of the most progressive thinkers, the radicals, of his day, feeding his family large doses of, among others . . . William Ingersoll, the atheist and early advocate of artificial contraception and women's rights."

"Hearing Margaret pray for 'our daily bread,'"her father hectored her, "Is God a baker?" He was a talker and "an improvident provider" more fond of espousing his ideas than earning a living. He also kept his tubercular wife pregnant with a total of eighteen pregnancies and eleven live births. He kept on impregnating her; even though she was ill in bed for ten years, she was pregnant every one of those years.

Her yearly rate of conception leads me to surmise that she wasn't breast feeding because breast feeding usually naturally spaces births. Margaret concluded that her mother's misery was due to a lack of birth control, but it seems to me that it was just as much due to her blowhard layabout father's lack of self control.
Very early in my childhood I associated large families with poverty, toil, drunkenness, cruelty to children, quarreling, fighting, debts, jails, and the Catholic Church.-- From Sanger's memoir Girlhood
From knowing the large families that worship with me at traditional Latin Masses, I associate large families with virtues such being able to live happily with fewer luxuries, interchange of a lot of love between the children, better moral upbringing, well-behaved children who are eager learners -- and the Catholic Church.

Sanger was a beauty, but wanted to be appreciated for her brains. At least in this area, I have to agree and say, "Good for her." At the end of the memoir quoted in the biography, Sanger wrote that she turned her thoughts away from the stage because the application to drama school asked for the measurements of her calves! "I turned my desires to more serious studies where brains, not legs, were to count."

Like Dorothy Day, who was born eighteen years after Sanger, Sanger was a big believer in socialism for a time. Like Sanger, Day  studied and practiced nursing and was friends the playwright, Eugene O'Neil. Sanger was also friends with Upton Sinclair, who wrote The Jungle, which strongly influenced Day in her development of her own philosophy of how to help the poor.

When Sanger and her husband moved from the suburbs to NYC in 1911, and he stopped practicing architecture, she went to work as a nurse in the povery-ridden Lower East Side. Sanger attributed the hellish conditions of life among the poor to lack of birth control, and also to capitalism. Sanger cared a lot about the rights and health and happiness of poor women (but she spent her time hanging around with educated socialists and later with the upper crust of society, which might be a kind of Lady Bountiful way of life).

Sanger exhorted women to organize and to join the Socialist party, which alone out of all parties was working for the following:
  • Absolute equality between men and women.
  • Welfare (she didn't call it that) which would allow women to stay home with their children and thereby give the fathers some relief from having to support the family solely on the low wages that were available to them
  • Support and education of children at least until they were 16
  • The end of child labor
Even though Sanger was an habitual adulterer and often lied, the author refers to Sanger as having "a deep spiritual quality." The author also writes this about Sanger, that her demands for the benefit of women were specifically these: "Let women decide for herself if and when she is to have children. Let the coming of the children be spaced so that the mother has physical health, emotional strength, and sufficient funds to care for the child. Let every child be wanted."

In the moral theology class I'm taking, Father Bretzke says we should be able to summarize the main points of those who disagree with us on a matter under dispute. I would say the above are the main points that helped swayed the world and the world's churches away from prohibiting birth control towards fully advocating it in the 1930s.

Sanger's book refers to "the absurd state and federal Comstock laws, which since 1873 had made contraception advice and devices illegal and straightforward language pertaining to sexual matters legally obscene. ... Rushed through Congress in 'hot haste' just before its close in 1873, the federal Comstock law made it a crime to manufacture, sell, or send through the U.S. mails any obscene article, including any article that was intended to prevent conception, or any printed matter that offered information on preventing conception."

Margaret Sanger's advocacy of birth control was part of her socialism. in "What Every Girl Should Know" Sanger wrote, "Until capitalism is swept away, there is no hope ... [that girls will live a beautiful life ... that women can live in the family relation and have children without sacrificing every vestige of individual development. . . .Soon . . . women [will] rise in one big sisterhood to fight this capitalist society which compels a woman to serve as an implement for man's use."

I agree that nobody should be anybody's tool, but part of that freedom Sanger campaigned for, the way Sanger lived it, was something I can't agree with-- for a woman to be able to have sex with whomever she pleased. Sanger herself pursued sexual pleasure entirely for its own sake, and the author records the Sanger taught her quoted how to sexualize her entire body. Sanger was a close friend and some say lover of sex researcher, Havelock Ellis, and the promiscuous lover of many other partners. Ellis was a scientist who was also a proponent of sexuality for its own sake, divorced from reproduction.

