Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Contraception vs. Abortion

The US bishops are fighting a mandate right now by the government to make them allow for contraceptives in their employee's insurance coverage. That is about preventive health care and I don't want to address that issue here. Plenty of others are--it is all over the news. But I am concerned about the whole attitude of the magisteria about contraception which feeds into this battle.

I'd like to say a little about barrier contraception, which would include the condom, diaphragm and perhaps both together, Natural Family Planning (NFP) type of birth control which is the one and only the Church approves, and abortive type contraceptives.

The NFP is apparently as effective as many other forms of birth control when used correctly. NFP does not use barriers or pills, but counts on female cycles, with daily checks of temperature and other physiology. However, it absolutely requires abstinence at certain times in a woman's monthly cycle, such as perhaps, if a woman is irregular, on one’s honeymoon.

Artificial contraceptives are supposedly the reason for sex outside of marriage. Does it occur to anyone that NFP could be used outside of marriage? It’s like the often heard, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Human beings are the ones that sin, not the birth control method. Yet I truly doubt if NFP is used much outside marriage, even though it would be virtually without cost. That might give us an idea of its convenience.

Studies have come out that say about 98% of Catholic sexually active women use contraceptives other than NFP. At my church and at a class at my college, the people who taught NFP had at least 5 children. They perhaps wanted large families, but I'd rather be taught by a couple who was married 30 years and had zero or one child that they could confirm they planned for. People are busy these days, and perfection, as you need with the NFP method, can be hard to come by.

There are issues for the Church Magisterium to legitimately decide, but in my opinion they could be doing a better role in leadership here. They have allowed that some family planning is OK (hence the NFP). Still, their tone is begrudging, and elsewhere the teachings give the impression of pressure to keep having children whether you can cope with them or not.

If bishops would go back to the drawing board and make more of a distinction between barrier contraceptives and abortive ones, they would show their understanding toward women who find NFP an unwieldy choice. These are the very women who spend hours of their time working for the Church institutions in question, such as hospitals and universities, yet are supposed to also let every sexual encounter be an occasion for another huge responsibility. Perhaps both women and men faithful would more seriously consider the bishop's teachings in the Church's fight against abortion if the authority felt greater sensitivity toward their flocks. Yes, children are wonderful, and many couples deeply want as many as they can naturally have. But some couples have limits, and those limits seem to be remembered one minute and forgotten the next. The women especially are judged when they are different than others. Some women do not feel the call to bear many children and it seems as unfair to pressure them to have them as it would be to pressure those who want children to not have them. I realize there are complications when it comes to unnatural methods of either prevention or inducement of pregnancy and we need to discuss them. But if modern science is used to prevent miscarriage, then I think it is not unreasonable it should be allowed for prevention of pregnancy.

The Church does not force individuals to become priests (although at one time that may have been true). Young men are asked to discern their calling directly from God, not from the bishops. So it should be recognized about all of us. It is not logical for us to think that even the bishops know each gift for every person in their diocese and how they may best be used.

More than to careers or parenthood, God calls all Christians to be evangelists. Many feel they evangelize by a "regular" job or by guiding their children, but there are other paths. The Church may be concerned about the number of souls being born, but these days, children born to Catholics do not automatically become Christians. They must be directly evangelized, and more and more, re-evangelized. The culture has led many away from faith, and it takes effort on all our parts to work against that tide. Some women may become evangelists in a way other than physical parenthood, and not just in convents. Though God's command to Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply, priests and nuns do not feel compelled to do so. There are other considerations, and I believe decisions about reproduction for a married couple are similarly nuanced.

Unfortunately, the contraceptives are often defended by groups that desire abortion also. These persons, both male and female, I believe have similar tunnel vision but in a different direction. The Church has said life begins at conception, and I agree. The profound dignity the Lord gives to life is worthy of our greatest respect. We are in deep trouble not only in our country, but more importantly in our Church. It is vital to be concerned whether contraceptives actually prevent conception or abort a fertilized egg. There are disagreements what the pill does in this regard. With all our modern science, we should be able to find out whether abortion may occur. If any pill causes abortion, it should not be used by Christians. But we must remember we have a pluralistic society and not everyone agrees when life starts. Some Christians do not even think abortion is termination of human life, and so it is important to convince people that life begins at conception, such as they do with ultrasounds on fetuses, rather than denigrate aborters.

