About Me

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I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. My translation of Hildegard's Book of Divine Works is available from Catholic University of America Press here. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Harry Potter and the Girl Who Takes Latin

According to a recent story on MTV's website, a study submitted to the Journal of General Psychology by psychology professor Dr. Jeffrey Rudski and two of his undergrad students at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, shows that some 10% of Harry Potter fans exhibit symptoms of addiction to, and subsequent withdrawal from, Harry Potter. While this may come as no surprise to many of us who have followed the adventures of the Boy Who Lived for many years, what interests me is Dr. Rudski’s rationale for studying psychological pathologies of the followers of the Harry Potter a cultural phenomenon:

It was a toss-up for him between studying people's reaction to the end of "The Sopranos" and the end of Harry Potter, but ultimately, Rudski chose the boy wizard because his 15-year-old daughter is a fan — well, he calls her an addict but says her addiction has positive outlets. "She's picked up guitar because she wants to be in a wizard-rock band," he said. "She's studying Latin because she wants to better understand J.K. Rowling's choices of names for her characters. She started reading Stephen King and John Irving because they spoke with Rowling at Radio City two summers ago." If that's being an addict, he's down with it.

As some of you may know, more than five years ago, I wrote my high school senior thesis on “Classical References, Linguistic and Literary, in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter”; the central thesis of the paper involved exploring and evaluating Rowling’s reasons for using classical languages, mythology, and history. I argued that her use of Latin could, in fact, spur a renewed interest in the Classics. It would seem that Dr. Rudski’s daughter has vindicated my thesis.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The General Plan

It recently occurred to me that readers of this blog, whatever they may think of it, might be rather in the dark as to what exactly I’m doing this year in Germany. In my infinite wisdom, I have failed to write a post on the subject, despite the fact that I am already half-way through the ten-month Fulbright period. So to paraphrase the inimitable Sam Seaborne, let’s forget about the fact that I’m coming a little late to the party and embrace the idea that I showed up at all. Some of you will already be familiar with my work, and I would advise you not to waste your time reading further; this post is intended for the general reader who has not experienced first hand the trials and tribulations of the process that is applying for a Fulbright Grant. Thus, here follows the text of my Fulbright Project Statement as written more than a year ago:

“The 20th century has seen a revival of interest in many little-known medieval authors, especially in previously overlooked female writers. The journey of these authors from their time through to ours can be fascinating, and a study of the reception of their works through time can reveal much about each successive age.

One of the first major female authors to enjoy a resurgence of interest and scholarship was Hildegard von Bingen, an abbess and writer of the 12th century. Herbalists have embraced her for her works on natural medicine and cures, while New Age spirituality has found expression in the soaring melodies of her chant. Feminist movements have come to regard her as a monument to the power of the feminine in an age of misogyny. I myself discovered Hildegard one afternoon the summer after my sophomore year in college, while, working under an Advanced Study Grant from Boston College, I set about an introductory study of Medieval Latin literature and paleography.

In her own time, Hildegard was also well known as a visionary and prophet. She became a figure of wide renown after her powers were certified by Pope Eugenius III and she published in 1151 the first volume, Scivias, of her massive visionary trilogy. She corresponded with popes, kings, and even with Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa. At the age of 60, remarkably for a woman of that time, she embarked on the first of four preaching journeys.

For the great stretch of history between her death in 1179 and her modern rediscovery, Hildegard continued to enjoy a wide reputation as a visionary whose apocalyptic writings have been held to prophesy a number of subsequent events: the rise of the mendicant orders and their battles with the papacy over apostolic poverty; the Protestant Reformation; the rise (and fall) of those firebrands of Europe, the Jesuits; and in every age generally, the coming of the Antichrist.

This reputation as primarily a visionary prophet owes much to the fact that for most of that time, Hildegard’s works were not known in the fullness of the originals, but through a redaction of her prophetic and apocalyptic writings executed in the 1220’s by the Cistercian prior Gebeno von Eberbach. In his Speculum futurorum temporum or Pentachronon Gebeno collected various prophetic excerpts from two of Hildegard’s three large visionary volumes, Scivias and Liber divinorum operum, and from her correspondence. In addition to collecting various prophecies, Gebeno provided a commentary on them and, more important, on Hildegard as a prophet of her age and of the times to come.

