Sunday, September 13, 2009

Was Israel Ever In Egypt???

This is a break from my usual line of topics, but it seems worth talking about. A year or two ago, I asked a Jewish rabbi (of the school called Orthodox by those who adhere to Reform or Conservative Judaism, and simply Jewish by those who consider that the latter two schools are not Judaism at all) a question about the sojourn in Egypt and the Exodus. I couldn't quite picture the conventional view that Rameses II was a likely candidate for the Pharoah who suffered ten plagues and lost his army in the Reed Sea chasing after his departing slaves. Rameses II had armies all over the middle east. If he had suffered a humiliating loss chasing after the Israelites, surely he would have caught up to them considerably less than forty years later. Yet there is no mention of any Egyptian presence in "the Promised Land" for 400 years or so.

He confirmed that this is definitely the crux of the problem with conventional timelines for Egyptian and middle eastern history. There is, however, a much more plausible point in Egyptian history for the sojourn of Jacob's descendants, and their eventual enslavement and Exodus. It is the end of the Middle Kingdom, prior to the invasion of the mw, or as modern scholarship labels them, Hyksos.

Then, I ran into a discussion on Hank Hanegraaff's blogwhich eventually touched on this very point. So, I have assembled a summary of the points offered by the rabbi, which I am posting here, as they are too lengthy to impose as a comment on anyone else's site. Anyone who wishes is free to link to them. This summary is my best understanding of a series of ten emails, but any errors in presentation are mine alone. On the off chance that this attracts any serious commentary, all comments will be considered and looked into, and changes may be made in this presentation as new data seems to warrant.

The events of the Exodus were so cataclysmic that they could never bave been concealed by the Egyptians. Their state was laid prostrate. Either the account happened, or it did not. The only possible period of Egyptian history to fit the facts is the end of the Middle Kingdom, which ended in chaos and destruction, and was immediately succeeded by the Hyksos conquerors. In fact, there is ample evidence for a catastrophic event occurring at the end of the Middle Kingdom, in which there was a mass escape of Egyptian slaves, described in terms which reflect the biblical account (of Eastern origins, eaters of abomination), and a series of events which preceded that escape, and laid the Egyptian state low. Some of this evidence may be found in two papyri and in a naos inscription of late Middle Kingdom or early New Kingdom provenance. The Exodus took place during, and in fact caused, the collapse of the Middle Kingdom.

Professor Jan van Seters, in his book The Hyksos, inadvertently shows many, many parallels between the account of Yosef and the subsequent Egyptian bondage and the end of the Middle Kingdom. In addition, as the late Prof A. S. Yahuda also demonstrated, many features of the Joseph story, including certain vocabulary peculiarities, match the late Middle Kingdom period exceptionally well. Such a dating also provides for the proximate cause of the biblical famine, i.e. the devastating climatic effects of the eruption of Thera (the modern Greek island of Santorini). The sojourn in Egypt was certainly not the time of the so-called Hyksos rulers (this is not an Egyptian word, despite the common assertion that it is; these despised foreigners were called, in all hieroglyphic texts referring to them, by a word spelt ‘mw, and probably pronounced something like Amu).

So the conventional view of ancient history by the archaeologists is simply wrong, and in their error, they have created about four centuries of alleged history, most of which they term a Dark Age for the very good reason that they can’t find any documentation of it. There is a serious chronological problem which especially continues to afflict members of this school of thought, who insist on trying to assign the time of the Exodus (even when they think it didn’t happen!) to the New Kingdom. This is done in order to be able to demonstrate that there is no evidence for it. Removing these erroneous years allows history, and non-Jewish sources, to make a great deal more sense, and not uncoincidentally, largely validates and confirms the Jewish sources.

Furthermore, if you read the books of Joshua and Judges and Samuel, you will be struck by the fact that there is no mention of Egypt at all, save in a historical sense (e.g., Rachav, in Yericho, tells Joshua’s spies that they had heard of what happened at the Reed Sea to the Egyptian army); there is no mention whatsoever of Egypt as a world power, with any influence at all on events in Israel. This covers a period of some four centuries, not uncoincidentally, the very period in which the Hyksos are said to have dominated Egypt. Had the Pharaoh of the Exodus been a New Kingdom pharaoh, the empire which Egypt possessed in western Asia could not not have failed to find mention in Jewish sources. Yet, it is conspicuous by its absence.

There are, however, many references to a barbaric people called Amaleq in Hebrew (the first two consonants of which, ayin-mem, are identical with the two root consonants of ‘mw). Significantly, shortly before King Sha’ul’s final campaign against Amaleq, David is called to defend a town called Tziqlag. He arrives too late to save the town, but he does find a wounded Egyptian slave who had been abandoned by the Amaleqim, who told David at Tziqlag which way the Amaleqim had gone after their raid. How did they come to be in possession of Egyptian slaves? The Oral Torah sources, also, tell us that Amaleq had access to the archives of Egypt. How could that be? It is only after Sha’ul broke the power of Amaleq that Egypt re-emerges on the world stage. Akhenaten and Tut‘ankhamen lived considerably after the sojourn of Israel in Egypt; the political world of the al ‘Amarna tablets is, in fact, the world of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Yehuda.