I am not talking about a political-type compromise of contraception vs. abortion. However, if this were a political issue it would be obvious that this is the answer: barrier contraception is acceptable, abortion isn’t. But we are talking about getting to what is right, and I think the same answer applies. We use modern science to make medicines such as we use to prevent miscarriage, and the Church has recognized there can be a limit to resources so that family planning is necessary. To deny that barrier contraception is acceptable is to risk, or should I say continue, insensitivity to people's real lives. There may be many root causes for Christian women who either use contraceptives or have abortions. I've certainly seen a broad spectrum of speculation on why it is happening, and we need to communicate with each other within our faith. The Church took way too long to change its attitude over slavery. It took (and is still taking) the leadership way too long to take action against sexual predators. And it is taking way too long for the leadership to treat women equally.

The diaphragm is not as convenient as the pill, but perhaps if women demanded better methods of barrier contraceptives, they would come about. Yes, there may be some extramarital sex with contraceptives, but my guess is that most of the large percentages of sexually active Catholic women who use contraceptives are trying to deal with the many demands made upon them and the challenges they want to meet successfully. Modern science has brought about contraceptives as they are now. In my opinion, by saying women can't use them at all and that every sex act must be open to reproduction, the Church tried to mandate behavior in a way that drove many women away from the Church itself rather than help them cope with real life. We must be respectful of all life. The divide between what bishops are saying and millions of Catholic women are doing does not go unnoticed by the general public. That is a detriment to our unity and witness, both of which are critical to evangelization.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Joe Paterno, 1926-2012

Now that former Penn State coach Joe Paterno passed away (1-22-2012), I want to add a few thoughts to the ones I've given right after the scandal at Penn State broke out in November of last year (see links to my posts in the Sunday Snippets post here). This involved sexual molestation charges against a former assistant coach who was still using Penn State facilities but had resigned several years earlier. A witness told Joe about it, who then told his boss, the athletic director. However, nothing happened for nine years, and when the details finally broke in the media, the public was furious. In the end, the University president, the athletic director and Joe Paterno were all fired from their jobs.

Many think Joe was treated badly by the University Board, citing all the good he had done, not only in winning football games, but contributing money and encouraging education. But others agreed with the Board's actions.

Paterno had offered to retire at the end of the season. At the time, I felt Paterno should be fired, but after thinking about it, perhaps the board should have come to him. They might have said, retire immediately, not at the end of the season, and we won't fire you. The transition would not have been perfect, but it might have acknowledged all the good Joe had done in the past. No one would have forgotten why Joe left when he did.

Paterno himself had said about the scandal that he wished he had done more. In his last interview, he said he didn't know what to do about the situation. I believe that, and hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. Life can be complicated, and often we try to get away with things by ignoring them. Sometimes that works (we don't get in immediate trouble, that is), and sometimes it doesn't. Unfortunately, other people may be getting hurt by our inaction. I am thinking beyond the case at Penn State. Don't many of us ignore hunger in other countries and even our own? What about earthquake victims who still don't have homes? We might say it is too overwhelming and we can't fix everything. Even when we give, it is still not enough. Yet how much do we accumulate for ourselves that we don't really need?

The main point is that people can be very highly regarded, and even for good reason. They may raise a great deal of funds for good causes, and influence young people for good. Yet they are not perfect. No person on Earth, no matter how great his or her acts, has been perfect except One. Joe couldn't earn his way to heaven, nor can I. Romans 3:27 says, What occasion is there then for boasting? It is ruled out. On what principle, that of works? No, rather on the principle of faith. (New American Bible, USCCB website).

We have been redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ so that if we believe in Him, we may enter His kingdom. That puts us on the same field, but we're not just playing a game.