Gebeno’s own times were ones of religious and social upheaval in Europe. The previous decade had seen the rise of two great new religious orders, the Franciscans and the Dominicans; the Fourth Lateran Council, which was a watershed mark in the definition of the medieval church; and the papacy of Innocent III, whose attempts to expand the worldly authority of the Church brought him into deep conflict with the secular leanings of the Holy Roman Emperor, Friedrich II (whom many would identify with the Antichrist). The following decade would see the beginning of the reign of St. Louis IX in France and the continued fracture between the Church and the Empire. It was also a time of unrest among the peasants, who, after the experience in the previous century of the heretical Cathars and their violent repression by the Church, were soon to be faced by even more heretical movements and their even more violent repression by the nascent Inquisition; reports of the coming of the Antichrist and of the End Times were constant.

Under these circumstances Gebeno set about compiling Hildegard’s prophecies, and it is this compilation that I propose to study under a Fulbright Grant for the full academic year beginning October, 2007. While some scholars have investigated the impact of Gebeno’s work on the reception of Hildegard’s writing, few have approached him as an author in his own right. Why did Gebeno put together this “Mirror of Times to Come”? How did he gather the texts? How was he introduced to Hildegard’s writings, and where did he find his sources? How did Gebeno deal with her cumbersome style, which suffers from redundancies, awkward constructions, and strange neologisms (as he himself noted, “Most people disdain and abhor the books of St. Hildegard, because she spoke obscurely and in an unfamiliar style”)? How did the people and events of his time affect his writing? What do we learn in the Pentachronon about Gebeno as a thinker, a believer, and a writer of Latin? In short, how did the Pentachronon take shape and develop, both in itself and as a product of an abbot writing in the 1220’s?

One leading scholar who has taken a serious look at some of these issues is Prof. Christel Meier-Staubach, the director of the Seminar für Lateinische Philologie des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster. Prof. Meier-Staubach has done extensive work on Hildegard, including an examination of Gebeno’s writings. If I were awarded a Fulbright Grant, I would study with her and her colleagues, not only researching the development of Gebeno’s book, but also enrolling in a variety of courses offered by the Seminar in a broader study of Medieval Latin literature and philology; Prof. Meier-Staubach has kindly offered to support me in my work. Because the Latin language was fundamental in defining mediæval European culture, I hope to come to a better understanding and appreciation of that culture through a study of its language and literature. By the end of the Fulbright year I intend to produce a paper on the development of Gebeno’s thought and writings which can serve as the foundation for a doctoral thesis as I pursue graduate studies on my return to the United States.

Some might be tempted to pose the question: why is the study of an obscure, 800 year-old collection of apocalyptic writings important to our modern world? Gebeno wrote in a time of great conflict between the Holy Roman Empire and the Church. The excommunications of Emperor Friedrich II in 1238 and of Friedrich Barbarossa the century before have long been wounds to the German cultural pride: Barbarossa is, after all, a great German hero. It was no accident that the Reformation occurred not in France or Italy but in Germany: the Germans have long had an uneasy relationship with the power and authority of the papacy, and this tension survives even today. An American might laugh at a headline that appeared after the election of Benedict XVI in 2005: “Wir sind Papst!”, but the irony was not lost on the Germans, for many of whom the papacy has long symbolized everything that can go wrong when fallible humans try to mediate the divine. It is telling that when Germans today look upon the magnificence of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, they often see past the gilded plaster to Rome’s attempts to finance the structure with German indulgence monies. As a religious 800 years ago, Gebeno was faced with similar disharmonies. In studying his work, therefore, I hope to learn how Gebeno dealt with the tensions between the civic, secular life of his countrymen and the sacred authority of the Church, for though on the surface our times are very different, the substance of the tensions that German Catholics still face today is similar. Indeed, such are also the tensions that resonate even in our own land, where the interplay between religious and secular identity, between the authority of the church and of the state, is an omnipresent issue. For the first time in history, the majority of the peoples of Western Europe and the United States primarily identify themselves not with a religious label but with a secular one, such as “American,” “Deutsche,” or “citoyen”. In a very broad but very real sense, the roots of this so-called “secularization” of Western culture lie in Gebeno’s own turbulent age, and so the crises of faith of his times might prove the key to beginning to understand the crises of faith of our own age.”

