Catholics and the Wall

I’m seeing folks on Twitter who claim to be practicing Catholics, quoting the Hebrew scripture about admirable blokes who built “fortified cities,” as evidence that Catholics shouldn’t think it wrong to build Trump’s wall.

You can cherry-pick Bible verses in that fashion to support just about anything, including self-mutilation; war crimes; rape, as long as the rapist is no fly-by-nighter but is sporting enough to put a ring on his victim afterwards (because that’s what every gal wants); and abortion (something my Jeremiah-quoting friend will ignore).

The verse from Jeremiah only suggests, if you accept each verse as containing moral authority—something I’ll bet the “fortified city” fan does not do—that a wall, in itself, is not intrinsically evil. This is a straw man. I am aware of no one who has claimed that building a wall is immoral, unless you count Robert Frost saying “something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.”

But building *this* wall is, above all, stupid.

Most experts in drug trafficking have said a wall on the border with Mexico will do nothing to reduce the drug trade. Most experts in immigration have said the wall will do little to nothing to reduce illegal immigration, since a large part of illegal immigration is due to people who fly legally into the country and overstay their visas.

As I understand it, it’s not a sin in traditional Catholic moral theology just to be stupid, per se. But willfully ignoring experts on this subject or on any subject, such as willfully ignoring scientists who study climate change, is willfully embracing ignorance and that, as I understand it, is sinful.

There is the added sin of our motives in building this wall. If the wall is stupid and accomplishes nothing, why do its proponents want it so badly?

They may put various glosses on it, but at bottom they want it a) because they are afraid of poor, brown people who speak a different language; b) because they feel entitled to the benefits they have as Americans (such as they are) and don’t want to share them with people who haven’t “earned” them; c) they feel smugly virtuous about being a “legal” resident, the descendant of “legal” immigrants.

To point c) it is impossible to resist observing that a) many people making this claim don’t actually know the immigration status of their ancestors; b) from the point of view of Native Americans, all descendants of Europeans could be said to be here illegally; c) for our European ancestors it was EASIER to immigrate legally, and if it had not been, and they were desperate enough to get here, they would have done it anyway, because that’s what desperate people do.

And if Trump’s wall has any effect at all on reducing immigration, it will be on the most desperate of immigrants: those who can’t afford a plane ticket and are willing to leave everything to risk rape, abuse, and various horrible forms of death to walk here or be smuggled here.

And the resources used to build the wall will be cut from social programs that benefit poorest Americans; and the answering attitude in many wall supporters is that somehow these folks deserve to be poor. More smugness. More entitlement. More blindness to advantages the wall supporters were born with and did nothing to deserve.

Therefore: regardless of what some righteous dude in the book of Jeremiah had in mind when he fortified his city, if you are a Catholic or anyone who claims to follow Christ, supporting Trump’s wall is sinful. It is a willful embrace of ignorance, motivated by at worst racism and xenophobia, and at best an atrocious humility deficit.



Thoughts on the March for Life, from a former participant

To the nasties on Twitter, and the pro-lifers I know:

I don’t like abortion.

I think it’s gross, and sad, and should be avoided if at all possible.

So don’t bother telling me about when the embryonic heart starts to beat, the (dubious) fetal pain research, etc.

I’ve been pregnant five times. I always looked forward to the first time the doctor would listen for a heartbeat.

In my fourth pregnancy, when I went in for that visit at about 12 weeks, they listened and didn’t hear one. It was devastating, even though I hadn’t really wanted to be pregnant at that time. (I was a “good”-ish Catholic at that time, so none of my pregnancies were actually planned.)

So don’t tell me I don’t value unborn life.

Leaving aside cases of rape and risk to maternal health for now: I think it’s preferable to manage your life in such a way that you don’t get pregnant in a situation where it would be too difficult for you to have a baby. I’m not very comfortable with the “shout your abortion” school of pro-choice rhetoric. (So people on the pro-choice side often don’t like me that much either.)

That being said, I realize many people aren’t capable of managing their lives in that way, and American culture – by censoring sex education and making roadblocks to affordable contraception in the name of morality – doesn’t make it easy for anyone.

I don’t approve of adultery either, and I think in most cases it should be avoided. I can say from personal experience that for the “innocent” spouse, it’s pretty damn painful. That doesn’t mean I think there should be laws against it. (There probably still are in some states, but I don’t think they’re a good idea.)

Focusing your time and energy on making laws against abortion, saying how much you care about the unborn when there are born people who live every day in conscious suffering, is just unseemly. I say that not without sympathy – as someone who used to focus some time and energy on that cause.