Now, nearly all of the Pharaohs of the New Kingdom were constantly meddling in the affairs of Israel, which they referred to as Rtn(w) -- so such terms as "Canaan" are projections by the Egyptologists of what they expect or hope it to be, rather than what the Egyptians wrote. The Egyptologists cannot account for this 400+ year hiatus, during a period in which Egypt was clearly a powerful state with great influence on its Eastern Border. On the other hand, the history of the Kings of Yehuda (in I-II Kings) is chock full of Egyptians.

This therefore means that the period of the New Kingdom roughly corresponds to that of the Kings, both the united kingdom of Sha’ul, David and Shlomo, and the divided kingdom which followed. There are ample references to Egyptian interference in the affairs of Israel and Yehuda during this period in Kings and Chronicles, and if the el ‘Amarna letters are read (in the original Akkadian, if possible, though to my way of thinking Samuel Mercer’s edition from the 1930’s is the least bad translation of which I’m aware) in this light, many correspondences can be identified.

For example: There are numerous references to a "Canaanite" king, to some extent a client or vassal of the Egyptians, who is consistently identified by two Sumerian ideograms read Rib Addi. As it happens, Rib is a maternal brother in Sumerian, and addi is father in the same language. The name of the well-known king of Israel, Ach’av, means "brother (ach) father (av)." Take a look at the passages in Kings which refer to Ach’av.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Dangerous Lives

(Boys Will Be Boys)

There is an article posted on Red Dreher’s Crunchy Cons site, called “The dangerous lives of boys.” A rather lively discussion has been shut down there, noting that “a pretty sick threat has been made, implicitly, and the police have been called.” Fair enough, we live in a dangerous world. Dreher had cited at length from a Catholic writer and scholar, named Tony Esolen who "has some wise and astonishingly un-p.c. words about sexuality, the abuse scandal, and masculinity." I am all for un-p.c. words, no matter what their political point of view. We should all learn to argue with each other in un-p.c. words. The discussion, before its untimely demise, rambled through some predictable paradigms, but fell short.

Esolen is concerned about boys. He is mortified by the institutional record of his church, because “to seduce a boy, to corrupt his manhood while it is yet in the bud, is to sin against his nature, his essential created being.” Well and good. Then, Esolen takes a leap of logic, though hardly of faith, to observe “Governments and foundations shovel money into programs to teach math and science specifically to girls, but not a penny, not for any subject, devoted specifically to boys. Why is that? Nowadays in some places a boy growing up with a father is as rare as an orphan used to be. These boys need more than ever the male discipline of sports -- so what do we do about it? We cut their rosters. Sometimes, against common sense, against plain decency and charity, we force the boys to play on the same teams with girls, even when there are girls' teams available. Why that happy cruelty?”

Several comments responded that it is unfair to take money away from girl’s programs to compensate for the Roman church subjecting boys to sexual abuse. It was hardly the fault of girls presently still in their childhood that priests now in the fifties or eighties subjected boys who are now adults to unspeakable horrors. That is an obvious and entirely valid riposte. But don’t write off Esolen. He’s not all wrong.

“Now of all times, when fatherhood itself is under siege from no-fault divorce, from feminism, from a sneeringly misandrist educational system, from popular culture, and from our chase of the almighty dollar at the cost of sanity and order at home, in short from the manifold sins of men and women, now of all times we need a St. John Bosco. ... The boys are invisible, and now that our Church has caved in ever so slightly but ever so noticeably on the issue of homosexuality, it has helped ensure that men with vocations to work with boys will not be able to fulfill them. Did it never occur to our soft-minded leaders that one of the reasons why we cordon off male homosexuality as unnatural is to give boys the breathing room to develop such friendships as Jesus Himself enjoyed?”

I said he’s not ALL wrong. Several cynical commentators wrote off that entire line of thought. Others defended it tooth and nail. I would like to suggest that what Esolen offers, stripped of its pretensions to universality, is ONE PART of what the world needs, what our culture needs, what SOME boys need. Sort of.

I particularly appreciated the repartee between one Franklin Evans and his counter-point, Rich:

“How about programs, period? How about setting aside gender discrimination and judging children on their skills, merit and potential instead of first dividing them into boys and girls?”

“Because boys and girls are fundamentally different. The differences between the genders is not just a social construct, no matter how much people wish it so. It is a difference in biology. They behave differently because their brains function differently.

Franklin, since you seem worked up over sports, let's take Title IX as an example. It compels equal sports spending between the sexes. On the face of it this sounds fair and reasonable. But what if girls are just less interested in sports than boys? What do you do then? Well we know because we have a couple of decades of experience. You eliminate sports programs for boys and devote resources to recruiting girls into athletics. You make the numbers balance or else.