Thus I initially proposed. As I recently reflected on the state of my project midway through its implementation—a reflection carried out at the behest of the U.S. Student Fulbright Program—I rehashed this lengthy and embellished proposal into the statement of three goals:

1. To read the entire text of Gebeno von Eberbach’s "Pentachronon sive Speculum Futurorum Temporum" and catalogue the origin(s) of each of the prophecies.

2. To investigate the historical, social, political, religious, and literary context of Gebeno’s work.

3. To investigate the wider implications of the oft contentious relationship betweeen the German people and the hierarchy of the Roman church.

Finally, I was asked to evaluate my progress in achieving these three goals:

The most significant marker of my project’s progress to date would be my early realization that, despite significant progress on the microcosmic level of working directly with the text itself, I had so far neglected to properly prepare myself for the macrocosmic placement of the work in the wider context of medieval apocalyptic thought. Hence, in addition to my continuing work with the text (I have read and catalogued approximately the first half of the full text), I have undertaken at first a broad introduction to apocalyptic thought, which has gradually focused into in-depth reading on apocalypticism specific to the 12th and 13th centuries; in short, I have spent a lot of time with my nose buried in books. The result of this reading has been a recasting of my understanding of Hildegard’s role in 13th-century apocalypticism; up until now, scholarship in this field has focused almost exclusively on the role of another 12th-century thinker, Joachim of Fiore. Thus, while I am still making some progress on Goal #2 (Gebeno’s historical context), its importance has been subordinated to a new goal, namely, establishing the role of Hildegard (via Gebeno) in 13th-century apocalypticism. Finally, my principal work on Goal #3 (the German relationship with the Papacy) has been my reading/study of other apocalyptic movements, especially the apocalyptic role of the papacy (e.g. the myths of the angelic pope and the papal antichrist) and its close relationship to the apocalyptic role of the Holy Roman Emperor.

Rather than spending any more time boring the lot of you with the tedious details of this academic’s arcane work, I think I’ll get back to doing what I do best: reading.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Respecting Life in All Its Forms

In today’s issue of The Heights, Boston College’s student newspaper, Mr. Jon Sege, a member of the Global Justice Project (GJP), wrote an opinion column exploring the relationship between the university’s Catholic tradition and the GJP’s decision recently to protest the presence on campus of recruiters from the Joint Warfare Analysis Center (JWAC), a private company that contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense. The crux of Mr. Sege’s argument has to do with what he claims is the incongruity of allowing such recruiters on campus but denying access to abortion advocates.

While Mr. Sege has offered an eloquent and thought-provoking analysis of the implications of the right to life, his logic is nevertheless flawed in indicting abortion clinics and the U.S. military in the same breath.

The fact is that every one of the more than 1,000,000 children who were killed by abortion last year in the United States was an entirely innocent life, and as such, every one of their deaths was homicide. Hence, the practitioners of those homicides are morally culpable.

The U.S. military, on the other hand, derives the legitimate and moral authority from the lawful and sovereign government of the United States to defend the same. When they kill enemy combatants, they do so rightfully. Every fetus is innocent; the average enemy combatant is not. When innocent lives are lost in warfare, it is nevertheless a tragic injustice, and I have never yet met a soldier who contended otherwise. This is why the willful killing of innocent bystanders is punishable as homicide under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

When that loss of innocent life is, however, an unfortunate accident in the course of legitimate warfare, such moral culpability is not incurred, just as when someone dies in an auto accident that was truly an accident. We must also recognize that the enemy combatants we face in Iraq and Afghanistan often hide themselves among innocent people and use innocent civilians as “human shields”; hence, if anyone is to be held culpable for the deaths of innocents in such situations, it should be the cowardly enemy combatants, not the U.S. military.

