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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Curtailing the Freedom to Religion

Peter Costello makes excellent and sobering points in this opinion piece on The Age today:

  .. a parliamentary committee has recommended options to extend the power of the state over the province of religion. One proposed change is to restrict the freedom of religious schools to choose their employees on the basis of their religious faith.

... The Federation of Community Legal Services told the parliamentary review .. "To allow religious organisations a broad exemption for conscience encourages prejudice..."

Just think about the moral vanity of that statement. According to these lawyers, a religious conscience leads to prejudice. How did the church arouse public conscience over slavery? How did Florence become a haven for the arts and letters? How did civilisation develop in the past couple of millennia without the Community Legal Services to guide it?

.. The question is whether the law of the land should require them to employ people who are indifferent or hostile to their religion in their schools. Parents who choose to send their children to a Christian school have a reasonable expectation that the child will get a Christian education. How could the school fulfill its obligation to the parents if it is required by law to employ non-Christian or anti-Christian teachers to provide it?

.. We are led to believe that the purpose of these charters is to stop arbitrary arrests, guarantee a free press and guard against dictatorship. .. In practice, it complicates the life of religious schools and opens lawsuits against the churches.

.. Once the churches and religious conscience are out of the way, lawyers will have a clear run. Lawsuits will be used to decide the great moral questions of the age. You can see what’s in it for the lawyers. But don’t think it is a step forward for liberty.

It's a very serious threat. More information can be found in this pastoral letter from the Victorian Catholic bishops.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rosary Reflections

but written below in rambling fashion..

  • In the Annunciation, what does a 14-year-old understand about what she is being called to? Not the specifics, not the nuanced implications, but she says "yes". What about us? Aren't we always called?
  • In the Nativity, neither Joseph nor Mary do anything spectacular to bring it about. They make no arrangements for Bethlehem, where the astute Jew knew the messiah would be born. God took care of that, with the emperor's census.
  • In the Finding at the Temple, how often do we think that Jesus is missing? A dryness, a feeling of desolation, and we get anxious. Where is the Lord? As the Father continues to work, so does the Son, though we may not see where or how. He is in his Temple on earth, both our bodies and in the Church.
  • In Gethsemane, in agony, the Lord's anxiety is real. And it had to be written about because anxiety strikes us at times, and it is real. And we may not be allowed to escape the bitter cup, but God sends an angel, his aid to strengthen us.
  • In the Scourging, we might picture ourselves holding the whip. But it may be the people around us whom we scourge unjustly with hurtful words or deeds. And what of us in the place of the victim, being members of the body that suffered scourging? Lashes for us, deserved due to our sin, but perhaps we can generously accept the scourging for others. As the body of Christ received corporal punishment for sin, we who are in the body.. can we not sacrifice our pain in union with his?
  • In the crucifixion, Christ is nailed into a position of total surrender, total embrace..
  • In the Descent of the Holy Spirit, there is a completely radical transformation from terror (from persecution) to bold evangelical zeal. And by this zeal, the Holy Spirit transforms..

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We are in complete control

.. or not. Carolyn Moynihan writes about the grief at the end of delayed motherhood and the promises of IVF. She is reasonably incredulous at "delaying adulthood". One might as well attempt to delay gravity -- which can meet with some success, but only up to a certain point. Motherhood at 45? IVF as a catch all? Time to rethink that.

Nature is resistant to many attempts at tampering. Time. Space. Mass. Energy. Particles. Things follow set laws that aren't easy, nor always safe, to mess with (report by Louise Hall, The Age):

 The chairman of the IVF Directors Group and member of the Fertility Society of Australia, Michael Chapman, said pleas to the Federal Government to fund a public health campaign about the increased risks of miscarriage and pregnancy complications for older mothers and defects in their babies had fallen on deaf ears.

This week the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Britain published a statement on reproductive ageing, reaffirming that biologically, the optimum period for childbearing is between ages 20 and 35.

.. the example of celebrity older mothers .. gave women the wrong impression ..

.. one thing that is not revealed in magazine articles is many of these celebrities are not using their own eggs, but a donor egg

Figures show that the live birth rate for women under 35 undergoing IVF is 31 per cent. This falls below 5 per cent for women over 42.

Andrew Chinn visits our parish

And a fun time was had by all! Please visit his website. His music (and performance overall) made me feel very much like a child again (not such a feat, my wife would say). The concert was a lot of fun, not least was the participation of the children. The man was clearly a gifted master of music and entertainment. His faith came alive in his music, and was rather inspiring. God bless the man and his ministry!

In Ireland: a legal matter on blasphemous libel?

Over at Slashdot, I found this link to Jason Walsh's criticism of Ireland's amended Defamation Bill. The slashdot post naturally elicited some criticism of Ireland's alleged return to the dark ages and so on, as well as quite a flurry about agnosticism, atheism and so on.