You mention vocational training. Are boys and girls equally interested in pursuing careers as plumbers or welders or mechanics or carpenters? Of course not. But most such programs are a thing of the past because our schools now assume that every kid should be on a college track. Now females outnumber males in colleges almost 60/40.”

Nomilk later responded to Evans “Typical liberal flight from reality. I take it you don't have children, but guess what? Boys and girls are different and need different educations.”

Now let’s really be real here. There are fundamental differences between boys and girls. There are also fundamental differences between one boy and another, between one girl and another. Some boys are urgently in need of “the male discipline of sports.” Other boys can do fine without it, or only wish to play now and then. Some girls are motivated by role models who are professional basketball players – and as a male who only watches occasionally, I find the women’s league is more interesting, because it shows more strategy and teamwork.

Let’s try a little un-p.c. diversity. Boys who do well in, or desire, an all-boys school, should not be denied such a thing just because some boys, and some girls, do well in a co-ed school. Some boys might even end up there because their parents decide it is best for them. Some girls, likewise, will do better in an all girls school. It is entirely possible that some fields will attract more women and some fields will attract more men. Larry Summers may have been right that there just aren’t as many women who want to be engineers as there are men who want to be engineers. (Disclosures: my mother was a very good industrial engineer, and she agrees. Every woman doesn’t have to follow in her footsteps.)

Some juvenile delinquents will shape up with the discipline and role model of a he-man adult male who will challenge them to “be a man.” Devotion to feminist paradigms should not deprive them of the experience. (Incidentally, done right, the he-man adult male role model COULD include being respectful to women – if we go down this road, let’s make sure that it does.) Some perfectly well-balanced boys will retreat into themselves and become anti-social if forced to endure the he-man treatment. Let’s not try to force anyone into stereotypes, but keep lots of options available. The hard part is, can we do this without ending up giving 90% of the money to boys-only activities, 9% of the money to co-ed, and 1% of the money to girls-only, while 50% of each sex is in single-sex mode, and a full 50% of each sex is in co-ed? We don’t want to go back to the “good old days,” because as Moms Mabley said, “There wasn’t any good old days.”

Then Charles Foster Kane, who may be signing in as himself, offers this challenge to Esolen:

"Did it never occur to our soft-minded leaders that one of the reasons why we cordon off male homosexuality as unnatural is to give boys the breathing room to develop such friendships as Jesus Himself enjoyed? In poisoned air the most salutary meal will smell sour."

“I hope the fact that nobody's eviscerated that remark yet doesn't mean that gay readers are finally abandoning this blog. Memo to Rod: If you don't like being called out for homophobia, maybe think twice before endorsing remarks that label homosexuality as "poison," and that use the word "boys" to mean straight boys only. I mean, that's Bigotry 101.”

Once again, let’s try a little un-P.C. diversity. Fixation on homosexuality really does infringe on perfectly healthy friendships and mentoring between heterosexual males. If I give a young man a hug, am I being “gay”? No, it can be an important reassurance, nothing sexual about it. But concern over certain men in positions of trust who did perform unwanted sexual acts on vulnerable boys casts a pall of suspicion on perfectly appropriate non-sexual affection from a man to a boy.

Kane apparently is standing up for homosexuality being healthy, as did another commentator earlier, who challenged Dreher about “the healthy masculine instinct toward homosexuality that exists in those men or boys who are gay. Or indeed healthy instincts - masculine or feminine, gay or straight - toward sexuality in general.” I don’t buy that. Assuming that a certain percentage of young men, and young women, will develop a natural sexual affection for their own sex, rather than the opposite sex, even so, most of us do not. No matter how it makes individuals of a formerly persecuted and now pampered minority feel, their hormonal responses are NOT the norm. They never will be.

There is nothing wrong with offering boys companionship and adult role models based on the heterosexual norm, which is precisely what most need. If they seek out homosexual role models and mentors, I wouldn’t steer them away, but, I would remind everyone concerned that adult sexuality with a child is a crime, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Complicated? Sure it is. Life is complicated. Here is another complication: there is no reason a homosexually inclined male can’t teach a normal heterosexually inclined boy about math, science, woodworking, or coach him in rugby – the only thing said adult should not do is flirt with the young man. Neither should an adult woman teacher.

Dreher threw in a comment about pedophilia in the church: “Tony hits on something that to me, was one of the most astonishing mysteries about the whole foul business: why almost nobody, when learning what molester priests were doing to boys, acted like a real man, and stopped it. Not bishops, not brother priests (for the most part), and not laymen. You may hate me for saying this, but if some men of the parish had taken Father Pederast out back and beat the hell out of him, and run him out of the parish, a lot of this evil wouldn't have happened. But rightful Church authority was deployed to neuter healthy masculine instincts at every level.”

Some people objected to the “vigilantism,” or to Dreher’s reference to “healthy masculine instincts,” but several professedly gay commentators said they had the same “healthy masculine instincts.” A member of Dignity (for those who don’t know, that is an organization of gay Roman Catholics) recounted efforts by Dignity to bring priestly pedophilia to the attention of a bishop, who ignored them.

