...and let down your nets for a catch. These words from Pope John Paul II illustrate the need to renew culture today and illustrate his extraordinary ability to transform and renew culture. I hope to write not only about culture, but also religion, politics, current events, sports, and entertainment. I also hope this is not only a one-way narrative but the beginning of a dialogue..

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Hard Pill to Swallow

When Scott Brown was elected on January 19, 2010, there was jubilation from opponents of Healthcare "reform." My family, friends, and colleagues were all ecstatic and though I was happy, I was not as joyful as they were. Sure, Scott Brown became the infamous 40th Senator but for some reason, I knew that the health care "reform" debate was far from over and his election only pushed back more debate until a later date. Unfortunately, this result came true last night. The passage of "universal healthcare reform" is truly a hard pill to swallow.

In the months leading up to last night's vote, there were those who believed that it was inevitable that healthcare "reform" would pass. Either by slimy, secret back room deals, political buy offs and compromises, or promises to campaign for those who voted for the bill, it seemed as if nothing could stop health care "reform" from passing. Then came the tea party movement, Scott Brown, and then the Democratic pro-life poster child Bart Stupak.

A few months ago, I watched Raymond Arroyo, on EWTN's the World Over, discuss with Bark Stupak the pro-life issues surrounding Obamacare. Many in the Catholic Church and the pro-life world placed their faith and trust in Stupak, including the Catholic bishops. How could they not? Stupak was a shining light for the pro-life cause, a potential roadblock to healthcare "reform" passage that does not protect the dignity of life. He was man who secured pro-life protections in the first House healthcare vote on 11/7/2009.

This trust shattered yesterday. I, like many others, was shocked, floored, angry, and in disbelief. How could Bark Stupak lay down his fight this close to the finish line? I have listened to his reasoning about the Senate not having enough pro-life votes and that the executive order was the best deal possible. But still, I must admit that this is the hardest thing to accept about this bill passing. I trusted (for the most part) Stupak to hold out with his fellow pro-life Democrats. I thought he was different. For someone who went through hell over the past few months, I could not believe that he caved in at the 11th hour just as Senator Nelson (NE) and Senator Landrieu (LA) had done. The disappointment is crushing and devastating. Our last hope in preventing the total re-organization of the best health care system in the world was gone. And even more illuminating is that, as Phyllis Schlafly and Ramesh Ponnuru have wrote, there are no longer any real pro-life Democrats.

Stupak's executive order compromise will be short lived; it is a paperless farce. President Obama will most likely sign the order soon, but what really prevents him from reversing it on a Friday afternoon when people are planning their weekend and not following the news closely? To think that President Obama will give up abortion funding this easy would be a total misunderstanding of his policies since taking office: he overturned the Mexico City policy on one of his first days in office, he has appointed numerous and extreme pro-choice individuals to positions, and he nominated a pro-choice Supreme Court justice. These are only a few of many examples.

Make no mistake, abortion has been at the epicenter of the healthcare debate: not the insurance companies, not Medicare/Medicaid, and not the cost. The battle for who controls the dignity of life is at the epicenter of the debate because if it were not, they would not waited until the 11th hour, they would not have originally written coverage for abortion in the bill or been so stubborn in removing it, and the Senate would have added stronger protections against abortion in their bill. To think that the most pro-choice President and the most pro-choice Congress in American history would throw away a chance to ram through their token issue of abortion, you would have to be crazy.

You may not agree with me that abortion and pro-life issues are at the center of health care "reform." But think of it this way: Obamacare includes an individual insurance mandate in which the taxes you pay go toward abortion. Add this to cuts in Medicare and it is not too much of a stretch to see how this government takeover is really about controlling who lives and who dies.

Our Founding Fathers wrote about the "Tyranny of the Majority." They wrote this in regards to factions of people rather than representatives. Yet, I would argue that a "tyranny of the majority" has occurred in Congress. The Democrats control Congress; thus, they do not and did not need to really listen to the opposing side or the American citizenry. This indication was obvious as poll after poll showed that Americans were/are against Obamacare.

Many have fought hard against Obamacare by taking the "road less traveled" while others have compromised their principles for supposed "reform." I guess the old saying really is true: in politics, you either sleep well or eat well. While those who fought Obamacare may have had a few restless nights, they can wake up each morning, look themselves in the mirror, and know that they have actually stayed true the Founding principles. Is this fight over? In the words of Minority Leader John Boehner "HELL NO!"

Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Review: Washington's God

Michael and Jana Novak's book, Washington's God, is must read for anyone refuting George Washington's Christian heritage. Washington's God, broken into three parts, "The Man," "The Faith," and "The Fruit," portrays the first U.S. President's Christian faith as a major in Virginia's army, through his wisdom and guidance during the Revolutionary War, and by his public reflections on religion's support for a robust and free civil society.

At the beginning of Washington's God, Michael and Jana Novak pose three questions:
  1. Was Washington a deist?
  2. What is the meaning of the term Providence?
  3. Did George Washington use Christianity for political purposes, while secretly being a Deist?
Throughout their book, they meticulously answer them:

1. Was Washington a Deist?
  • The Novak's illustrate that Washington believed God to be more than a purely rational "watchmaker" since He intervened at times in human events: "He [Washington] held as a matter of daily practice and frequent prayer the Jewish and Christian view of God, that is, that God interposes his actions in the affairs of history and all through the daily governance of the universe, not by disrupting the laws of nature but by deftly and artistically using the openings discernible in the dazzling array of life's daily contingencies" (224).
2. What is the meaning of Providence?
  • The Novak's argue that Washington did not believe Providence was fate or fortune but as the source of Truth: "Washington did not think that the outcome of the War of Independence was inexorably fixed in some tragic and inescapable way. [...] Washington distinguished clearly between false gods and the true God. One of the key differences in this distinction is the recognition of full, total, and universal sovereignty even over the existence of all things" (225).
3. Did Washington use Christianity for political reasons or was he a secret Deist?
  • "Anglican Christianity is what he professed. Anglican Christianity is what he acted out. Christian preachers of many faiths recognized him as a model Christian. As we have seen, a family-in-law published much evidence of how the family regarded him as a Christian. [...] His dearest friend, who thought they were two in one soul, his wife, Martha, a quite devout Christian, was certain they were one in mind above all in their mutual confidence in eternal life together. His last words, and her first words on learning that he was gone, were "'Tis well!" - in itself an almost perfect 'Amen'" (226).
Thus, the Novak's explain that Washington's references to "Providence" were not Deist but rather to the Hebrew and Christian "Jehovah." This foundation grounded Washington's understanding of religious freedom since "this new system depends upon the Jewish-Christian conception of a God of spirit and truth, who wishes to be worshipped in freedom. On any other conception of god, the principles of religious liberty lose their point" (118). It is fitting that today, George Washington's birthday, that our first President be properly portrayed for what he was.

Monday, February 1, 2010

It's Your Destiny Jack!

Less than 24 hours from now, Lost fans will finally begin to gain some closure. Yes, thats right, the Final Season of Lost debuts tomorrow night! Will we get answers? We better...on questions like:
  • What happened to Claire?
  • Will we find out how Jack's Father was "alive" on the island?
  • Is John Locke really dead?
  • Where did the polar bears come from?
  • Who created the smoke monster?
  • Do Sun and Jin finally reunite?
  • How will the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle finish?
  • Will characters like Charlie, Boone, Mr. Ecko, and Libby return?
  • Did Jack's idea to nuke the island really reverse everything the survivors of Oceanic 816 knew/encountered/remembered on the island?
  • Will Ben or Widmore win the coming war?
These are only the tip of the iceburg. After last years, "when is the island" theme, how will the writers simultaneously re-create a deeper plot while ending one of the great shows in recent memory? You only have to wait another day to figure this out. Why? Because its your destiny...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

And So It Begins...

As my first week is nearly complete at the Heritage Foundation, I wanted to update those family and friends that helped me return to Washington, DC. I arrived on Saturday, settled in quickly, and began to meet and greet other young conservatives in my housing complex. There are individuals from all across the United States seeking to educate themselves in classical liberal conservatism that guided our Founding Fathers. We are being trained not just as conservative individuals but future leaders for America and the world.

On the first day of the internship, the Young Leaders Program (the internship program) treated us to lunch and led us to the National Gallery of Art and National Archives. The highlight of this trip was clearly the National Archives. I was fortunate to visit the National Archives two years ago while interning with the Family Research Council. Yet, for some reason (hmm...) I took my time reading the history behind the founding documents of our great country. As always, the visit was inspiring.

On Tuesday, the work-aspect of the internship began. We had many training sessions ranging from emergency preparedness to understanding the core principles of the Heritage Foundation (free enterprise, individual freedom, traditional values, a strong national defense, limited government). After lunch, we finally met our individual intern supervisors. My specific advisor is Dr. Kim Holmes, a Vice President in charge of Foreign Policy and Defense. So far, I have been researching news stories from around the world and preparing short briefs as well as reading and summarizing foreign policy articles.