Finally, while I am gladdened to see that Mr. Sege has recognized that Boston College’s Catholic tradition places a premium on the respect for all human life, I must unfortunately note that many members of the Global Justice Project do not share his views. One can often find links to Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups in their annual Freshman Disorientation Packet (go to page 32 and look under “women's liberation and women's rights”), and I have personally met GJP members who participate both in protests against the likes of Raytheon and JWAC, and in events put on by the Women’s Health Initiative that promote access to contraception and abortion. There was a time several years ago when the GJP and Boston College’s pro-life organizations were united in a Partnership for Life; I call on both sides to attempt to renew this partnership, to stand together in a commitment to promote life, and to make an unequivocal statement that we will not stand blithely by while the sanctity of innocent human life is violated, whether in the abortion clinic or on the streets of Baghdad.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A "Normal" Day

As I seem to be asked the question, “What is it that you do all day, anyway?” by a significant number of people on both sides of the Atlantic, I thought I should give some description of what a “normal” day looks like for me. Before I describe my own routine, however, I should like to quote an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised By Joy, to give a sense of how nearly (and quite by accident) I seem to have struck at his own ideal academic day—an indication, perhaps, that there might exist a Platonic Idea of the academic life in which both Lewis and I have participated. This passage comes from a chapter called “The Great Knock,” which describes the time Lewis spent preparing for his university entrance exams with Mr. Kirkpatrick of Great Bookham in Surrey.

We now settled into a routine which has ever since served in my mind as an archetype, so that what I still mean when I speak of a “normal” day (and lament that normal days are so rare) is a day of the Bookham pattern. For if I could please myself I would always live as I lived there. I would choose always to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at my desk by nine, there to read or write till one. If a cup of good tea or coffee could be brought me about eleven, so much the better. A step or so out of doors for a pint of beer would not do quite so well; for a man does not want to drink alone and if you meet a friend in the tap-room the break is likely to be extended beyond its ten minutes. At one precisely lunch should be on the table; and by two at the latest I would be on the road. Not, except at rare intervals, with a friend. Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the out-door world; and talking leads almost inevitable to smoking, and then farewell to nature as far as one of our senses is concerned. The only friend to walk with is one…who so exactly shares your taste for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a nudge, is enough to assure us that the pleasure is shared. The return from the walk, and the arrival of tea, should be exactly coincident, and not later than a quarter past four. Tea should be taken in solitude, as I took it at Bookham on those (happily numerous) occasions when Mrs. Kirkpatrick was out; the Knock himself disdained this meal. For eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirable. Of course not all books are suitable for meal-time reading. It would be a kind of blasphemy to read poetry at table. What one wants is a gossipy, formless book which can be opened anywhere. The ones I learned so to use at Bookham were Boswell, and a translation of Herodotus, and Lang’s History of English Literature. Tristram Shandy, Elia and the Anatomy of Melancholy are all good for the same purpose. At five a man should be at work again, and at it till seven. Then, at the evening meal and after, comes the time for talk, or, failing that, for lighter reading; and unless you are making a night of it with your cronies (and at Bookham I had none) there is no reason why you should ever be in bed later than eleven. But when is a man to write his letters? You forget that I am describing the happy life I led with Kirk or the ideal life I would live now if I could. And it is an essential of the happy life that a man would have almost no mail and never dread the postman’s knock….Such is my ideal, and such then (almost) was the reality, of “settled, calm, Epicurean life”.

Thus Lewis. This Fulbright year is the equivalent of Lewis’ time at Bookham; thus, I need not yet (though certainly the time is coming) lament its rarity. Usually, I rise between seven and eight o’clock, shower, dress, and eat some breakfast. Somewhere between 8:30 and 9:15, I catch the bus and take it half-way from the dorm to the city. I then exit the bus and walk the remainder, typically about thirty minutes, to help get the blood flowing. I arrive in my office between 9:30 and 10:00, and, after setting up my laptop, I check my email and the news reports on CNN.com. Unfortunately, though the physical postman almost never knocks, his electronic counterpart throngs me incessantly, and I willingly oblige him. This is one of two facts that distinguish me considerably from Lewis. The other is my addiction to remaining connected with the news at home and around the world; by his own admission, Lewis never took a liking to reading the newspaper. Of course, he never had the Internet at his fingertips, though I hardly doubt that he would have scorned it with greatest obstinacy had it featured in his lifetime.