Sanger wrote about sex education in How Six Little Children Were Told the Truth. She wasn't thoroughly a modern thinker, at least about some things. She warns the children against tampering" with "the generative organs, "which would lead to 'darkness, dullness of intellect, stupidity, physical and mental weakness.'" She described the development of marriage in terms that are part of our current mindset, telling the children that in the early days of human life, women chose their mates freely, but when men developed tools that they wanted to insure went to their own children, they bought women from the chief, and women lost their freedom of choice. [Don't know where she got her "facts" from.]

Here's an odd historical aside about a revered company now mostly associated with toothpaste:  Samuel Colgate from Colgate and Compay, "advertised the contraceptive benefits of Vaseline . . .."

Also like Dorothy Day, Sanger protested and was arrested for what she believed in. An article in the New York Call, April 20, 1913, called "With the Girls in Hazelton Jail, Sanger wrote about her arrest and jailing for walking in a picket line." Sanger was a better writer than Day was. In an unpublished article quoted in the book, Sanger uses such catchy phrases as "conscript motherhood" (for those forced to bear children they didn't want) and "their slavery, the bondage of unwilling maternity." She describes how for the first time in the world, in her newspaper "The Woman Rebel" were printed the words "birth control."

In her autobiography she told how she and her associates came up with the term "birth control."

“We tried population control, race control, and birth rate control. Then someone suggested, ‘Drop the rate.’ Birth control was the answer; we knew we had it – the baby was named.”

Even though Sanger wrote later that her goal was single-minded: to make birth control available to women, the book says that The Woman Rebel had a broader aim, no less than the end to marriage. Here is how the paper's goals were expressed in its first issue:
The fight was not only to be one against 'slavery through motherhood' and ignorance of the 'prevention of conception,' but with equal ferocity to attack prostitution, sexual prudery, marriage, middle-class morality, wage slavery--all things that enslaved women.
I am sad to say that for most of the so-called independent thinkers of our era, who all think alike, Margaret Sanger has won her battle. God help us all.

Here's another eerily modern-sounding quote from the June 1914 issue of Women Rebel. (The first sentence was echoed in the title of the 1971 book Our Bodies Our Selves, that went on to sell 4 million copies and be translate into thirty languages.)  
A woman's body belongs to herself alone. It is her body. It does not belong to the church. It does not belong to the United States of America or to any other government on the face of the earth. The first step toward getting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for any woman is her decision whether or not she shall become a mother. Enforced motherhood is the most complete denial of a woman's right to life and liberty.
Sanger self-published and mailed 100,000 copies of her pamphlet describing how to prevent pregnancy, arranging to have the mailings sent out after she was on a boat to Europe to flee the prosecution she would probably be facing for breaking the Comstock laws. In her pamphlet, she described among other methods, how to prevent a fertilized egg from "making its nest in the lining of the womb."

Quote from Sanger's diary when she was in London "Women & men must be a god unto themselves."

She made a lot of progress. "By late 1915, public interest in birth control was no longer confined to liberals and lefties."

She often railed like this against the Catholic Church:
As she [Julia Rublee] pointed out, women must recognize how "the stupid decrees of men; the church; a false tradition" have deliberately turned women into tools for the ends of patriarchal institutions. . . .. With marriage under its control, the church not only made the woman subject to her fertility, but it made her subject to her husband--or father or brother--along with subject to God and all the priests, more or less enforcing a sort of triple or quadruple jeopardy. Abundantly subjected, woman accepted her role as 'that of an incubator and little more.'"
The author of the biography also mentions several times how attracted Sanger was to Neitzschean philosophy, which, as described here, seems very similar to the modern moral theologian's attitude towards traditional morality:
Neitzschean philosophy . . . gloried in the courage to challenge the convictions of centuries and encouraged the individual to stick to one's convictions in the higher truth . . ..
Sanger started her own publication called The Women Rebel starting in March 1914, again like Dorothy Day, who started the Catholic Worker a few decades later, on May 1, 1933.  Sanger went on to split with "the radical community in the early 20s" and later downplayed her Socialist associations.