Let’s stop pretending there are simple answers, much less pretending that “what works for me is the simple answer for everyone else in the whole world – or at least everyone who shares my sex.” My way or the highway is the essence of political correctness. Human beings are extremely complex, and varied. It takes incredible hubris to say we understand exactly what any human being needs. It takes the same hubris to say either that all boys should make the football team, or that all boys should play with dolls, to say that girls are just going to spend their lives cooking and cleaning house, or to say that all girls should want to be astronauts. Some will. Some won’t. Solutions are individual. Gender differences are real. Solutions are individual.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Nuking Gay Whales for Jesus

Rod Dreher, who is not quite as red a Tory as I would like him to be, has posted some interesting material on politically committed people who ask how dare you disagree with whatever the speaker is passionate about. The question happened to come up with regard to gay and transgender issues, but no political clan has a monopoly on priggish self-righteousness. Newt Gingrich, Nancy Pelosi, Karl Rove, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and a host of others have been known to puff themselves up over the audacity of anyone who offers a contrary opinion, or lives their life in a manner that disproves a cherished assumption. Generally, people do this by analogy. Everyone’s favorite analogy is the civil rights movement, or slavery, or both. These analogies are generally self-serving, misleading, and unworthy of any cause capable of standing on its own two feet.

Contrary to popular delusion, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1930s to the 1970s was not about everyone’s right to do their own thing. Nor was it about demanding that everyone notice that some of our fellow citizens were black, or colored, or Afro-American, or whatever the term du jour was. That is a basic difference between African Americans and gay Americans: we could all see at a glance who was African American. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans with a congenital melanin deficiency thought that was a significant distinction. Equally unfortunately, a lot of darker-skinned Americans came to believe them, lending skin color some added significance. Not so for gays. Gay Americans had to jump up and down and scream “look at me look at me look at me.” They wanted us to take notice of their hormonal state as a significant distinction. (Oh, are you gay? Do I care? Is there any reason I should?) OK, if they all got together at a gay bar, the NYC cops knew where to find them. But they had to congregate to even be noticed. African Americans had the opposite problem.

Nobody wrote laws saying “gay men and women may not marry.” Many states wrote laws saying “men of one color or national origin may not marry women of another color or national origin.” Is the difference clear? Someone had to go out of their way to make race a criterion. It’s called “positive law,” not meaning good, but that the law made a distinction that does not exist naturally. (Come to think of it, nobody ever required separate bathrooms for gay men and women, although that would make a lot more sense than separate bathrooms for “colored” and “white.”) Nobody writing marriage laws was even thinking about gay men and women, much less discriminating against them. There was this biological function which pre-dated human history, which involved a man and a woman, and it needed a social context. Every gay man IS a man, and every gay woman IS a woman. If it were not so, the notion of “gay,” or the more technical term “homosexual,” would have no meaning at all. How can you be a same-sex couple if you don’t have a sexual identity? Marriage was something a man entered into with a woman. Men, married or not, also did various other things in their lives, but they were not relevant to marriage. Ditto for women.

Even in the many human cultures where homosexual acts were accepted and respected, such as ancient Greece, Persia, medieval Japan, nobody thought it had anything to do with marriage. Greek men married the women who bore their legitimate heirs, played around with prostitutes for pleasure, and had satisfying liaisons with fellow warriors when away from home for several years, sacking Troy or conquering Babylon or whatever. Remember Achilles love for Patroclus? Alexander the Great was famous for the passionate kiss he gave the late Persian Shahanshah’s favorite boy. But nobody called it a marriage. Everyone knew that homosexuality, however acceptable, was statistically a deviation from the biological norm for the human species, or any other species more complex than a sponge or a hydra.

Now personally, I have nothing against the state issuing licenses to two men, or two women, who think they can have a life-long committed monogamous relationship, and want to share property, hospital visitation rights, etc. I don’t much care whether it is called a marriage or not. But it is a new innovation, it is not “equal rights” to something “everyone else has.” Rights are vested in individuals, not demographic groups. Every individual man has the right to marry any individual woman who will have him. Some men, and some women, don’t want to exercise that right.

Animal rights activists are even more ridiculous trying to draw analogies to the Civil Rights and abolitionist movements. I am just old enough to have lived, as a small child, at a time when a man with dark skin walking into a bar would be charged a dollar more than a customer classified as “white.” Why? Because when he finished drinking, the glass he used would be smashed to the bottom of the trash can, so that no “white” customer ever had to use it. I wasn’t old enough to hang out in bars then, I read about it later, described by people who were. Essentially, the bartenders were responding the same way I responded when I saw a bowl, that I might have eaten cereal out of, used to provide water for a dog. I marked that bowl carefully, and made sure never to eat out of it. What has that to do with animal rights? Simply this: when animal rights activists compare themselves to the Civil Rights movement, they are implicitly saying “The problem wasn’t that our nation used to treat Negroes like dogs, the problem is that we still treat dogs the way we used to treat Negroes.”