On particularly news-worthy days (such as today, being the day after an important number of primary elections in the United States) my perusal of the news sites may last until lunch time; if it doesn’t, then the remaining time until lunch is filled with reading of a more academic bent. Lunch is taken between 12:30 and 1:00 at the small Mensa (university-run cafeteria) a few blocks from my office in the basement of Fürstenberghaus, a building which houses the History and Archaeology departments, together with their respective libraries and several large lecture halls and smaller classrooms. After lunch and depending on the state of the weather (today’s dreary, damp, and cold overcast was not conducive), I may take anything from a short to a rather long walk; the shorter will accompany the worser weather and will be for the sake of renewing the blood flow; the longer will accompany better weather and will be for the sake of enjoying it. Upon returning to the office anywhere between 1:15 and 2:15, I settle in again with my books; depending on how I’m feeling, this may or may not be accompanied with a coffee, either the cheaper stuff from the Mensa or the more expensive fare from the coffee shop down the street.

This reading will take me until a quarter to six, at which time I will pack up my computer and whatever books I wish, and head down the street to the Lambertikirche, whose daily Mass runs approximately forty minutes from exactly six o’clock (the Germans being such punctual people, the priest has never failed to appear more than 10 seconds after the striking of the six o’clock bells). I then make the ten minute walk to the train station where I pick up the bus back to dorm, where I arrive at twenty minutes past seven. After fixing dinner, I eat while viewing an episode of The West Wing from my DVD collection, after which cleaning up the dishes will usually take me to about half past eight, at which time I put some good reading music on and settle into bed with a good book. Between 10:30 and 11:00, my eyes will begin to grow heavy, and I will close the book, turn off the computer and lights, and settle down to sleep.

It is as much for posterity’s sake as for anything else that I commit this mundane pattern to writing; I imagine that this time next year, I will look back fondly and nostalgically to this time of plenty of sleep, long walks for the sake of nature, and cozy reading unhurried by the demands of the graduate student’s schedule. For now, at least, I shall simply be content to pass the days whose abiding feature is best summed up with the German word Gemütlichkeit—an atmosphere of coziness, comfort, and contentment, of time passed without anxiety for the past or the future, of life lived according to its natural rhythms, free of stress and frenzy.

Friday, February 08, 2008

It's still a human fetus

In an insightful and provocative story in this weekend’s issue, the New York Times Magazine examines the possible existence and extent of a fetus’ ability to suffer pain while in the womb. While approaching the topic initially from the perspective of fetal surgery (a fascinating and amazing example of the advance of medical technology), the article acknowledges and later examines the impact of the ability of a fetus to feel pain on the issue of legalized abortion. While I commend the entire article to my readers, I want to focus on an anecdote offered early in the article:
Most invasive of all is open fetal surgery, in which a pregnant woman’s uterus is cut open and the fetus exposed. Ray Paschall, an anesthesiologist at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, remembers one of the first times he provided anesthesia to the mother and minimally to the fetus in an open fetal operation, more than 10 years ago. When the surgeon lowered his scalpel to the 25-week-old fetus, Paschall saw the tiny figure recoil in what looked to him like pain. A few months later, he watched another fetus, this one 23 weeks old, flinch at the touch of the instrument. That was enough for Paschall. In consultation with the hospital’s pediatric pain specialist, “I tremendously upped the dose of anesthetic to make sure that wouldn’t happen again,” he says. In the more than 200 operations he has assisted in since then, not a single fetus has drawn back from the knife. “I don’t care how primitive the reaction is, it’s still a human reaction,” Paschall says. “And I don’t believe it’s right. I don’t want them to feel pain.”
Mr. Paschall is among several medical personnel quoted in the article (the most prominent being Kanwaljeet “Sunny” Anand, who has been a tireless advocate over the last three decades for infant and fetal pain management) who also support, at least in limited terms, a woman's right to have an abortion. Yet, what I find most provocative is Mr. Paschall's statement, “I don’t care how primitive the reaction is, it’s still a human reaction. And I don’t believe it’s right. I don’t want them to feel pain.” I would echo his words to say, no matter how primitive the fetus is, it’s still a human fetus.

This brings me, however, to a point on the debate over abortion that I've been meaning to make for quite a long time (and I should make clear before we start that in the following argument, I appeal only to human reason and the natural law; my conclusions do not rely on any revealed truths peculiar to Christianity). As I've alluded to previously, this year’s election once again represents a showdown between those who would protect human life at all stages of development (represented by their presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain), and those who insist that the government not guarantee the right to life that was once so eloquently named “inalienable.”