I posted a response because what Jason Walsh writes is incorrect. The bill's amendment wasn't about "shield[ing] religious belief from criticism". It defines what the Irish constitution does not, about what blasphemous matter is. Such vaguness caused a few problems in the past, apparently. The amended bill promises penalties for infractions, but significantly gives a definition of blasphemous matter (according to the Irish Times) as

.. matter "that is *grossly abusive* or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; *and he or she intends*, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage." (emphasis mine)

I repeat what I wrote in my Slashdot post:

Freedom of speech should not include grossly abusive speech that would take away from other people their own freedom to hold beliefs without anxiety about arbitrary gross insults. Engaging in healthy criticism and the debate that ensues is one thing, and is welcome. There is a meeting of minds and a clash of ideas. It is an entirely different thing to grossly abuse the beliefs of a group of people concerning what they hold to be sacred matter simply for the sake of insulting them.

It would be nice if governments didn't need to legislate such things, and for the citizenry to exercise common decency and engage instead in honest criticism whose objective is to right wrongs in the context of dialogue. Unfortunately, we have many published celebrities today who instead exercise their ego and vile contempt for those whom they disagree with, and copycats aplenty with blogs, YouTube accounts and art degrees at their disposal.

I truly do not think it ideal to have to enact such laws, but it's hard to blame lawmakers who look at things from a different perspective. Anti-religious bigotry are on the rise, in levels not seen in quite a while, and the world both watches and, sadly, emulates at times. I'm thinking about those museum exhibits involving Catholic personages and symbols in fecal matter, or urine. I also recall a fairly drawn out YouTube matter involving the consecrated host, abuse by bullet, blade, fire and what-not, and a college professor cheering and apparently paying for more. Who would welcome such vile contempt amplified in print?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Things parents don't tell kids anymore

.. will probably make up an interesting list. Catherine Deveny writes about one: vanity is unbecoming. She doesn't use those words, of course; her opinion piece is much better written.

What about the importance of modesty? Chastity? Humility? Ambition? Obedience? Right vs. wrong? Why drinking yourself silly every week at 16 years of age is dangerous? Watch your language? Respect the elderly? Moderation? Love thy neighbor? Thou shall not commit adultery (or fornication)?

It's a long list, and these topics have fallen into disuse more in some countries than in others. But that things have gone this way should be a concern, but I suspect it is being largely ignored by parents who are in a perpetual state of adolescent/teenage rebellion (despite being in their 30s or 40s perhaps. Poor kids (the children, not the parents).

Friday, July 17, 2009

Movie Review: Juno

It's a good movie, surprisingly positive and refreshingly honest. Juno is 16 and gets pregnant without being promiscuous. Yes, it happens. She initially sought abortion, which is probably a typical first consideration in first world countries today, but she gets a good dose of doubts about the rightness of this option. She decides to have the baby and put him up for adoption. Much of the movie is also about the couple that she chooses to adopt the baby. But it isn't that simple either, the couple not being perfect after all. I also liked the way her father and stepmother react to her news. They are supportive, which I think is always good. It bothered me that the stepmother seemed ambivalent concerning abortion, but I'm glad that neither she nor Juno's father pushed for abortion. The movie is realistic in one sense: teenagers in high school can't handle the responsibility just yet. The implications of this will hopefully penetrate most viewers. I found one scene to be rather profound: the first time when Juno wept, and perhaps was at her lowest point about her dilemma, was when she found out about problems between the couple who were adopting the baby later. This reveals the heart of the issue: what happens to the baby? The tears were not about Juno's predicament; they were about the baby's future.

DecentFilms has got a must-read review, but my two cents is that it is a good movie with good insights. I accept the reality that many young girls find themselves in this situation, much of which is avoidable if they had the time and training to think about the consequences of jumping into situations that they are not prepared for. But when a Juno finds herself in such a pickle, there can only be one response from the people around her: support. Should abortion be considered? Of course. And with calm and deliberate reasoning be summarily discarded as the wrong and worst possible option.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Derrick Jackson (smh.com) talks about something that today's cynical and oversexed culture may tend to disregard in cases of marital infidelity: what about the children? I wonder if this question gets asked enough? It's probably not the most important consideration for people (not necessarily the affected parents) who read about infidelity. We are, after all, steeped in many modernist fallacies. Does it not often seem, according to 21st century western culture, that romance is the end-all? Marriage and exclusive, lifelong commitment seem almost to be taboo subjects. Well.. what does one expect in that situation anyway? If it all hinges upon steamy romance then.. there's nothing for it but to walk away when the steam dissipates. Not that we can belittle the enormity of the commitment, and the magnitude of suffering when we fail to live up to the commitment. But.. that's exactly what sets marriage apart. It is indeed a huge deal. It isn't just a contract, nor is it about satisfaction or your investment back. Call me old-fashioned but that view of marriage is too calculating, too cold, and also too flimsy. What's so romantic about a situation where the door is open for walking away when romance wanes?