Now if you really love animals, you might claim that there is no difference between the rights due to a dog and the rights due to a human being. But most African Americans would strenuously object to the comparison, as would most other human beings. Homo sapiens sapiens are not canines, just as being gay is not “the new black.” IF there is a case to be made for equality of humans with other mammals, it must be made on its own merits, not by analogy to how humans treat other humans. I, for one, do not buy it. I don’t allow cute little furry animals in my house, whether domesticated or not. I wonder how devoted cat lovers would respond to a “mouse liberation movement”? Would they teach their little darlings to be vegetarian? (OK, I’m sure somewhere there IS a Vegan who has gotten their cat to embrace such dietary principles, but it is pretty darn rare.)

That is the next problem with analogies from one liberation movement to the next. There has never in human history been a newly liberated bunch of people who didn’t turn around and clobber some other oppressed people. Americans fought England, among other things, for the right to exterminate and dispossess Shawnee, Cherokee, Iroquois, Creek, Choctaw, Fox, Sauk, Ottowa, and many others. Whatever the merits of Israel’s war for independence, it has ended up a wealthy and militarily powerful force lording it over a subject population which accordingly hates it. When the Dutch threw off Spanish rule, they proceeded to take over the slave trade from Portugal and establish some of the most brutal plantation economies the world had ever seen. Etc. Etc. Etc. When people who associate with each other as “gay” get a steady run of good press, they demand that everyone else rearrange their religious principles to accommodate the new dominant cultural czars.

What are the rights and reasonable expectations of Gay men and gay women, who are offended by a church teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin? About the same right as a social drinker and wine connoisseur, on the one hand, or an alcoholic, on the other, who is offended by a church teaching that drinking alcohol is a sin. Give it up, or don’t join that church. Join a church that is prepared, socially and theologically, to accept what you are not willing to give up. Is that all right with God? I don’t know, I’m not God. There are no guarantees. You will have to work around, or reject, certain rather pointed verses in the Torah and in Paul’s epistles, to justify yourself. Don’t go crying to me, make up your own mind. As long as I am not put at risk by your behavior, I won’t try to stop you. Leviticus also prohibits eating crabs, lobster and scallops. Millions of Christians have rationalized their way around it.

Animal rights activists have the nerve to demand that I must LOVE their dirty, disease-ridden, over-pampered little parasites. I don’t. I also am not “in solidarity with” gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgenders. I think its all kind of disgusting. There are people who have been friends of mine who defined themselves as gay. I have never had any problem hugging them, in the same spirit I could hug a married man (or woman) after church. They knew the difference, I knew they knew. I am not really interested in what it is they do that defines them as “gay.” That is their own private business. It has nothing to do with why we were friends. It was no obstacle to being friends. As for those devoted to animals, I refrain from exterminating domestic pets, the way I feel free to exterminate other mammals, such as rats. But I don’t love the little critters.

It is in the nature of constitutional government that we ARE going to offend each other. If we all appreciated every word of each other’s speech, we wouldn’t need guarantees of free speech in the first place. If my speech offends you, be an adult about it. If your speech offends me, I will carefully parse it, analyze it, tell you why you are wrong, and not really expect you to agree with me. Grow up everyone. And let your own beliefs, ideas, goals and causes speak for themselves. Don’t borrow someone else’s cause as a cloak to wrap up your own.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The President is not the Pope

The Church is not The State
Viva la difference!

Orlando syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker is one of the few common sense conservatives left, along with David Brooks; only my mother is ahead of both in that field. She recently offered a well-intentioned tribute to Mary Ann Glendon, who declined to accept a medal from Notre Dame on the same platform where President Barack Obama had been invited to speak.

Parker respectfully suggests that Obama withdraw as commencement speaker. I hope he doesn't. If he does speak, I hope he will openly and honestly take on the Roman bishops and others who have insinuated that he is not fit to be honored by a Roman Catholic university, rather than tactfully ignore the elephant on the stage).

If Barack Hussein Obama had ever had an abortion, or performed an abortion, the bishops would have an undeniably valid point. Roman teaching condemns both, as is any church's well established First Amendment right in this nation. Being neither a woman, nor a doctor, nor even a back-alley abortionist, he has done neither. If Obama had ever paid for a woman he impregnated to have an abortion, the point would still be valid. As far as we know, his procreation is limited to two beautiful daughters by his lawful married wife, who is not known to have ever had an abortion. She may have used contraception, which is also in violation of Roman teaching, generally ignored by a majority of American Roman Catholics. If he had ever used his bully pulpit as president to say "I advise any pregnant woman to seriously consider having an abortion, so I can balance the federal budget" the grounds for condemnation would be even greater.