It made me look like an asshole. It makes you look like an asshole. Especially if you are the kind of person who also works to keep women from getting contraception and the morning-after pill – if you aren’t content to make people aware of beating embryonic hearts – something I do sympathize with and think important – but you expect everyone to share, and make laws enshrining, your particular religion’s view that every fertilized egg is imbued with a soul.

If you spend your time making our society more hospitable to life, and you work to help women get the access to birth control that women in many European countries take for granted, you will have a lot fewer abortions to worry about.

Yes, there will be some that still happen. Pregnancy is the beginning of a life. It is also an event happening in a woman’s body. The only way to make sure she doesn’t react negatively to that event is to preemptively interfere in her life. To watch her. To make her a prisoner. To make every woman of reproductive age a potential incubator first and an autonomous human being second.

It would be a horrific thing for a government to do, and an expensive thing for a government to do  – again, an unseemly expense when many of you (not all, I know) are saying government can’t afford to ensure that kids have good schools and clean drinking water.

I’ve come to believe the only correct societal approach to abortion is to give women (and men) access to education and contraception, do the best you can to make a better world for women to bring babies into – and then sit back and TRUST WOMEN.

Some of these women may make decisions that you or I might consider immoral. But they should not be illegal. If that bothers you, ask yourself:  Why does it bother you so much that some embryos and fetuses will die when – judging from the response, on the very day of the “March for Life” and  on Holocaust Remembrance Day, of most “pro-life Christians” to the Trump/Bannon ban on refugees – you’re quite willing to tolerate any amount of this?


Only Ignorance

From Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell. This chapter has been in my mind these past few days.  Black Beauty, the horse who is the narrator of the novel, is severely ill due to unintentional mistreatment by a well-meaning stableboy, and he overhears the following conversation between his groom, John, and another worker.

“Well, John, thank you. I knew you did not wish to be too hard, and I am glad you see it was only ignorance.”

John’s voice almost startled me as he answered:

“Only ignorance! only ignorance! how can you talk about only ignorance?
Don’t you know that it is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness?
— and which does the most mischief heaven only knows.

“If people can say,`Oh! I did not know, I did not mean any harm,’ they think it is all right. I suppose Martha Mulwash did not mean to kill that baby when she dosed it with Dalby and soothing syrups; but she did kill it, and was tried for manslaughter.”

“And serve her right, too,” said Tom. “A woman should not undertake to nurse a tender little child without knowing what is good and what is bad for it.”

“Bill Starkey,” continued John, “did not mean to frighten his brother into fits when he dressed up like a ghost and ran after him in the moonlight; but he did; and that bright, handsome little fellow, that might have been the pride of any mother’s heart is just no better than an idiot, and never will be, if he lives to be eighty years old.

You were a good deal cut up yourself, Tom, two weeks ago, when those young ladies left your hothouse door open, with a frosty east wind blowing right in; you said it killed a good many of your plants.”

“A good many!” said Tom; “there was not one of the tender cuttings that was not nipped off. I shall have to strike all over again, and the worst of it is that I don’t know where to go to get fresh ones. I was nearly mad when I came in and saw what was done.”

“And yet,” said John, “I am sure the young ladies did not mean it; it was only ignorance.”

I heard no more of this conversation, for the medicine did well and sent me to sleep, and in the morning I felt much better; but I often thought of John’s words when I came to know more of the world.

Michael Moore, the Prophet (dammit); and “Pro-life is Pro-Trump”*

OK, here’s the famous Michael Moore article that you may have already read. I knew it was out there, knew it was Moore’s position, but I avoided it. I didn’t want to believe it.

Trump Will Win

I follow Propane Jane (@docrocktex) on Twitter, and she believed that the Obama coalition of people of color and other marginalized groups would save us from the orange monster. I believed her because I wanted to, because believing the alternative was too painful.

Now I have to admit Moore’s a prophet. Or at least, knows something about old white dudes.

I do have to disagree with him on one thing, though, or at least expand on it: where he says a lot of people don’t vote for that orange guy because they like his racism or bigotry, they just do it “because they can.”

The part about doing it “because they can” may be the primary reason they are voting for him, but in order to not feel ashamed of voting for him for that reason, and let that nasty/playful instinct take over, they have to not care about the racism and bigotry.

Which means they have to some degree share it – or at the very least, lack empathy for anyone outside their group.