Friday, January 20, 2012

New Secretary General

On the Vatican News, there was an announcement about a new Secretary-General for the Southern African Bishop's Conference. Her name is Sister Hermenegild Makoro. She talked about all the work women do for the church and how the bishops there have seen it and recognized it. It is very good to know they have appreciated the work of women in the Church and are showing it in a significant way.

Sister Makoro said she thinks there are two other women Secretary-Generals of Bishop's Conferences: one in the Nordic countries and another in New Zealand. Though three in the world is not a lot, it is a high post and we can only hope there will be more on the way.

Now I'm one of those Catholics who think we should not restrict priests to men. I know it is supposed to be for theological reasons. But is it possible some theology, like some science, is rationalized? (For the rationalization of multi-universe theory by scientists, see my previous post about Stephen Hawking's birthday.)

I have read that the understanding by some theologians of the choice of 12 men for apostles was that it symbolized the 12 tribes of Israel. Isn't there possible symbolism in that before the grave, the 12 men who stood for the tribes of Israel also represented the Law God gave to Moses?

But after the grave, when Jesus arose from the dead, He showed Himself first to women. Before, there was the Law, and Israel considered itself the only people of God. But after Christ's victory, all humanity could potentially be part of God's kingdom. As Paul told us, we could not overcome sin with the Law: 19 Now we know that what the law says is addressed to those under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world stand accountable to God, 20 since no human being will be justified in his sight by observing the law; for through the law comes consciousness of sin. (Romans 3:19,20, New American Bible, Revised Edition from the USSCB website). It is through Christ we are saved. Paul summarizes in 1 Corinthians 15: 57 But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (NAB).

Maybe I rationalize theology too. I can not help but think men want to keep power-making decisions to themselves. But in equality theology, men and women would have equal stature and work together, and in fact be servants of each other, as Christ has said we should. In fact, He has said that if we want to lead, we should serve.

Yet I do think there have been sincere wishes to see the people of Church produce souls for God, meaning, in effect, women stay home and have children. I want to always put Christ first, and to hold evangelization ahead of women issues in the Church. But we must all strive to live as Christ wants us, and we continue to need to sort out what that entails. We must remember that these days, children born to Catholics do not automatically become believers in God. And of course, we want to bring those who were not born in the Church to come to know Jesus. Our popes have called for a New Evangelization and all of us need to work together for the greater cause. Perhaps some women are meant to be full-time evangelists, and not only as nuns. We should have the freedom to follow what we discern as our call. It seems that is between the individual and God.

In Galatians 3, 26-28, Paul says, 26 For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (NAB).

It took Christians a while to realize persons did not have to be Jewish to be Christian. It took a longer time for them to come to grips with the fact that slavery was wrong. Christ told us to follow Him. How should women be treated?

Sister Hermenegild Makoro was already doing the work of the Church. I'm sure she is a humble and worthy servant, and I am so glad the bishops there have recognized that. May we all recognize each other's worth in our efforts to bring Christ to the world.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Stephen Hawking's Birthday

The physicist Stephen Hawking celebrated his 70th birthday on January 8, 2012. It was a momentous occasion, since he has a disease with which many who have it do not live to this age. He is a distinguished professor and scientist, and his party was more of a symposium by other noted physicists. He wasn’t even there, but had a recording played of his thoughts. Then, as these scientists presented their discoveries, they brought him conclusions which he did not want to hear as noted in “Why physicists can’t avoid a creation event” (New Scientist, January 11, 2012).

Physicists are known to change their minds from meeting to meeting, and the implications of the presenters are bound to be eventually argued. But whatever happens in the future, this was a milestone in the thinking of scientists who either believed or wanted to believe a multi-universe was inevitable, including Stephen Hawking. I understand he said as much on a recent PBS show about the universe (Stephen Hawking's Universe), although I admit I did not see the show.

The reason many physicists want to think or say this is true is because they know the chance for life starting by natural means in this universe are so enormously improbable that multi-verses were their only explanation. If there were infinite universes, at least one could come up with the necessary combinations of molecules to form life.