My kids often pray that they would love God or love their parents forever. I hope this does not hinge on sentiments, or we're in big trouble.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Interesting line from Starget SG-1, Season 2, "The Tok'ra": I think it goes like this: "The last thing he'd want is to have his daughter watch him in a losing battle." Dr. Carter is referring here to her father, who is dying of cancer. I'm not comfortable lecturing the terminally ill about feelings of humiliation at the thought of their loved ones witnessing their weakest moments before death. But I wonder what is responsible for making them feel that way. Why is dying seen as a humiliating defeat, rather than the bittersweet farewell that it is?

Judgment Day: One Person vs Another

A discussion I had years ago with a Lutheran (former Evangelical former Catholic) friend of mine came to mind the other day. It stuck in my head because it struck a discordant chord then, and it still would now. In his depiction of judgment day, being that we are all unworthy of salvation, Jesus would sort of interpose himself between us and the Father and say something like this: "This man is saved because I cover him over with my own righteousness." Yes, it's probably a depiction of forensic justification, which is probably popularly depicted by the mental picture of a snow-covered dunghill. It seems illogical to me because it almost makes the Father and the Son adversarial. It also suggests that the Father would declare what is not true, i.e., we are clean outside but unclean inside. It doesn't make much sense to me.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Time for Spiritual Reading

The Codex Sinaiticus, 4th century version of the Christian Bible, is online -- but the English translation does not seem to be available yet. You can read the original koine Greek though.

Papa Benedict XVI publishes his new encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate: On integral human development in Charity and Truth"

What I've been doing lately, however, is going through the Gospel of St. John (one chapter at a time) and the Catechism. That's what I love about commuting. It takes longer to get to work and back, though, but I do manage to spend the minutes more fruitfully. :-)

There's so much to read in my Palm Tungsten, but not much time for it. I've been fantasizing about Heaven lately, if, God willing, I get there. Mostly they're fantasies of eternity, which I can spend marveling at every bit of learning and wisdom that I can lay my eyes on. All those books, all the time to read them, perhaps even some virtual laboratory by which I can study the awesome universe God created. And why settle for a laboratory -- I can observe the universe and all its wonders firsthand!

Then it hit me: why would I want to learn all those things with eternity ahead? I guess my answer is simple: for sheer delight. The way I see it, the new Heaven and Earth are God's creations. And everything in it. And that makes them good.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Statistics of disadvantaged conditions

The Age recently published about the declining conditions of indigenous Australians:

  • "indigenous children were six times more likely to be abused or neglected than their non-Aboriginal counterparts"
  • "indigenous homicide rate was seven times higher than in the rest of the community"
  • "hospitalisations from domestic violence 34 times higher"
  • "Aborigines 13 times more likely to be imprisoned"

The Prime Minister describes the report that lays out these statistics as "devestating", and said the situation was "unacceptable and it requires decisive action." And he's right. In a prosperous nation, how can such conditions still remain unresolved at such levels?

But I wonder people would say about these other statistics from another part of the world?

  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
  • 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes.
  • 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes.
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
  • 70% of juveniles in state operated institutions come from fatherless homes.
  • 85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home.

This is not a game of "beat that!" I just wanted to point out that all such statistics of declining and deplorable conditions are devastating and unacceptable. And not to be ignored for the sake of being politically correct. I'm just saying: these statistics cry out for help. How is that happening these days?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Planned Parenthood in Korea: pushing for more babies?

A very odd member of the Planned Parenthood family is advocating for families to have more babies. MercatorNet asks if this is one way for abortion to disappear. Maybe. But the interesting question for me is if, by this particular story, abortion and population control advocates are going in the right direction? I'm not so sure.

 But looking back, we recognise that the direction of policy had to be changed when the TFR reached 2.1. In fact, the change was not realised until 20 years later in the early 2000s. We can say that the one-child policy met the needs of its time but it did not change at the proper time.

The reasons for low fertility rate are late marriage, an unfavourable social environment for women to do "work and home" at the same time, too much money needed to raise children, and so on.

My understanding of the explanation from PPK (Planned Parenthood Korea) is that this is still a calculated move for an optimal population. The bottom line is still the system, not the person.

And the implications of the last sentence I quote above may not be sufficiently appreciated by PPK. Given that the low rates are based on attitudes about careers, marriage and children, on what grounds can PPK convince women to have more babies? Probably not by population targets, nor economics, nor even patriotism. Governments can throw in material or financial incentives all they want, but I doubt that they would persuade a woman who is convinced that motherhood is of second-rate value and fulfillment. As any parent knows, it isn't just the money. It's the effort, heartaches and pains involved in raising up a child that can put one off. What can offset those? I think only love can. Not that I'm brimming with it -- certainly not. But I do remember both my mother and father.

What was it that Mark Shea pointed out in one of his excellent podcasts? That God delighted to create Man. There are still parents around who are blessed with a similar (albeit imperfect) sense of this delight in parenthood. How do you bring that back after postmodern western society has been slandering the concept of marriage and parenthood for the past 40 years? Now that would be an interesting problem to form strategies about. But the Catholic Church has been largely unheard when they've been shouting the answer for years now: stronger marriages. Seems like Christ was on to something after all when he went so far as to reiterate the beginnings of marriage and giving it his stamp of sanctification.