That’s why I’m having trouble feeling any warm fuzzies for the Orangemen who are my neighbors in this charming rural Pennsylvania town.

And then there are the true religious zealots who were saying “pro-life is pro-Trump.”

Hitler was against abortion too – for “Aryan” women. “Aryan” women were supposed to do their part to replenish the master race.

Would you have said “pro-life is pro-Hitler”?

At what point, if ever, do you value some issue above abortion?

The violence against the already-born, if you care about it, started long ago. To take as example just the most egregious incident from the early days of your candidate’s campaign: Followers of your now President-elect beat and urinated on a homeless man. Your candidate did nothing to deplore their actions. In fact, your candidate, his running mate, and his mouthpieces deplored that your candidate’s opponent used the word “deplorable” to describe such actions. Your candidate said his followers were (admirably, it was implied) “passionate.”

So, obviously that’s not the cutoff. What is?

How big do the camps have to get?

*slogan adopted by the National Right to Life Committee

God Is Not In Control

God is NOT in control.

I still believe in God. I think. At least, I believe in the teaching of Jesus, which is part of the reason my heart is crushed at the results of yesterday’s election.

If God were in control, he’d be as much a monster as the orange one my country elected yesterday. If I thought God was someone smugly pulling the strings while horrible things happen, I would hate him.

Was God in control during the Holocaust? Was he in control when women in the Sudan were raped and saw their children brutally murdered? Or a million other human-induced calamities throughout history?

The only people who can say “God is in control” are people who have lived relatively comfortable lives to begin with. What they mean is that nothing much is going to change, for them.

I’m straight and white and have a decent job and probably nothing much is going to change for me, unless Trump tanks the economy, as economists have predicted.

But I’m not going to kid myself and say it’s because “God is in control.” God didn’t saddle us with this orange monster. God has no “great plan” for him. A large number of us (not the majority) for our own selfish reasons, chose this evil, stupid man, just as a large number of Germans (not the majority) chose Hitler. We will have to live with the consequences of our obsession with purity in other people’s sex lives, of our fear of gays and immigrants and anything different, of our selfishness, of our complacency, our feeling that we “worked hard & played by the rules” to get the privileges our families helped us to get. We will have to live with what happened because we couldn’t vote for someone who wouldn’t enshrine our Church’s beliefs about sexual morality into law.

(Interesting thing about that phrase: what happens if you don’t work hard and never play by the rules? As long as you’re a white man and can convince people you have money, you can get elected president! )

If good comes out of this evil, it will be because we make it happen. Because we work twice as hard to get back rights that will be taken away. Because we work to get back the health care that will be taken away from people who can’t afford it – and I don’t even blame The Orange One for this; it’s probably not an idea he would’ve bothered to come up with on his own. Other monsters, monsters in Congress who claim to be “Christian,” have worked hard to make that happen so that their own pockets can continue to be lined by the Koch brothers and private insurance companies. And because they and apparently a huge number of their constituents are activated by that Americhristian, nothing-to-do-with-Jesus ethic that basic human needs should be satisfied only if you are “deserving.”

And, sadly, it may only happen  when some of the comfortable people who supported the orange monster begin to suffer – when they  feel the effects of his idiocy. And that won’t happen until the suffering of those groups who opposed him is at least trebled:both because the pseudo-Christians in Congress have it in for them, and because Trump likes to punish his enemies. Yes, he’s that kind of guy, and those who voted for him, or abstained from voting for the one person in a position to defeat him, knew it.

I hope there is a God. But if there is, the best we can hope for is that he will help us in this fight. He’s not “in control.” I refuse to believe that – because that would make him an asshole.

A Catholic Defense of Legal Abortion

I just finished reading a National Catholic Reporter article. It was from August 2016, but the content of such articles hasn’t really changed since 1973. The article lamented that “abortion advocates” – a convenient shorthand but a misleading characterization, like “pro-life” – are sadly unaffected by “settled science” about the beginnings of human life.

The article missed the point. Abortion politics isn’t about science. It isn’t even about morality. It’s about the laws of our country, which is a secular democracy.

Yes, an early embryo is technically human. I believe pro-choice polemicists made a terrible mistake, back in the 70s, of trying to brush aside this fact. It’s not something we should run from or trivialize. But Catholics do not have the right to insist that other people in this secular democracy accept the Catholic concept of ensoulment: that God ensouls an embryo at conception, therefore unborn life has the same value as born life.