Supporters of candidates like Sen. Hillary Clinton will tout that she believes that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Yet, what they don't realize is the logical contradiction behind such a statement. If one believes that a human fetus is an innocent human life (N.B. the adjective innocent indicates that the fetus is guilty of nothing by which it would deserve punishment, an assumption that I hold to be self-evident), then the natural law that informs us that homicide is immoral also informs us that abortion is immoral. To put it into syllogistic form: (A1) It is immoral and legally punishable to purposely kill an innocent human life. (B1) A human fetus is an innocent human life. (C1) Therefore, abortion (the killing of a human fetus) is immoral and legally punishable.

(N.B. I have included the adjective "innocent" in the major premise because, at least according to the natural law, there are certain situations where it is morally and legally permissible to kill a human life, e.g. in warfare. The revealed beliefs of religion may place additional restrictions on these situations, but as I have said, I am arguing here from the natural law.)

The corollary to this syllogism is that if one believes that abortion should be legal, then one denies either one or both of the premises. Since I've yet to meet an abortion supporter who denies the major premise (indeed, many abortion supporters offer more comprehensive versions of the major premise than some pro-lifers do, i.e. they extend the immorality of killing to capital punishment and even to warfare), then it is clear that abortion supporters must deny the minor premise, namely, that a human fetus is an innocent human life. Furthermore, since I've also never met an abortion supporter who claims that a human fetus is a guilty human life, then it is also clear that abortion supporters deny that part of the minor premise that declares a fetus to be a human life.

If, therefore, one believes that a fetus is not a human life, that is, if one believes that the fetus is simply an extension of the body of the mother, and that the mother therefore exercises the full sovereign rights over the fetus that she exercises over the rest of her body, then one's moral judgement on abortion is reduced to a judgement concerning those sovereign rights. The syllogism would then follow: (A2) Without extenuating circumstances, a human being exercises personal sovereignty over his or her body. (B2) A fetus is a part of a woman's body. (C2) Therefore, a woman exercises personal sovereignty over her fetus.

If this is really what Sen. Hillary Clinton believes, then her position in favor of abortion is logical. What is not logical, however, is her claim that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare." It is this last factor that leads her into trouble. She must have some reason for wanting abortion to be rare. Yet, as far her logical position is concerned, it shouldn't matter to her whether abortion is rare or not, just as it shouldn't matter to her whether a woman dyes her hair blond or black, or pierces her navel or her ears, or gets breast implants or breast reduction surgery. Each of these decisions are made out of the woman's sovereign rights over her body, and Sen. Clinton doesn't have anything to do with those decisions.

Yet, Sen. Clinton does say that she wants abortions to be rare. In fact, one is unlikely to meet any abortion advocate who claims that they don't want abortion to be rare. And the reason for this is simple: as much as abortion advocates try to delude themselves into believing their syllogism, they do not, in fact, actually hold to it. Despite their attempts to ignore the prods of the natural law, they do, in fact, conceive, at least subconsciously, of a moral dimension to the decision to have an abortion.

Where they in fact fail is in the first part of the major premise: Without extenuating circumstances. This caveat to the premise is necessary for its logical cohesion, because both individually and as a state we acknowledge that there are circumstances under which a human being does not exercice personal sovereignty over his or her body. For example, we place age restrictions on things like drinking and smoking and getting body piercings; we also admit that convicted criminals have abdicated, at least temporarily, certain of their rights, like the right of free movement; we even go so far as to refuse certain classes of the clinically and criminally insane of almost all their rights of personal sovereignty over their bodies.

For the abortion syllogism to hold, there must, therefore, be no extenuating circumstances. Yet, it is evident that there are extenuating circumstances when a woman is pregnant. Whether you believe that a fetus is a human life or not, we all agree that, if carried to term, it will be a living, breathing, moving baby. Furthermore, the woman cannot produce the fetus by herself; the fetus is as much the product of its father as it is the mother's. Finally, especially given our modern ability with ultrasound technology to visualize the fetus, we all do feel, despite our views on abortion, that twang of amazement, wonder, and awe when the fetus we have fathered or mothered sucks its thumb or kicks its foot in the womb.