As anyone who follows the news, the current foreign policy/defense/national security issues are virtually endless. Thus, myself and other interns have much work to do. I am extremely grateful not only for my short time at Heritage but also for everyone's prayers. Let us remember those suffering in Haiti and pray for those have lost loved ones.

There are many great opportunites and events coming up: the March for Life, CPAC, etc. So stay tuned....

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Guest Blog: Why Democrats Should Support the Oklahoma Abortion Law

By Joseph Trabbic

Many Democrats, while they support a woman’s right to an abortion and, consequently, keeping abortion legal and safe, say that we should work to make abortions rare. This is the apparent position of a number of our country’s leading Democrats -- President Barack Obama, the Clintons, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

If the goal is to make abortions rare, it is necessary that we understand why women seek abortions. One important -- even essential -- way of getting this information is to speak to the women who actually come to abortion clinics to terminate their pregnancies.

The bill made law by the Oklahoma state legislature last May -- H.B. 1595 -- could be an important tool for Democrats to achieve the goal of making abortions rare. The law mandates that women seeking an abortion provide answers to 37 questions that deal with the specific details of the context of their decision, the clinic’s location, the procedure itself, and other facts surrounding the procedure. Although there are questions that ask for personal information about the mother, her name and address are not asked.

One of the bill’s drafters, Oklahoma state senator, Todd Lamb, has made its purpose clear. "We want to collect hard data that can be a useful tool in helping prevent future unwanted pregnancies." In a recent speech to the Young Republicans of the University of Oklahoma Lamb said in reference to the new legislation: "How can we counsel, how can we treat, how can we offer counseling to mothers-to-be that are choosing abortion, if we don't have hard-core facts?"

It would seem like a no-brainer for Democrats who would like to make abortions rare to get behind this law. In fact, some may already have. The bill had the support not only of the Republicans in the Oklahoma legislature but the support of Democrats as well.

The questionnaire envisioned by the Oklahoma law is thorough but one could imagine a questionnaire that would be even more thorough and so more helpful to researchers, counselors, and anyone whose aim is understanding the causes of abortion and keeping it rare.

Naturally, any research project that wishes its findings to be of public benefit should make these findings as widely available as possible. Suppose that cancer researchers kept their findings private. Indeed, while understanding itself is a human good, such research is usually thought above all to be for public benefit.

But this is not the best comparison since abortion does not have to do only with a bodily ailment but even more with interpersonal relationships, or, to be more precise, it has to do with dysfunctional interpersonal relationships -- between the mother and child, the mother and father, and so on. (It may be true that all bodily ailments involve interpersonal relationships to some extent, but abortion most obviously does.) In any case, research on such relationships would have little sense if it were kept private.

The Oklahoma law makes provision for the public diffusion of the information acquired through the questionnaire. It requires that the findings be posted on the state’s Department of Health website.

Although the law was approved by the Oklahoma legislature and signed by the governor, it has yet to come into force because opponents have successfully managed to have a temporary restraining order placed on it. A hearing will be held February 19 to determine whether the restraining order should be lifted.

Many critics see no benefit in the law but only harm. Caitlyn Wright, a senior at the University of Oklahoma, who organized a protest against the law at the state capitol in Oklahoma City, has serious concerns about the questionnaire proposed by the law. "These are incredibly invasive questions,” she says. “Is it because she can't afford child care? Is she unmarried? Is she having a rough patch with [the] father? The real purpose of the bill is to shame women from having this procedure — and I think it's to scare them." Ms. Wright’s comments were aired in a story on NPR.

I don’t know whether Ms. Wright is interested in reducing the number of abortions. If she is not, then I guess her reaction to the questionnaire is not too surprising. But if she is interested in reducing the number of abortions, the reaction is less easy to make sense of. If I am right about the questionnaire being an aid to research that could eventually help to make abortions rare, then she should be championing the Oklahoma law rather than protesting it. What is of special value in the questionnaire are the questions about the details of the context of the mother’s decision and the personal information. We cannot hope to understand why women have abortions if we only ask very general and superficial questions.

However, it might be that there are those who, while they are in favor of this sort of research, believe that the abortion clinic is not the appropriate place to carry it out. Women should be interviewed, they might say, only at some point afterward. One significant problem with this approach, though, is that (as I am told by those who know more about these issues than I) despite the concerted effort by some to eliminate the stigma of abortion (e.g., Jennifer Baumgardner’s “I had an abortion” t-shirts), many women are unwilling to admit or discuss the abortions they have had. If this is true, then for the sake of accuracy it would appear that the clinic itself, for better or for worse, is the best place to conduct the interview.

