Obama vs. The Right to Life

May 19, 2008

“I could not bear the thought of this suffering child dying alone in a soiled utility room, so I cradled and rocked him for the 45 minutes that he lived,” Stanek told the U.S. Congress

From an article written in the National Catholic Register: 

BY The Editors

It’s important for Americans to know exactly where Barack Obama stands on abortion, because abortion is more than just a “Catholic issue.” It’s one of the fundamental issues Americans should be most concerned about.

The United States was founded on the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and Americans have spent the past two centuries since trying to live up to those founding principles. First came disagreements over the pursuit of happiness — religious and economic liberty. Then, over slavery. Today’s big battle is over the most important right: the right to life.

Obama’s votes and official positions deny the right to life to three categories of human beings: the unborn, the “accidentally” born and, at least in one case, the adult “unfit.” Let’s look at each.

The Unborn

Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr., understood how the right to life is fundamental. “I and my deceased children are victims of abortion,” she has said. “The Roe v. Wade decision has adversely affected the lives of my entire family. I pray often for deliverance from the pain caused by my decision to abort my baby.”

Obama’s position on the question rejects her view.

When the Supreme Court, citing experiences like King’s, decided that a federal ban on partial-birth abortion would not violate the Constitution, Obama said he “strongly disagreed” with the court. Partial-birth abortion is the barbaric procedure in which a doctor kills a child with scissors while the child is being born. Obama vows to keep the practice legal.

Obama once described why he thinks abortion should be legal through all nine months of a woman’s pregnancy.

“Whenever we define a pre-viable fetus as a person that is protected by the Equal Protection Clause or the other elements in the Constitution, what we’re really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a child, a 9-month old child that was delivered to term,” he said. “That determination then, essentially, if it was accepted by a court, would forbid abortions to take place.”

How could Obama be so opposed to the right to life? He may have let slip one reason at a March Town Hall meeting in Pennsylvania.

“Look, I’ve got two daughters, 9 years old and 6 years old,” Obama said. “If they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.”

He thinks “unwanted” children, by their very existence, are an unacceptable imposition.

‘Accidental’ Infants

This brings us to the next category of human being Obama says has no intrinsic right to life: Babies born “accidentally” while a doctor attempts to kill them by abortion.

This is a necessary consequence of Obama’s embrace of abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy. Most of us know parents who have cared for preemies — premature babies, born too soon. With the abortion industry’s wide-scale attempts to kill American premies and nearly due children, some will be born alive accidentally.

Whistleblower Jill Stanek, a Chicago nurse, described the practice of killing babies in what is now known as “live-birth abortion.” Illinois tried to stop the practice. But in 2002, as state legislator there, Obama voted against the Induced Infant Liability Act, which would have protected babies who were “accidentally” born alive during attempts to abort them.

“I could not bear the thought of this suffering child dying alone in a soiled utility room, so I cradled and rocked him for the 45 minutes that he lived,” Stanek told the U.S. Congress, describing one such case. “He was too weak to move very much, expending any energy he had trying to breathe. Toward the end he was so quiet that I couldn’t tell if he was still alive unless I held him up to the light to see if his heart was still beating through his chest wall.”

After Stanek’s testimony even N.Y. Democrat Jerrold Nadler, who says he is “as pro-choice as anybody on earth” supported and spoke in favor of the bill.

But for the abortion industry and Obama, opposing the right to life has meant uncompromising dedication to a counter-principle. For Obama, protecting the unstated principle “unwanted children do not have the right to life” is the only way abortion can remain legal. That has led him to exclude another category of human being from the right to life: the unfit.

Terri Schiavo

In a recent debate, Obama said the vote he most regrets was his vote to save Terri Schiavo’s life. Her husband, Michael, wanted Terri dead, even though she was alert and responsive to nurses and family members. He had married again, had a new child with a new woman, and he wanted Terri dead.

When a judge granted his request, Congress and President Bush attempted to intervene to save her life, and not just to save her life, but to stop the dangerous precedent. They failed. Now Obama says they shouldn’t have tried.

Thus, he started by rejecting the right to life of unwanted children and now rejects the right to life of an unwanted woman.

Obama not only opposes the right to life, his opposition is his highest priority. “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act,” he told Planned Parenthood last July. That would make America more friendly to the abortion industry than any other country in the world.

America’s Creed

The idea that there is a creed at the heart of America was best expressed by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address. “Four score and seven years ago,” he said, “our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He called the Civil War a test as to whether “any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

America is still undergoing that test.

But, like a reverse Lincoln, a new man from Illinois seeks the presidency, one who is engaged in a battle against the proposition that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with the right to life.

Not Said by Jesus

May 16, 2008

Beauty Matters

May 9, 2008

In keeping with our reflections on beauty, here is a powerful reflection which comes from Frederica Mathewes-Greene. Today she wrote: “A year or so ago I was invited to speak at a conference on Apologetics, as related to Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Peter Kreeft got “Goodness” and William Lane Craig got “Truth.” Here’s my presentation on “Beauty,” with the title “A Golden Bell and a Pomegranate.”