On January 26, 1932, The Nation published her article, "My Answer to the Pope on Birth Control." On August 11, Margaret Sanger was "banned from Rome." In 1933, Hilter burned books by Sanger, Ellis, and Freud.

In 1921, November 10 "Margaret Sanger organizes ABCL" (the American Birth Control League), which eventually became (on January 29, 1942) "Planned Parenthood Federation of America."

Sanger is said to have wished for a magic pill to separate sex from reproduction. She was instrumental in bringing that magic pill into being. In 1951, Sanger met Katherine McCormick (major funder of research specifically dedicated to developing the Pill), and Gregory Pincus who was McCormick's chosen researcher (with John Rock). 1955, Pincus announced the Pill. On May 11, 1960, the FDA approved it. Sanger got her wish.

Books I'm Reading: All Quiet on the Western Front

Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. New York: Ballantine Books Edition, 1982. Originally published in English: New York: Little, Brown and Company 1928.

This is a great book, whose flaw is that it leaves out the spiritual. It is striking to me that a book that was first published in 1928 would entirely omit God and even any reference to any saving or comforting thought of life after death. All is meaningless, brutish. The poor young men are in filth surrounded by death, under bombardment, expected to stand in line at the soldier's brothels, to take any pleasure wherever they find it. Athiesm has no comforts. What else but faith could have brought any meaning to their lives?

Remarque and later Tolkein, probably many other authors, portrayed people who have left home ( in their books the characters have left home for war). The characters have changed and can never quite fit in again afterwards, at least not ever in the same formerly comfortable way. Frodo in The Lord of the Rings is wounded by his struggle with the power of the ring, but he has a way out of his alienation. After a time at home in Hobbiton, Frodo departs with the last of the Elves from Middle Earth to a place of eternal life.

No comfort like that is available in Remarque's novel. Here is some of the prose Remarque wrote about that topic:

And even if these scenes of our youth were given back to us we would hardly know what to do. The tender, secret influence that passed from them into us could not rise again. We might be amongst them and move in them; we might remember and love them and be stirred by the sight of them. But it would be like gazing at the photograph of a dead comrade . . ..

To-day we would pass through the scenes of our youth like travellers. We are burnt up by hard facts; like tradesmen we understand distinctions, and like butchers, necessities. ...

We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial--I believe we are lost.

And the main character dies just at the end of the war. "Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come."

Books I'm Reading: The Jungle

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Penguin Classics, 1986. First published: New York: Doubleday, Page, 1906.

I may never get beyond the first chapter. I tried to read this book as a teenager and couldn't finish it then either. The hopelessness of the people's lives is too hard to swallow. And I know that Sinclair is painting that compelling picture to support his Socialist principles.

Even Though It's Winter, It's Always Spring Here; Why Do I Care About the Victorian's Wallpaper?

On the walk to church on Sunday, I saw narcissus blooming outside an old Victorian called the McKee Lundy house a few blocks away. Fruit trees are blossoming, recalling the valley's heritage. In Spring it was glorious here when all the apricot trees and other fruit trees were blooming. As all San Jose residents know, this valley was called by many "The Valley of Heart's Delight."

Both McKee and Lundy are original Santa Clara families. I went through the house, which is in on the register of historic places, during an open house before it was recently sold, and I saw that the former owners spent lots of money papering with expensive Victorian style wall paper. The paper they hung is true to the period, but at the same time gives the place a closed in feeling. I guess a closed-in feeling was part of the Victorian decorating scheme.

Because the original owners were simple farmers, the opulence of the "restoration" seems out of character, and the new owner must not like it either in light of what's happening now.

Today I talked with the new owner's ex husband who was coming down the driveway as I walked by. I told him that
I looked in the living room window one night as I drove by, and I noticed that the living room's wallpaper was gone. (I didn't tell him, but it shocked me.) The walls are now white and the room looks much bigger. I bet the former owners would die if they knew the wallpaper had been removed. The guy told me that his ex wife is going to do the same to the rest of the rooms as she has the time and money.

I like the new white walls better, but that's my era's style: early art gallery, with white walls and polished wood floors. Why do I care? I think I've been negatively impressed by how much admiration the San Jose Victorian Homeowner's Association members have for Bradbury and Bradbury wallpaper. I just checked the wallpaper company's website where their prices range from $50 to $100 a roll.