Surely there are some questions that occur here: Would the information gathered by the questionnaire really be of use to those who are counseling women who are considering an abortion? Shouldn’t counselors help women on a case by case basis instead of trying to understand each woman’s specific situation according to the situations of other women? Wouldn’t our efforts to reduce abortions be more effective if we focus on women as individuals rather than as instances of a general pattern?

There is something to these questions. Good counselors will do their best to understand each woman’s circumstance in all its specificity. But no one’s situation is so totally unique that it literally has nothing in common with anyone else’s. If this were true, then it would be impossible for the counselor to relate to the woman and be of any assistance. While there are certainly significant differences between the situations of different people, our common human nature makes it so that there will also be important similarities. This being the case, we can expect that the information produced by the proposed questionnaire will be very useful for counselors.

At the same time, the information will be useful beyond the counseling context. It will be crucial, as I have already mentioned, to all those who wish to keep abortions rare. Their efforts at the personal, cultural, and legislative level will all be better informed and thereby more effective.

But what about Ms. Wright’s allegation that the bill’s “real purpose” is to shame women and to scare them? The law does appear to specify that the individual questionnaires will be posted on the website rather than just the aggregate of the data collected. Because the county where the clinic is located and very specific personal information about the mother (excluding her name and address) will appear on the form, it is true that it could be quite possible for some women to be identified by those who know them and have an interest in finding out.

On the one hand, I understand Ms. Wright’s concern. I think that most women who have abortions are deeply conflicted (as Hillary Clinton has said, "I believe we can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.") and need compassion rather than scorn. We would not want the valuable information that the law seeks to make available to be used to hurt women further who are already hurting.

I do not see any reason why there could not be two levels of public access to the information provided by the questionnaires. Access to individual questionnaires could be restricted to legitimate researchers, whose qualifications could be determined in a slightly revised version of the law. It would take very little to make such a change. Access to the data in the aggregate could be permitted to the general public. The latter is what could be posted on the state’s Department of Health website.

But, on the other hand, what if the law were left as it is and the individual questionnaires were posted on the website? If women knew that these questionnaires would be made available to the general public, I am certain that many would decide against the abortion out of shame or fear, as Ms. Wright suggests. Would this be such a bad thing?

Well, if we understand the child in the woman to be an innocent human person, who has a right to life, and therefore regard abortion as murder, then it would not be a bad thing at all. If I decide against murdering an innocent person because of shame or fear, how could this be a bad thing? Undoubtedly, there are still some who do not recognize the humanity of the child in the womb or her right to life. But if they criticize the Oklahoma law, they need to answer the reasonable arguments of those who understand otherwise and who, on this understanding, support the law.

We should not forget that I am making my argument to Democrats who want abortion to be safe, legal, and rare. Of course, I am emphasizing “rare” here. I don’t think that abortion should be legal (and this makes the question about whether it is safe irrelevant). But the Oklahoma law would not criminalize abortion, nor would it make it unsafe. It would, so I am arguing, help to make abortions in Oklahoma rare. If it does not eliminate the “safe” and the “legal” objectives but does appear to be a powerful tool for making abortions rare, then would it not be reasonable for Democrats who want to achieve all three to support it?

Someone might object that the law would, nevertheless, create an environment that would undermine abortion’s legality in the long run. Yes, this is possible but it is in no way inevitable.
(It may be the case that there is a deep practical incompatibility between the second objective -- “legal” -- and the third one -- “rare.” And if this is so, it also may be that it is somewhat disingenuous for anyone to claim to be truly in favor of both. But this would need to be thought through more carefully.)

In a recent opinion piece in the “New Haven Register” Rhea Hirshman, like Caitlyn Wright, criticizes the Oklahoma law for its perceived invasiveness. She argues that the questionnaire will be of little use in stopping unwanted pregnancies and that contraception is the most effective method for achieving this goal. Ms. Hirshman writes: “Call me unimaginative, but I thought the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies for heterosexually active women was reliable contraception. Who knew that making women fill out far-reaching and intrusive questionnaires was the latest breakthrough in contraceptive technology?”