All Barack Obama has ever done, as state senator, U.S. senator, or president, is to affirm that he will have no part of re-imposing criminal sentences on women or doctors for pre-viability abortions, or for late-term abortions where a woman's life is endangered. What the bishops really complain of is that they are making no headway with their church's real agenda: restoration of severe prison sentences (or maybe even executions) for those who seek or perform abortions. The bishops may also be frustrated that so many American Catholics are ignoring their injunctions, but if they are understandably hesitant to excommunicate such a large portion of their flock, why do they expect the secular arm of the state to step in?

The tempest in a teacup about Notre Dame inviting the president to speak at commencement is part and parcel of an ominous, but blessedly futile, campaign of blackmail waged by the church for many decades. In my home state of Wisconsin, known for its progressives and its neanderthals (LaFollette, McCarthy, Feingold, Thompson, all earning substantial support from the large Roman Catholic population) bishops have been known to threaten state legislators of the Roman faith with excommunication for failing to advance the church's legislative agenda. Frankly, that borders on treason, or at the very least, coercion of a public official in the performance of their duties, also a criminal offense.

To paraphrase Parker's own critique of the presidential debate sponsored last year by Rick Warren, America is the loser when a hierarchical church can claim that elected public servants should toe the church's party line in performing the duties of their public office. If our constitution provided that each religion and denomination was entitled to elect representatives to a legislative chamber, then of course the church would have a right to expect its representatives to vote as the church directed. But we don't. Legislators represent their district, or their state, in its entirety, not their bishops and priests.

If the bishops keep it up, a reprint of Paul Blanshard's well-documented book, American Democracy and Catholic Power, might well be in order. They are doing everything possible to justify Blanshard's critique of the church.

I have no problem with pro-life individuals, churches, and voluntary associations loudly and persistently (and hopefully graciously) proclaiming their beliefs and principles to the world in general, and to pregnant women (not to mention practicing physicians) in particular. NARAL has no claim to a monopoly on free speech. It is not misogyny to offer a sincere viewpoint that from the moment of conception, an independent human life deserving of full legal protection has been formed. I happen to disagree with that premise, but it is my job to sustain my belief, not to suppress those who differ. I do not believe that a newly fertilized zygote is a human being, nor a blastocyst, nor an embryo. Neither did Thomas Aquinas, nor St. Thomas More. At some point between embryo and delivery, a fetus deserves some protection, although no government authority has the right to require a woman to sacrifice her own life, if pregnancy does endanger it. Removing from the mother's womb, with due regard for the mother's safety, a baby which could survive on its own, is without doubt a delivery, not an abortion, and should be conducted as such.

Mary Ann Glendon is, no doubt, acting honestly and according to her own conscience. I would have viewed her invitation in a different light. Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, may have been trying to say, we can honor a political leader, who is not a Roman Catholic, and not accountable to the church for fidelity to church doctrine, for inspired leadership within the scope of his public office, while also affirming church teaching by honoring a distinguished Roman Catholic whose life exemplifies those teachings.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What God has for Gary Graham... for Gary Graham

A Hollywood actor named Gary Graham, who I had never heard of before (I only watched the original Star Trek cast, not the later generations), has posted a detailed account of his new epiphany that abortion is murder. It is available on line and a shorter excerpt, faithful to the original, is available from gospel columnist James Watkins. It is an important, honest, moving, heartfelt presentation. Anyone who considers themselves to be pro-choice should read it. Anyone who cannot read it, carefully consider every word, and still affirm their pro-choice principles, should join the right-to-life movement.

I write as someone who has read the entire column, and remains firmly pro-choice. I also find a great deal of merit in the way Graham has transformed his life. (See also: Roe v. Wade Affirmed Again, and, What Abortion Campaign?)

Unlike Graham, I was never a long-haired hippie. I was always trying to figure out how to bring paper mill workers into the anti-war movement; I thought growing my hair long would get in the way. I was never into free love, never invited a “nice piece” to get warm in a sleeping bag with me, and certainly never had seven women on the side. I did attempt to commit adultery once, but found it very unsatisfactory. The fact that her husband was having an affair with a mutual friend (mutual to all of us) was no excuse. (What if she became pregnant? Her tubes had been tied some time previous.) Anyway, I never confused cheering up a lonely woman with changing the world. I thought that anti-war slogan should have been, make peace, not love. I’m glad Graham has grown out of the idea that drugs, sex, and rock and roll are going to save the world. He’s right, they are not.

More important, I’m glad he has recognized the value of human life, and that God had a much more significant purpose for relations between a man and a woman than a quick feel-good moment. It is obvious, although not explicitly stated, that Graham has found a woman he is really committed to, one woman, and they really, really want this baby. He paid for an ultrasound this time, not an abortion. I’m really happy for him.

Unlike Graham, I’ve never paid for an abortion. I’ve never conceived a child. I’ve always loved babies. I never bought into the “kids are a drag” nonsense that some pseudo-feminists, and not a few men, were toying with some years back. I would volunteer to take care of any friend’s baby any time. If there was a child in the room, I would be reading to that child within five minutes. If a woman in the next row in church had two young children, both appealing to be picked up at the same time, I would take the older one. If someone I knew was doing day care, I would be there any available hour helping out, just for the joy of being with the kids. I talk in complete sentences to three month olds, just so they can start to become familiar with the pattern.