Guessing previously how much the old owners paid for the wallpaper gave me a shiver, when I saw that the new owner stripped it all down in one room and plans to go through the rest of the house as soon as she can get to it. Conspicuous consumption by the last owner is being followed by conspicious disregard of the value of what is being replaced by the current owner. One roll covers 30 square feet. I'd have to research how many rolls would be required for an average room, add the cost of the borders, to see if my guess of thousands per room is correct.

Meanwhile I live in my Victorian with the wallpaper the last owners put up in my bedroom. the office, and kitchen. It isn't reproduction Victorian style. I like it fine. If left to my own resources I would probably have white walls. Making a commitment to a color scheme and style of wallpaper would be beyond my ability. I just couldn't do it! I'm happy that the combined living and dining area still has white walls.

Contraception and the Average Catholic

Because of my total agreement with the Church's teachings against birth control, I always start wondering when I see Catholics who are very active in their parishes who only have one or two kids. Did they decide to disobey Church teachings and practice artificial contraception? Or was there some other reason I don't know about that they couldn't have kids?  Maybe they practiced Natural Family Planning? I know many couples who practiced NFP successfully and had exactly the number of children they wanted to have. There really is no way to know, and I try not to wonder, because ultimately it is none of my business.

But I do know other Catholics, even members of my family, who limit their family size using condoms or other birth control methods.

Not my mother and father though. My mother and father tried the old rhythm method. I was born before they started using rhythm. When my middle sister, Martha, was born 11 months and a half after me, my mother was told by her doctor not to have another child. When they tried to abstain according to the old rhythm method, my mother quoted my dad as saying blithely, "Oh just this once won't hurt." After I don't know how many times of my father using that line, my mother got pregnant with a third child. My father was killed in the line of duty as a fireman in December a month before the baby was due in January of 1948, 16 months after Martha.

My mother described her state at that last month after Daddy died, with two little girls (2 and 1 year old), having recently lost her husband, and not knowing whether she was going to die when the third child was born the next month. But doctors not being gods or prophets, sometimes not even very good guessers, my mother didn't die. She named her third daughter, Joe-anne Bernadette after my father Joseph Bernard.

She told the story sweetly to us over the years. She said that Joe-anne and daddy passed each other, him on his way up to heaven, Joe-anne on her way down. When we got older she told us that people used to tell her she shouldn't have had so many kids. Even in those days in the late 40s, people were limiting how many children they had so they could afford more things, like new cars or other goods that come with a higher standard of living. She used to quote the famous Roman matron who referred to her children as her jewels. I think she was heroic that way.

Along the same line, I was surprised to read once (maybe in the book The Irish in America) that in spite of the high percentage of Irish who are practicing Catholics, the first generation of Irish immigrants dropped from their parents' average of 8 or 10 children to a immigrant's average of 4 children, and by the next generation the average Catholic family size dropped to 2. This was even before contraceptives besides lambskin condoms were widely available. End of digression, at least for the time being.

Strictly speaking, the Church teaches that even with NFP, a couple should undertake to limit family size only for grave reasons.

What I Learned from a Jesuit Moral Theologian

I think I now understand better,  from my firsthand experience with a moral theologian from a Catholic University, at least part of the reason why the teaching against artificial contraception is disobeyed: Many if not all priests are trained to believe that contraception is a matter of individual conscience, instead of as Pope Pius VI wrote, a grave moral evil.

Fr. James Bretzke, S.J., S.T.D., is the "moral" theologian (I can't help myself, I always put "moral" in quotes when I describe him) who is teaching our current session at the San Jose Institute for Leadership in Ministry, and he writes and preaches that a person's conscience has a higher weight than the teachings of the Magisterium and the Pope. He teaches lay leaders and seminarians and college students here and in other countries, including the Philippines and Korea.
Fr. James Bretzke, S.J., S.T.D. Professor of Moral Theology
The teachers at the ILM all seem to share the same attitude, that we don't have to listen to those old repressed celibate men in Rome who have no right to tell Catholics what they are allowed to do in the privacy of their bedrooms. This claim makes me laugh at its lack of logic, and I remember a blog post by a recent convert who heard a priest repeat that same brainless idea. She said that made her wonder if the priest would think that committing a murder or keeping a slave or sexually abusing a child would be all right, as long as she did it in her bedroom. Good question!

Fr. Bretzke strongly implies that it is immoral to not use contraception in a case when the parents do not feel ready to have more children--for any reason. In contrast to what Bretzke is teaching us, I believe that my mother and my father did exactly the right thing. Death is not the worse thing for a Christian. Committing evil acts that lead a person to hell are the worse thing.