But now several scientists have published papers that analyze the various means by which multi-verses could exist or come about. A good description is here at Uncommon Descent. All of them need a beginning. According to this new view, there is no infinite universe or multi-verse.

It is significant that one of the physicists present was Alan Guth, well known for his inflationary theory of the universe in which the Big Bang was followed by a period of extremely large inflation. For years, he had been trying to calculate the probability of production of multi-verses from quantum fluctuations. But how can you use probability to figure something that destroys the significance of probability? He was listed as an author on one of the papers which now admits that the universe had a beginning.

Many of our disciplines, including quantum physics, thermodynamics and chemistry (mass action law) rely on probabilities. Max Planck discovered quantum physics by using the probability of energy radiating from various wavelengths of light. If probabilities mean nothing in this universe, then science itself is out the window.

Many are concerned that if we think of life and the universe as created, it will stop science. That is faulty logic. There are many things to be discovered about biology, the Earth, and stars. The more the better! There are enough things to give us awe for the rest of our days, and much work needed to dispel disease, hunger and war. This is plenty to fulfill our scientific quests. But it is not quite enough to fulfill our hearts. Where that emptiness has been, some persons let fear of the lack of total knowledge take over. They don’t realize belief and love of God is the only way to give them true contentment in this life.

There are other reasons for the denial of creation. It goes hand in hand with the denial of God's existence. Many humans stubbornly cling to the desire to be their own rulers, refusing to answer to a higher power. This is not new or restricted to scientists. It's just that scientists as a whole seem to be able to guide culture, especially these days, to accept their conclusions. Scientists must be right, right?

No, Stephen Hawking, a very smart and famous physicist, is being challenged by other very smart physicists. The lesson for others is to not let scientists as a group fool you into thinking they know it all. They often speculate in the way they want things to go, then call it fact.

Think now about origin of life and evolution.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hope for Unity

I said in my last post I would blog on Sunday mornings and talk about some of the things I thinking about putting in the book I am writing. But I remember my husband saying a long time ago that it is better not to talk too much about your writing--just write or it won't get done. I will try to take his advice, but that leaves other topics I am not putting in my book, at least for the time being.

I said I would talk about things that make me angry. After thinking about it, I realized that was not probably a good way of putting it, so I'm not waiting for Sunday to type a correction. The word "angry" itself starts a feeling of alienation which is the opposite of what I want to do. I want to help others see the love and truth of God, and the non-believing world is often sceptical about Christ because of the bad behavior of Christians. It seems it is not a good approach to tell them all they are doing wrong, or at least telling them in an aggressive way. I realize Christians can't completely overlook what we think is sinful, but we can try to be consistently loving. This will of course be a challenge for me, and I assume is for most of us.

John Paul II among others have said it is not only necessary to evangelize, but to re-evangelize. This means we need to help Catholics and other Christians to regain the zeal for Christ. Then there is the case of people who are very zealous about religion but have different ideas of it than we do. Therefore, there are many different kinds of people out there we should reach out to for a meeting of minds. Many of us would love to see Christian unity. To my surprise, I found Pope Benedict XVI just began the annual week for prayer for Christian Unity.

It's amazing how emotional we can get when we simply disagree with someone. They might not be physically threatening, yet their thinking in a certain way sets us off. But perhaps we perceive they do threaten us in our livelihoods, as in class struggles, or personal freedom, as in certain Church laws. I've talked about my thoughts on God's creative power, and I would like to cover other things as well. Though I don't like to argue, believe it or not, I think we should deal with diverse controversial topics such as evolution, contraception and women's' ordination. With all these subjects, I'd much rather discuss and try to get to the best answer than to be disdained or feel the same against someone else. We don't want the disagreements splitting us apart. Perhaps it is naive to hope for resolutions, but isn't that what all our writing and speaking is about? We express our views and I hope listen to others.

We have our work ahead of us to understand as well as promote Christianity. I will pray and continually try to increase my love of Christ and fellow humans within myself.