Here is the conclusion to her beautiful essay on beauty:

A few years ago I was being interviewed on an NPR program, and the host asked me, “All this fancy stuff you do in church, the icons and candles and incense, doesn’t it get in the way? Doesn’t it distract you from worshipping God?”

 I said, “Imagine that it’s your anniversary, and your husband has taken you to a nice restaurant. There’s a white cloth on the table, roses and candles, a glass of wine, and violin music is playing in the background. Does that distract you from feeling romantic?”

Now, it’s true, you can have all this beauty and just take it for granted. You can go to church every Sunday and just yawn your way through it. But that’s not the fault of the church. A married couple could plow through a fancy meal without once looking each other in the eye. But that wouldn’t be the fault of the restaurant. They did everything they could. Beauty is not enough, all by itself. It’s not the goal, just a way toward the goal, which is life in Christ.

Yet beauty in worship is not an option; it is something God commands. After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, as they were wandering in the wilderness, God told Moses how to furnish a tent to be their place of worship. He told him, for example, that there needed to be a box to hold the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Now, today we’d say, “Oh, sure,” and run out to the mall and buy a clear plastic storage unit with a snap-on lid. But God did not ask for something merely functional. He told Moses to make this box, the Ark of the Covenant, from acacia wood, and to overlay it with gold—not only on the outside, but the inside as well. Even though the inside of the Ark would not be seen, it should be beautiful and costly, because it was being made for God.

The Lord gave Moses further instructions . . .

Think about it: even though the children of Israel were refugees, wandering in the desert and living in tents, God still commanded Moses to use extravagant resources in making worship beautiful. Beauty matters. . .

As missionaries, at home or abroad, we must prepare ourselves to do the work God gives us. We must know the Scriptures well and have a good understanding of our faith, so that we can present it clearly. And we must have love for those we speak to, so they will feel welcomed and invited into God’s household.

But when a visitor comes to join us for worship, the focus is no longer on us, on our knowledge or our loving character. In worship, it’s about God, and all signs must point in His direction. An atmosphere of beauty teaches wordlessly about the nature of God. It teaches that He is not just a concept to be endlessly discussed; that at some point our capacity to grasp him intellectually fails, and we fall before him in worship. Beyond all we know and cannot know about God, he reigns in beauty. Beauty opens our hearts, and stirs us to hunger for more, to hunger for the piercing sweetness of the presence of God.

A visitor may not at first see what we’re seeing, but he can see that we see something. When I was a child I was near-sighted, but no one realized this and a number of years passed before I got glasses. Till then I kept having the frustrating experience that my parents would want to show me something, but I couldn’t see it. They would point, for example, at a bird in a treetop, and say, “There it is, do you see it?” And I would squint and try to follow the line of the pointing finger, and just see a greenish blob that was probably a tree. Sometimes I would say, “No, I don’t see it;” sometimes I would pretend I had, just to get it over with.

But you know what? I never said, “There is no bird.”

When a visitor comes into our worship, he might not see what we’re looking at—in this case, not a bird in a treetop, but God in His heaven. But the visitor can see us. He sees us worshipping with awe and gratitude, hears us singing ancient and Scriptural hymns that Christians around the world have offered for millennia. He sees candlelight flickering on the gold of icons, and hears the bells on the censer. He tastes the antidoron, smells the incense, and is greeted by other worshippers with the kiss of peace. Every one of his senses is affected. Maybe he doesn’t yet see the Lord we worship, but he see us, and sees that we see something; that we are being held rapt by the presence of something awesome, terrible, beautiful. He can tell that something is going on. And that mysterious beauty is a hook that pulls people further in.

Any missionary needs theological education, as well as love for those in the mission field. But we Orthodox know of one further element of missions: beauty. We worship in beauty because it is what God commanded. He instructed Moses to provide elaborate beauty in worship—gold, incense, embroidery, carved wood, vestments, “a golden bell and a pomegranate.” But not because God needs these things – as the psalmist says, he already owns the cattle on a thousand hills. No, it is we humans who need such things, and their use in worship empowers mission in ways that, literally, can’t be conveyed in words. Beauty sets the heart aright, and opens it to God.


Benedict and Beauty

May 4, 2008

From a “First Things” April 25 post by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus:

“In my commentary here and in my coverage of the papal visit with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN, I had occasion to make somewhat critical remarks about the way the Mass was celebrated at Nationals Park in Washington. My observation that New York, by way of contrast, did itself proud was quite untouched by my notorious New York chauvinism.