The fact is, the natural law is squeezing its way into Sen. Clinton's views whether she likes it or not. What she doesn't realize is that in calling for abortion to be "rare", she admits that there are compelling reasons to discourage the practice. For these compelling reasons to exist, the logical syllogism that allows abortion to go unopposed falls apart. Sen. Clinton's own humanity undermines her support of abortion. Although abortion advocates will tell you that there is a grey area, they are simply trying a trick of sophistry in order to have their cake and eat it too. The choice is simple: either abortion has absolutely no moral consequences and should be perfectly legal; or abortion does have moral consequences, and the first syllogism that we proposed is the proper one. As we have shone the former conclusion to be false, there remains but one logically consistent, proper conclusion: (C1) Abortion (the killing of a human fetus) is immoral and legally punishable.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sen. John McCain for President

Many readers of this blog may know that a year ago, I was a passionate supporter of the Presidential Campaign of Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), and that I remained a passionate supporter of Sen. Brownback all the way until October 18, 2007, when he was forced by a “lack of funds” to drop out of the race. It was Sen. Brownback’s unflinching integrity in leading his life, both public and private, according to his Catholic faith that drew me to him from start to finish. This could be most clearly seen in his “pro-life, whole-life” stance: not only does he oppose abortion, but he opposes capital punishment, too; he doesn’t just want to shut down the abortion factories run by Planned Parenthood, he wants to replace them with pregnancy resource centers, so that women who thought that abortion was their only option can receive the resources and support they need to actually have the baby; he doesn’t just care about the human rights of the unborn fetus, but he is an enthusiastic, compassionate fighter for the poor and oppressed, the sick and the hungry, the disenfranchised and the downtrodden both at home and around the world.

Unfortunately, Sen. Brownback’s message never seemed to click with conservative voters (who flocked rather to Gov. Huckabee; I suspect that his Catholicism may have frightened them away), and he was unable to continue to carry this banner of true humanitarianism all the way to the White House. When he dropped out the race, most of his supporters made their way to Gov. Hucakbee’s camp; I, however, remained on the fence. And after the Governor’s disastrous response to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December (instead of talking about the national security implications of terrorism-induced chaos in a country armed with nuclear weapons, he talked about limiting the flow of immigrants from Pakistan), I got off the fence and threw my support instead to Sen. McCain—just like Sen. Brownback did.

Why, then, did I choose the man who has been decried by the conservative establishment as practically a Democrat? I finally started to see again the reasons why I wanted to vote for him in 2000 (if only I’d been old enough) and in 2004 (if only we hadn’t been beholden, lemming-like, to George W. Bush). He is, in fact, not only a true conservative (despite Rush Limbaugh’s bloviating to the contrary), but an honorable man, one of the last in a Washington which has descended into the bitterest, dirtiest, foulest mire of partisan hatred not for the sake of the issues but simply for the sake of partisanship.

The conservative “establishment” is trying its hardest these days to discredit Sen. McCain. They like to say that he is “pro-tax” because he voted against the Bush tax cuts. This is nonsense—the man’s a Republican, for gosh’s sake! Of course he’s anti-tax; he knew that the Bush tax cuts were going to pass, so he used his vote to lodge a protest against the fact that they didn’t contain any concomitant cuts in spending. In point of fact, Sen. McCain is far more the fiscal conservative than all of the Republicans who voted for the tax cuts without demanding spending cuts to go along with them, to say nothing of Gov. Romney, who actually tried to raise certain taxes while Governor of Massachusetts (though to his credit, he was carrying out the will of the people, for many Massachusetts Dems would prefer the French tax code to the American one).

Indeed, while Gov. Romney was promising to lavish more of the Federal budget on “old-economy” workers in Michigan whose jobs have been sent overseas (one wonders how the Governor will pay for his “job retraining assistance”—will he raise taxes, or will he simply drive us deeper in debt? One thing is certain: he will not show fiscal restraint.), Sen. McCain told them the economic truth: their jobs aren’t coming back. And he lost Michigan because of it. The decision, therefore, is between the Governor whose words will always twist themselves to please his audience, no matter what promises he must make and what positions he must “amend” to do it; and a Senator who tells the truth, even if the truth is not palatable to his audience’s ears. As a lover of the truth, it should be clear to whom my vote goes.