Since all churches until 1930 or so taught that contraception is a grave moral evil, the popes who have since then affirmed the traditional teaching aren't making anything up. Bretzke tries to convince his students that to follow the Church's moral teachings above their own consciences is idolatry, because of the twist he puts on the primacy of conscience.

When I tried to debate him (when will I ever learn) he told me I should only follow what the Pope teaches as if it comes from God if I could be sure that all things that Popes have taught through the centuries were free from error. I trust His Holiness Pope John Paul II (because of his holiness and his erudition combined) more than Father James Bretzke or my own conscience for that matter. Bretzke uses as examples of areas where conscience is greater than Church teachings: contraception, ordination of women, and other issues.

Fr. Bretzke told us that when he teaches seminarians about confession, he tells them: There are only three people in the confessional, you, God, and the penitent. Not the Pope. Not Cardinal Ratzinger. He instructs them that the individual should be taught to follow his or her conscience.

He makes an exception to the primacy of conscience for acts that he disapproves of, such as slavery. [This I believe is the flaw in his argument to which he is blind, because he is deciding on his own that contraception isn't evil, and that slavery is. ]

I truly believe that the Holy Spirit prevented the Church from capitulating on the contraception issue, even though many priests, bishops, and cardinals lobbied to have the teaching changed. The weight of public opinion and all the experts were against Pope Paul VI.

Father Bretzke writes that his approach is a personalist one, better than the old "manualist" or "physicalist" approaches.

I reminded Fr. Bretzke that Pope John Paul II had worked out a personalist defense of the Church's teachings about conjugal love when he was a pastor, and that the Pope continued to develop this philosophy. The Pope taught his personalist "theology of the body" at his weekly audiences for years, which have been collected into a book called (I think) Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. And Christopher West, a layman who graduated from the Pope's Institute for Marriage and the Family teaches in laypeople's terms what the Pope has taught.

I told Fr. Bretzke my theory that the Holy Spirit had to be credited with Karol Wotyla's imput to Paul VI's decision making. Fr. Bretzke said that the current pope did not attend many of the sessions (because of the communists in Poland at the time prevented him from traveling) but I quoted Woodward and Bernstein's book on the Pope, which claimed that the input from Wotyla strongly affected the outcome of Paul VI's deliberations.

One of the lobbies that Pope Paul VI had to counter was the march on Rome by a bunch of pro-contraception clerics from American who were armed with the good news of a so-called "natural" method of birth prevention, the Pill. According to a New Yorker article a few years ago that I've saved somewhere, the pill's inventor John Rock was a Catholic, and many Catholics who were pro-contraception hung their hopes on being able to convince the Pope that the Catholic Church should accept this "natural" method of controlling fertility. After Humanae Vitae was published, Rock left the Church, I'm guessing because it didn't conform to his superior knowledge, and things didn't go his way.

The experts didn't know how the pill worked, but that didn't stop them from promoting it. It is currently known that the pill does not always suppress ovulation. Eggs that get released will get fertilized in some unknown number of cases. The pill then prevents the fertilized egg from implanting on the wall of the uterus. To those of us who believe that life begins at conception, the pill is abortion-producing (an abortifacient).

If the Holy Spirit had not led the Church in the person of Pope Paul VI and by means of the encyclical Humanae Vitae to hold the line against the Pill, we would now be in the position of supporting a means of birth regulation that is also abortion-producing. The health consequences, including cancer, were not known at the time either. Thank you Holy Spirit for keeping the so-called weak pope on the right track!

In his book, A Morally Complex World: Engaging Contemporary Moral Theology, that was our class textbook, Bretzke quotes just enough from the writings of Pope John Paul II to perhaps give the idea that the pope would agree wholely with his arguments. Bretzke also focuses strongly on some wording in a document from the Church's second Vatican council and on some things St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about conscience, while building his invalid non-doctrinal case that the individual MUST follow his or her conscience even when it is contradicted by the teachings of the Church.

He leaves out the requirement that a person must follow his conscience when his conscience is properly informed by Church teachings!  If a person forms his conscience by reading Kinsey's works that suggested that no harm comes to children who are sexually abused, should that person be told to follow his conscience?