And Catholics living in society, even a Catholic society, do not really accord unborn life the exact same value and give it the same treatment as life later in pregnancy or born life. If we really want society to treat a zygote the same way we treat a baby, should we have funerals for zygotes? Should we baptize them? Your natural instinct is going to tell you that would be silly. Why is that? And if that would be silly, what sense does it make to ban or bar funding from, as US bishops wanted to do, the destruction – even the barest theoretical possibility of destruction – of zygotes?*

Is it practical to spend the country’s resources hunting down and punishing women – and that’s what it would be about, punishing women; it is already happening in this country; see the cases of Purvi Patel and Bei Bei Shuai in Indiana (who was jailed under Mike Pence’s regime under a “feticide” law for attempting suicide while pregnant and depressed) – for doing something that a woman desperate enough is probably going to do anyway, legal or not?** And when there are born, conscious humans who are being gunned down in our streets and left to lie because of their race? Super-rich stealing money from the poor by evading taxes; denying climate change so they can add to their profits? Shouldn’t the law focus on injustices to the born – thus helping women choose life by making life better, instead of using an iron hand to force that choice?

And do you really think Jesus would be in favor of punishing a woman for abortion? Or, for that matter, harassing her as she enters a clinic? Both of these things are kicking a person when she’s already down – which doesn’t seem like Jesus’s kind of thing, at all.

But let’s talk about actually stopping abortion, which is what pro-life people believe they want to do.

It’s amply documented that countries with the lowest numbers of abortions are Western European countries that have comprehensive programs of early sex education and easily accessible birth control. If you oppose those things, you are only concerned with the purity of this country’s laws – making them reflect Catholic doctrine – you’re not concerned with their actual result.

–An argument made by our bishops: “Catholics can’t allow their money to go anywhere near paying for a pill that might (only if taken at exactly the right time to do so) cause destruction of a zygote. It doesn’t matter if the struggle over this issue leads to millions of people going without health care. (And doesn’t matter if our vehement denunciations of President Obama over this issue encourage Catholics to support a bigoted megalomaniac who parrots the correct words about abortion.)”

–“Oh, I couldn’t support sex ed that mentions contraception. Or low-cost access to birth control. That would be a sin! Everybody just needs to believe in the Church’s position on sex and marriage and natural family planning, and then people will be happy with their families and no one will have abortions.” Begging your pardon, and speaking as someone who tried NFP*** – In what universe is that going to happen?

If you take positions like these, you’ve admitted that you’re fine with high numbers of abortions continuing in this country till the end of this country or the end of time. So how is your opposition to abortion about saving lives? It’s about keeping your own conscience spuriously free from the taint of living in the real world. But that’s an illusion.

Just to give you one example: Each time a Republican in recent years has taken the Presidency, he has routinely as one of his first acts in office defunded the United Nations Population Fund, as a sop to pro-life Catholics and others on the religious right, to keep their tax dollars from funding contraception and abortion. (Each time a Democrat has taken the office, he has routinely restored funding.)

What the advocates of defunding don’t tell you that the United Nations Population Fund does not just help provide access to contraception and abortion. The UNPF provides access to prenatal and obstetric care: pregnancy, childbirth and resulting complications are the second biggest killer of women and girls of reproductive age worldwide – after HIV/AIDS, not an unrelated subject. The UNPF helps women who suffer from obstetric fistula, a common condition in the developing world, caused by unsafe childbirth, that can even result in the victim being shunned by society because of the odor associated with the condition. Where the UNPF cannot operate, more women and babies die – painfully.

If we passively contribute to the suffering and death of these women and children, all because the UNPF doesn’t share our views of sexual morality, should we congratulate ourselves that at least we kept our hands clean from the sin of abortion?

It’s long past time the Catholic hierarchy followed the more merciful instincts of most of its flock. Like the Church’s opposition to adultery or divorce, its opposition to abortion does not need to be – should not be – codified into secular law. The Church’s continued fight to make abortion illegal is not about saving lives. It’s about preserving power, and it is a losing battle.




*We might also ask why the Church doesn’t demand the closure of fertility clinics, which destroy embryos on a large scale, or make a fuss about insurance plans possibly funding IVF the way it does about the morning-after pill.  After all, IVF almost certainly destroys embryos every time it happens; the morning-after pill only destroys a zygote if it is taken too late to prevent ovulation or conception. The possible answer to the question is troubling, and I hope to come back to it.

**Officially, pro-life organizations claim they would never advocate punishing women for abortion. But their silence in the cases of Patel, Shuai and others speaks louder than their words.

***Don’t get me wrong – I adore my daughter.