In response to my comments, we received hundreds, if not well over a thousand, emails, letters, and references on the blogosphere. I estimate that they ran about five-to-one in favor of what I had said. Responses by church musicians were overwhelmingly favorable. But those in the minority expressed deep outrage. Some took my remarks as criticism of Pope Benedict. My point was that the Washington style of celebration flew in the face of much that Benedict has written about liturgy and music. Others complained that my comments insulted the musicians and choirs who were very sincere in doing their thing, no matter what others thought of it. No doubt. But most of those in the minority charged me with elitism and snobbery in trying to impose my musical and liturgical tastes on others.

Where to begin? The matter of taste—or, if you will, aesthetics—enters into it, no doubt. But the problem with the way the liturgy and music was handled is that it focused attention on the gathered people and the performers rather than on what Christ is doing in the Eucharist. It was a display of preening multiculturalism that proclaimed, “Look at us wonderfully diverse people exhibiting our wonderfully diverse talents!” I should add that this was the impression more powerfully conveyed on television, which was what I saw from the broadcast studio. Some people who were in the stadium and participating in the Mass tell me they hardly noticed the sundry musical performances, except as a vague background noise. They were the fortunate ones.

No doubt there are many parishes where people regularly suffer worse than what was perpetrated at Nationals Park. For the most part it was bad music competently performed. But one expects better, one expects much better, at a papal Mass. Especially when the pope is one who has been so very explicit in his views on liturgical and musical practices.

In the March issue of First Things, Father George Rutler has a devastatingly arch review of Piero Marini’s A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal. Marini was the Master of Pontificial Liturgical Celebrations until he was relieved of his duties by Pope Benedict.

What Marini calls the “vision of the liturgical renewal” has over the years been strongly criticized by Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict as the invention of the proponents of “the spirit of Vatican II”—a spirit in sharp contrast to what the council actually said. In Sacrosanctum Concilium, the council said:

That sound tradition may be retained, and yet the way remain open to legitimate progress. Careful investigation is always to be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. This investigation should be theological, historical, and pastoral. . . . Finally, there must be no innovation unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from the forms already existing. (emphasis added)

The difference between the organic and the manufactured has been a theme constantly emphasized by Benedict. The story of how, after the council, Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, ably assisted by Piero Marini (now archbishop), manufactured multiple innovations in accord with their vision of renewal is well known. And, of course, over the past forty-plus years, bishops and priests beyond numbering, taking their cue from the likes of Bugnini and Marini, brought their own “creative resources” to bear on the manufacturing process.

The difference between the organic and the manufactured has everything to do with Benedict’s repeated emphasis on “the hermeneutics of continuity” in the correct interpretation of the council, as distinct from viewing the council as a rupture in the Church’s tradition. The hermeneutics of rupture results in talk about a pre–Vatican II Church and a post–Vatican II Church, as though there are two churches, one before the council and one after.

Nobody seems to know why Pope Paul VI allowed Bugnini to take such liberties with the Church’s worship, or why, in 1976, he “exiled” him to a diplomatic post in Iran, where he died. Without directly criticizing Paul VI, Ratzinger has written that a “pope is not an absolute monarch whose will is law, but is the guardian of the authentic Tradition.” With respect to the liturgy, he has said, “he has the task of a gardener, not that of a technician who builds new machines and throws the old ones on the junk-pile.” In the same context, Ratzinger invokes the “golden words” of the Catechism: “For this reason no sacramental rite may be modified or manipulated at the will of the minister or the community. Even the supreme authority in the Church may not change the liturgy arbitrarily, but only in the obedience of faith and with religious respect for the mystery of the liturgy.”

In his book The Feast of Faith, Ratzinger addresses the question of sacred music in a passage well worth pondering:

The movement of spiritualization in creation is understood properly as bringing creation into the mode of being of the Holy Spirit and its consequent transformation, exemplified in the crucified and resurrected Christ. In this sense, the taking up of music into the liturgy must be its taking up into the Spirit, a transformation that entails both death and resurrection. That is why the Church has had to be critical of ethnic music; it could not be allowed untransformed into the sanctuary. The cultic music of pagan religions has a different status in human existence from the music which glorifies God in creation. Through rhythm and melody themselves, pagan music often endeavors to elicit an ecstasy of the senses, but without elevating the sense into the spirit; on the contrary, it attempts to swallow up the spirit in the senses as a means of release. This imbalance toward the senses recurs also in modern popular music: the “God” found here, the salvation of man identified here, is quite different from the God of the Christian faith.

For Benedict, aesthetics is never mere aesthetics. He readily acknowledges his debt to Hans Urs von Balthasar, who has helped many of us to appreciate more fully the ways in which beauty is inseparable from the transcendent realities of the true and the good. I do not wish to be too hard on those who planned the celebration at Nationals Park. It was, sad to say, not unrepresentative of much Catholic worship in our time. The planners and the performers no doubt meant well, but it is worthy of remark that at a papal Mass there was so much that reflected an ignorance of, or defiance of, the very considered views of the pope.”