Can't believe that the Pope would agree with that! Fr. Bretzke specifically uses examples of common things Catholics use their consciences to disobey the Magisterium about, and gives examples where he believes the silly benighted people who believe what the Church teaches are guilty of idolatry!
Following is from email interchanged between me and another ILM student on this topic:

From: Roseanne Sullivan []
Sent: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 12:20 PM

I am very upset with the moral theology text. In one overview chapter he manages to undermine three of the Church's teachings: that life begins at conception, that women cannot be ordained deacons or priests, and that artificial contraception is wrong. He uses these issues in examples in such a way as to belittle the teachings.

Our instructors claim to be practicing Catholics but they also support anti-Catholic positions.

Bah, humbug!
Update March 15, 2016

Fr. Bretzke is now a Full Professor of Moral Theology at Boston College School of Theology & Ministry.

Below are some other things I've written about Fr. Bretzke's teachings.

No Recipe for Morality Says Bay Area Jesuit

Redefining Morality and the True Teachings of Vatican II  (My Amazon review of Fr. Bretzke's book, March 25, 2005)
In this book Fr. Bretzke teaches complex methods for evaluating the morality of actions - while Catholics who follow traditional teachings would call the same actions "sins" without Bretzke's methods. Putting individual conscience above Church teachings identifies Fr. Bretzke with a breed of theologians who believe the Vatican II Council licensed them to redefine what the Church teaches and to claim that traditional Catholic morality is wrong. People who think the way Fr. Bretzke does never bother to explain why they stay in a Church they believe was so misguided for so long, or how they were granted the grace to understand more than the great saints that came before them.

Fr. Bretzke impugns the maturity of people who base their values on what the Magisterium teaches, using statements like the following: "To sit back and wait for a clear-cut response from any outside moral authority, even if it be the Pope, would result in a sort of moral infantilism."

Fr. Bretzke does not credit the writings of others who defend the Church's traditional teachings, prominently Pope John Paul II.

The following quote from the Pope's encyclical on moral theology seems to apply to theologians like him.
" Certain currents of modern thought ... exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. . . [T]he traditional doctrine ... is rejected; certain of the Church's moral teachings are found simply unacceptable; and the Magisterium itself is considered capable of intervening in matters of morality only in order to `exhort consciences' and to `propose values,' in the light of which each individual will independently make his or her decisions and life choices."
You can read on Amazon the reply to my review from The Old Book Worm. Here is my reply to his reply.
Dear Mr. Old Book Worm, Your criticisms of me are way off base.

In 2004, I took a course from Fr. Bretzke at the San Jose Institute of Leadership in Ministry in which this book was the textbook. And I can assure you that I read it, more than once.  Have you read it?

I don't respect your ad hominem attacks against me at all.  It is a red herring for you to bring up the issues about sexual abuse.  Bretzke's approach to morality gives all the freedom to decide about the rightness or wrongness of things to the individual's conscience. This is not Catholic doctrine, never has been.

I'm sure that many child abusers were relying on their own consciences. Fr. Bretzke would not approve of what they did (and neither would I), but he cannot tell you why, according to his lights.  I'll tell you though, Fr. Bretzke supports people using their own consciences to decide whether a Church teaching is right or wrong--except, and this is a big exception that shows the flaw in what he teaches--he does not support the rights of individual conscience when a person's conscience tells him to do something Fr. Bretzke feels in his conscience is wrong. So now Fr. Bretzke has set himself up as higher than the Magisterium of the Church.

Obviously the way Fr. Bretzke uses the whole primacy of conscience argument is just a rationalization for encouraging people to do things that are contrary to official Church teaching, such as use contraception or engage in homosexual acts. (I read his course notes from when he was teaching at University of San Francisco where he tried to debunk Scriptural passages about the evils of homosexual acts and worked to undermine Church teachings on that matter too.)

Just because you believe that a vast majority of "moral" theologians disagree with the Church's prohibition against artificial contraception, that doesn't mean they are not seriously in error. I've been on both sides of this issue, and I returned to that Catholic Church because I saw how much harm comes to those who disobey Her teachings.

You might do worse than close your own far too open mind.  

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Nick and Tony's Funerals

I sang with the choir yesterday a capella for Nick Ferraro's funeral. Nick was in his mid 80s. He had a big stroke about a month ago. His wife took him home from the hospital for a while. "We'll see how it goes," she said when she told me about it. Then he got worse and had to go back to the hospital again, where he died.