So how can I be pro-choice? Let’s start with a cute bumper sticker I saw, “How Can There Be Too Many Children? That’s Like Saying There Are Too Many Flowers.” Very bad analogy. How do we treat flowers? First, we ruthlessly dig up the ones we call “weeds” and throw them away. Second, we plant lots of seeds, thin out the seedlings so the mature plants won’t be too crowded, and throw away the “excess.” We prune the plants so that we get the maximum blooms that we consider beautiful. When a plant stops blooming, we dig it up and throw it away, to make room for something more productive.

We don’t treat children like that, do we?

Unlike Graham, I am perfectly prepared to draw a line between a fetus and a child. I don’t believe that life begins at conception. I believe that life begins long before conception. Every sperm cell is alive. So is every unfertilized ovum. Do you realize how many millions of sperm cells are wasted, just so that ONE of them can fertilize an egg? For some reason, that is how God planned it. How about all the eggs wasted by menstruation? Each of them, matched with even a tiny fraction of the wasted sperm cells, could grow into a beautiful human child.

True, there is a qualitative difference when two sets of 23 chromosomes unite to form 23 pairs, a total of 46 chromosomes. A sperm could be a sperm for one hundred years, and never grow into a baby. A zygote, the union of a sperm and an egg, cannot last even nine months without growing into a baby. But a zygote is not a baby. It is the blueprint for a baby. It has to snatch an astounding array of hydrocarbons from the placenta, putting them into the correct place in its expanding biochemical framework, in order to become a baby. That pulsating ultrasound Graham was so overwhelmed by cannot eat, think, learn to read… not for several more months. It is a miracle, and Graham is already fond of the future he will have after it grows into a baby, when he can hold his daughter in his arms. Good for him.

Our bodies are the product of a biological process in which many die, so that a few may be born, live, and reach adulthood. There must be some moral compass to this biology, because this is the way God created life. God plays these numbers. There is a point at which we rise above the mere biological imperative. We are human, we are individuals, each of us is individually precious. Of all the acts of creation recounted in Genesis, only one was a direct act of creation. Instead of saying "let the waters bring forth" and "let the earth bring forth," God said "Let us make man in our own image." Only after creating man in his own image did God see that his creation was very good. Salmon spawn millions of eggs so that a few thousand may hatch, so that a few hundred may mature to swim out into the ocean, so that a few dozen may come back to the rivers where they were born, so that five or so pairs may spawn before they die. Most of the rest are eaten. Many end up in cans in our supermarkets. Mammals keep their young inside the female until birth, but we waste millions of sperm and dozens or hundreds of ova. Humans mostly bear one child at a time. Still, it was true only a century ago that half of those who entered kindergarten would die of accident or infectious disease before graduating from high school. So where do we draw the line?

Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, invited Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to present arguments against stem cell research to one of his classes. Melton asked Doerflinger if he considered a day-old embryo and a 6-year old to be morally the same. Then Melton asked, why is it that our society accepts the freezing of embryos, but not the freezing of 6-year olds? That question doesn’t reveal the full poignancy of Melton’s research. Melton was a microbiologist studying amphibian development, until his 6-month old son nearly died of what turned out to be Type I diabetes. Melton shifted to the field of stem cell research to find a way to introduce new insulin-producing cells into the pancreas. Where exactly does the right-to-life equation balance here?

At conception, a zygote is not a baby. At birth, a baby is a baby, not mere tissue. I fully embrace drawing the line exactly where Graham says we cannot draw it: can the fetus, if removed from the mother, by natural or caesarean delivery, survive on its own, without extensive artificial life support? Graham asks, what about a two-day old baby? It would die too if not properly cared for. There is a difference. Any adult human being could step forward and volunteer to raise the two-day old abandoned by its natural parents. Nobody but the mother could carry a fetus to term.

If abortion is murder, then every doctor who performs one should be put to death by lethal injection, and every woman who consents to abortion should be imprisoned for life. The right-to-life movement has been in the political minority for so long, they don’t have to answer for such a horrifying prospect. Nor do they have to answer for the many distraught, frightened women who have sought abortions by any means available when abortion was illegal, ending up dead (along with their unborn child) on a greasy back-alley operating table. They show pictures of cute babies on billboards, babies who are clearly not fetuses. They show blown up photos of aborted fetuses, probably the very small number aborted late in pregnancy to save a mother’s life. They don’t have to answer for the severe doctor shortage they seek to create, or for the image of thousands of women in lonely prison cells. If their own figures are correct, millions of women in lonely prison cells!!!