And on that single issue that matters to many of us more than any other because of what it tells us of a man’s whole outlook on the human condition, namely, his view on abortion? Sen. McCain has spent three decades in public service consistently voting and tirelessly fighting for the right to life; meanwhile, Gov. Romney was elected in Massachusetts because he was pro-abortion. He says he’s pro-life now, but how do we know he won’t change his mind again when it is politically expedient to do so? I rather suspect, especially since he’s a Mormon, among which religion's many failings a pro-death stance is not to be numbered, that he’s always been, at least privately, pro-life—and if I’m right, it unfortunately means that winning the governorship of Massachusetts was more important to him than his pro-life values.

What attracted me to Sen. Brownback more than the other “social conservatives” in the early days of the race, however, was not just that he was pro-life, but that he was “whole-life”; that is to say, Sen. Brownback lived out the implications of his belief in the value of human life to their logical conclusions by supporting human life across its whole spectrum, from conception to deathbed, and from poorhouse to mansion. Sen. McCain, though not perhaps always in the same ways or to the same extent, has shown the true compassion that Our Lord asks of us—at least, far more than I have ever seen (publicly, at least, for I dare not judge what is in a man’s heart) from Gov. Romney; and we need look no further than his (much ballyhooed and criticized, at least by the “conservative” pundits) plan to fix the immigration problem in America. Rather than treating illegal immigrants as wholly unworthy of the American Dream that we all so often and wonderfully enjoy (I’m speaking here as a man who has come from a lower middle-class family which has often struggled paycheck to paycheck, who is currently able to spend a year living in Germany and studying medieval literature, all because of the generous support of the American and German governments in the form of the Fulbright program), Sen. McCain recognized their humanity and, out of compassion for all that he shares with them (for in our common humanity, all partisan differences of political opinion become mere drops in the ocean of dignity and love that we share as creatures of God and co-heirs with Christ), he proposed that they be offered a path to citizenship, albeit a long and tough road of waiting periods and steep fines.

Another facet of his plan for immigration, however, is Sen. McCain’s recognition that our economy has become dependent on these men and women. While the rest of the Republican field throws out lofty rhetoric of sending the illegal immigrants packing, he realized that to do so would cripple our economy. So, together with the President, and though it made them unpopular with their own party and in the end failed for that same reason, he offered a plan that actually made sense and faced both the humanitarian and economic reality of immigration. Empty rhetoric that denies reality and abandons at the water’s edge the compassion so wonderfully resonant in the pro-life position, or a firm stance that recognizes our economic situation and extends compassion for human dignity even to those who have broken our laws: the choice should again be clear.

Sen. McCain has also demonstrated that, far from being a partisan and divisive figure, he can also reach across the aisle, while staying true to his conservative principles,; indeed, he is far more interested in effectively governing the country than in the partisan bickering and gridlock that seems to be Washington reality these days. With the President’s job approval ratings in the low 30’s, and with those of Congress usually even lower, it is clear that what the American people want now more than anything is someone who can bring them together and effectively govern the country—not another party hack spewing the same old message of partisan half-truths (or worse, a party hack claiming to be bipartisan, though in reality his bipartisanship is simply another partisan half-truth dressed up to hide that fact). While the “conservative” pundits have been trying to turn Sen. McCain’s bipartisanship into “treason”, it actually represents the fact that more than any other candidate, Sen. McCain will unite this country, if only we let him.

Indeed, the worst thing that could happen to this country in November would be to allow Sen. Hillary Clinton to win the presidency, for there is no more divisive figure in this election cycle than she. Yet, a nominating vote for Gov. Romney is the best thing a Republican voter can do to ensure a Clinton victory—too many Americans are too fed up with the Republican Party as the party of Pres. George W. Bush to vote for Gov. Romney. Sen. McCain, on the other hand, has exactly the broad-based appeal that will bring not only independent voters but even moderate Democrats on board. In short, Sen. McCain is the only Republican candidate who has a realistic chance of winning in November.

Yet, it is not merely for this banal reason of political reality that I am supporting Sen. McCain. Behind the quality of his stances on political issues (consistently conservative) stand his honesty and honor, integrity and humanity. Sen. McCain is a man that demands respect because he has lived a respectful and virtuous life, and it is this honesty and virtue (and not, as for some candidates, the malleable paths of political expediency and polling data) that form the basis for the political decisions he makes everyday; we should expect nothing less from the President of the United States.