I wouldn’t call Ms. Hirshman unimaginative but I might call her naïve. It seems rather incredible that in a first world country like the U.S. the majority of unwanted pregnancies are simply the result of lack of education about reliable contraception or lack of access to it. I am not saying that this could not be a factor. But I would be very surprised if it were the only factor (or even the decisive one). However, I am open to being surprised.

To say that unwanted pregnancies in the U.S. are just the result of a failure to know about or have access to reliable contraception seems to me to be analogous to saying that poverty in the U.S. is just the result of a lack of jobs or insufficient job advertisement. Ms. Hirshman apparently wants us to think that if we only better educate women about reliable contraception and get it into their hands, the problem with unwanted pregnancies could be solved.

Again, contraception might help to prevent unwanted pregnancies but I doubt that it is the solution (and, as a Catholic, I am not in favor of contraception, mostly for the reasons eloquently set down by Paul VI in “Humane Vitae” -- but that is a discussion for another time). I suspect that the best way to understand many unwanted pregnancies (and perhaps most) is to look at the environment, the personal character, and the interpersonal relationships of those involved (and I am speaking here not just of the mother but of the father, the family, etc). The questionnaire proposed by the Oklahoma law would allow us to get a glimpse at all of this.

There is already a lot of data about abortion that is compiled and reported on by various research organizations in the U.S. The Center for Disease Control and the Guttmacher Institute are at the forefront of this work. But the data that they collect is by and large quite superficial. It does not give us much information about the specific situations of women who opt to have abortions. As I pointed out above, the latter kind of information will be crucial for pregnancy counselors (and the women they counsel) and for all those who want to keep abortions rare.

Ms. Hirshman has more to say against the Oklahoma law: it exhibits a lack of trust in women because it fails to take them seriously. She seems to think that it does not take women seriously because it in some way prevents them from making their own choices with regard to abortion. There is nothing in the law that prohibits a woman from deciding to have an abortion (unless, perhaps, she refuses to answer the questions on the questionnaire). Ms. Hirshman acknowledges that having an abortion is “a much more consequential matter” than having a root canal (her example). But even before having a root canal it is usually a good idea to discuss the matter with the dentist. And wouldn’t a dentist who was genuinely interested in helping his/her patients make a good decision and who was up on the literature about root canals be the kind of dentist we would want to advise us? Would the dentist’s patients interpret his/her concern for them and his/her efforts to inform him/herself about the pros and cons of root canals as a lack of trust in their ability to make their own decisions?

Suppose a dentist -- pursuing Ms. Hirshman’s example further -- required all her patients who had decided to have root canals done to answer a number of questions about their decision and made the results of the questions available to her fellow dentists in the interest of helping them to advise their patients about root canals. Wouldn’t we regard such a dentist as quite conscientious and as a model for the rest of the profession? Some of the dentist’s patients might find having to answer the questions annoying and others might even see them as intrusive (and they might end up going to a different dentist). But the more altruistic would probably go along with it, knowing that they were helping others in some way.

Someone might agree with this dentist’s practice but object if the dentist tried to get the practice passed as a law. Would it be too extreme to make it a law? I do think that it would be a bit extreme. Root canals are more significant than just putting a cap on a cavity but in the grand scheme of things a root canal is a hill of beans. Abortion is not. It is, indeed, as Ms. Hirshman herself admits, “a much more consequential matter.”

I don’t know why Ms. Hirshman thinks this, but I do agree with her. In my own view abortion is a much more consequential matter because it involves the murder of an innocent human person, can do serious psychological and physical damage (including death, as the CDC reports) to the mother, and can do serious psychological damage to the father and the other family and friends of the mother. It can also damage the mother’s relationships with the father, family, and friends. Because abortion can gravely impact the mother and those around her in many ways, it seems quite reasonable that it is a matter that should be subject to regulation by law and that the law should not permit the mother to make her decision without the help of well-informed counseling.

Do Democrats who would like to keep abortion rare want to do so because they also see the grave impact it can have on the mothers, their unborn children, and those who care for both? Earlier I quoted a line from a speech that Hillary Clinton made to the New York State Family Planning Providers in 2005. Mrs. Clinton said: "I believe we can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women." If these words have any meaning, then they must express a recognition of how seriously abortion can affect the lives of the mother, her child, and many others.

Of course, pro-life Republicans and pro-life Democrats will support the Oklahoma law. They do not need to be convinced of its value. I am not as certain that those Democrats who want abortion to be safe, legal, and rare are ready to support it. But I hope I have been able to offer some compelling reasons why they should.

Joseph Trabbic is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Ave Maria University in Immokalee, Florida.