Graham, like more experienced advocates in the right-to-life movement, conveniently overlooks that in every state of the union, third trimester abortions are illegal, unless the mother’s life or health are in danger. (The tragic procedure referenced as “partial birth abortion” is, by its very nature, only performed at the very end of the third trimester). Banning third trimester abortions is not a violation of the federal constitution. Not at all. There is, as he briefly alludes to, some potential for abuse of the standard “health of the mother.” It should be limited to permanent physical impairment, or some similar standard, not “Are you suicidal?” (Wink-wink). There are some who believe it is a woman’s duty to sacrifice her own life for the sake of her baby. Roman Catholic priests taught that in much of Europe at one time, and rigorously enforced it if called in to referee a difficult birth. I don’t buy it. IF the mother’s life IS in danger, then the life inside her, which could otherwise be safely delivered, MUST be destroyed in order to save the mother. Tragic, yes, but not gratuitous. If the mother freely chooses to risk her own life to save her baby, it is her right to make that decision.

Abortion is not murder. But it is a very serious matter. It is the interruption of the process for creating a new life. Graham is quite correct that the cavalier manner in which he inseminated one woman after another, then terminated the process he never took seriously in the first place, was morally depraved. Abstinence is better than abortion, contraception is better than abortion. Outside of marriage, abstinence is better than contraception. But we live in an imperfect world, and the question for constitutional law is, exactly how intrusive should The State be in these very complex and intimate decisions? If abortion is murder, of course The State should be performing executions.

The law is a very blunt instrument. If we keep it simple, it will have many unintended consequences. If we try to make it fair, and take into consideration every variable in the life of any person subject to that law, it becomes too complex to manage. I am convinced that The State is totally unfit to sort out the very profound moral considerations that come into play in the matter of terminating a pregnancy. It is not a matter for police, judges, or advocates. It is a matter for the woman concerned, her doctor, and her family to the extent she has one and places confidence in them.

It is entirely appropriate that those who believe abortion to be morally wrong at all times and in all circumstances should say so, loudly and publicly, privately, intimately, individually. That is precisely the ground on which the profound moral questions concerning pregnancy and abortion should be fought out. Just don’t ask the police to intervene for you, if you are not sufficiently persuasive. If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one. If you want to reach out to an undecided pregnant woman, offer her whatever support she needs to carry the pregnancy to term. If some women don’t follow your advice, pray for them. If every woman were fully convinced of the moral argument against abortion, there would be none.

A friend who is deeply opposed to abortion, morally, has been expressing some second thoughts to me lately. He observes, in his community, the many young women who have five or six children before they are 25 years old, by five or eight men, and haven’t a clue how to raise any of them. He is beginning to wonder, would it have been better if these young women HAD gotten abortions? Oh, we can all say adoption is better… but are there enough people in this country who are prepared to practice pro-life convictions by actually stepping forward to adopt all these children? ALL of them? It would be even better if these young women had used contraception, or had their tubes tied, or refrained from casual sex with the absent fathers, but since we don’t have effective control of that either, should we also be restricting abortions?

The ultimate decision properly lies with the mother. Some mothers will make the wrong decision. Some will later regret it. If The State makes the decision, The State will sometimes make the wrong decision. Roe v. Wade is a ruling about who should make the decision. It says nothing about which decision is the right decision. There are circumstances in which I, personally, would choose abortion, or more accurately, when I would support my wife’s decision to abort a pregnancy. Other men may disagree, and women may also have many different perspectives. The law need not decide which of us is correct. Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it is morally right.

Tremendous damage is done to human lives and families by abuse of alcohol. Many highly motivated reformers sought to ban the production, importation and sale of alcohol, and even passed a constitutional amendment for that purpose. Ultimately, we found that did more harm than good. It morally corrupted our entire justice system, and turned organized crime from a street-corner hazard into big business. There are still churches which teach that letting even one drop of an alcholic beverage pass your lips is a sin. If you belong to such a church, the fact that it is legal to drink beer, wine and whiskey doesn’t make it all right. If such churches ever succeed in persuading the entire population that this teaching is true, then we will have absolute Prohibition, without a single criminal statute.

Gary Graham’s epiphany is his very own. He has repented of many self-centered, hedonistic bad decisions he has made in his life. The fact that Gary Graham paid for some vain, thoughtless abortions after a series of frivolous sexual encounters does not mean that every woman who ever seeks an abortion should be threatened with the ultimate penalty of the law. Abortion should be much more rare than Gary Graham’s past life made it, and much more legal than his impassioned regrets would allow for. Graham admits that he doesn’t have the answers for incest, rape, or severe birth defects. I would add that perhaps if he did have answers, they might not be THE answers for everyone. So there we have the answer to, why should abortion be rare? There are rare instances where we don’t have all the answers. Therefore, The State should not impose answers. Abortion should be legal, and rare. How do we make it rare? Make a list of all the reasons women seek abortion, then make a list of how we can take away those reasons. We won’t be able to eliminate every reason, but we could, if people put their money where their mouth is, instead of where their lobbyists are, eliminate enough reasons to make abortion rare.

Of course, all of us, pro-choice, pro-life, or kind of in between and wishing the loudest mouths on the subject would go away and find something productive to do, are imperfect. We will all make mistakes. And so I join in Graham’s closing plea: May God have mercy on us all.