The Church was packed. About 8 or 9 priests who were friends of the family officiated. Theresa, up in the choir loft with me, told me she recognized Italians from all over the valley, many of whom used to live in this formerly predominantly Italian neighborhood. Afterwards, the Church hall was packed for the funeral lunch. A couple came in while I was passing the door on the way to the bathroom. The decibel level of everyone talking at once was very high. There are so many people!" the woman said.

Fr. Antonio in his homily that Nick never said "No" when the Church or the community needed him to do something. Fr. Tony liked Nick because he didn't talk a lot. He said he was a silent good man. I liked it that he kept calling him, "Our brother, Nick." Father said that Nick wasn't important, but he was important to us.

One of Nick and Mae's sons spoke after the Mass. Nick and Mary (Mae) first met when she was 14 and Nick was 17. The son said that Nick would work for Mae's father picking watercress and greens, anything to be near Mae. I think they got the watercress out of Coyote Creek. I've cleaned fresh picked watercress when I was a cook for a rich family in Minnesota for a summer, so I know a little about watercress. Cleaning it is fussy work. Picking it must be fussy too.

Nick and Mae knew each other for 70 years, and they were married for 65.

They had two sons. The son that gave the eulogy said, "We weren't rich. [But] We always had food." He described a rich life with his father hunting in the Warm Springs district for ducks and for mushrooms. Earlier in his life Nick played and coached baseball, supported the family as a painting contractor. The son described big get-togethers with lots of food with other big Italian families, getting together in Carmel to get abalone, sea urchins. He ended with, "My dad and my mother were rich. In love." And then he broke up.

I am not the world's policeman, but I do worry about people's souls. For example, I worry about Tony, a man who is being buried today, who was divorced and going with a divorced woman, named Ruby. Their relationship were fully accepted by their Catholic friends. I think the sexual revolution must have made its impact on the attitudes of these Catholics in their 70s and 80s.

I think that because one time I asked them if there would be any scandal if I brought a male roomer into my house. Go for it, they said. The implication I got from the remarks of the ladies at Rollo's doughnuts that day was that any kind of relationship would be fine.

In Catholic Church teachings, sex outside of marriage when one of the partners has been previously married is adultery. And adultery is always wrong. So as they prepare to bury Tony in a few hours, I pray for his soul. As I said, I am not his judge. I fear God though, and fear for those who don't respect God's laws.

I wasn't totally sure of the exact nature of their relationship because their group of friends called Tony "Ruby's friend." At breakfast at Cozy restaurant on the Alameda, last Sunday, after Tony died, Yvonne told me how much Tony loved Ruby and how he took her to Hawaii. I told Ruby that I'd heard she had taken Tony home from the hospital to care for him until he died, that it was very good and brave of her. Ruby said, "I loved him. He was my life."

Love is beautiful, but the love of another human being shouldn't take precedence over the love of God. That is idolatry. I'm not saying that's what Ruby was doing . . ..

I know that when I was with George, when I was away from him I used to think his name like a mantra: "George, George, George."

Just As I always Figured

“The Men Who Killed Kennedy: The Guilty Men” episode is being talked about on the web. For years, that was my theory. Long before anybody ever suggested such a thing, I thought Lyndon Johnson arranged to have Kennedy killed. My reasons (such as they are) were:

+ Kennedy got shot in Texas, Johnson's home state.

+ Johnson did not want to be vice president; he wanted to be president.

+ Because Kennedy had won the nomination and the presidency, it must have looked to highly ambitious Johnson
that his chances for achieving his own political goals were about slim to none.

+ I had the impression that Johnson was treated like a hick and a dolt by the good-looking charismatic
Kennedys, and that's got to rankle a proud man like Johnson.

+ One of the reports I've read remarked on how Johnson surprisingly transferred to another car at the
last minute, when he should have been riding with the Kennedys. And I recall that there was some attempt
to get the Texan John Connelly out of the car too, even though it failed.

Now the above list does not constitute proof by any mean. My theory is mostly based on the fact that no one else in the world stood to benefit as much as Johnson did. And from reading biographies about him, I conclude that he had the ruthlessness to do anything that would further his ambitions.

But what do I know?

I would like to get a hold of the video of "The Guilty Men" or see a re-run if it ever comes out. And if I have a chance I might try to read the book on which it's based.