Thursday, May 27, 2004

Tragedy in Arizona
Today’s Arizona Republic carried a report of an 18-year old woman who abandoned her newborn infant in a neighbor’s back yard last March. She was charged yesterday with second-degree murder. If convicted, she faces a possible prison sentence of 13 to 27 years. Forensic tests indicated that the baby was alive at the time of being abandoned to die.

The report doesn’t say anything about the accused woman’s mental competence; about whether she understood what she was doing. The matter becomes even more tragic when you consider that Arizona law allows a newborn child to be left anonymously at a hospital or fire station. I can’t help but wonder about several questions.

Can we really call an 18-year old a woman? No disrespect intended here. “Young woman”; OK, I can concede that. If the defining element of the transition from “girl” to “woman” is the point of being able to conceive and bear a child, then an 18-year old female is a woman. But somehow, now that I am closer to my twilight years than to my teens (OK, maybe at the mid-point between the two!), I have a hard time seeing the unfortunate mother in this incident as a woman, if that term connotes a level of maturity and ability to function in the world. As I mentioned, the article gives no details about her, except her name, age, and that she was initially picked up for questioning on a unrelated matter. This last suggests that she is in a setting that is less than beneficial for her.

I also can’t help but wonder about whether a woman/young woman in this situation is at all confused by 31 years of legalized abortion on demand. Arizona law prohibits the abortion of a viable fetus – one capable of life outside the womb – except in the case of a medical emergency, in which the life or health of the mother is in question. I had to spend some time looking this up; and, while I’m happily surprised, I have to admit to being surprised: I didn’t realize that, in Arizona, third-trimester abortions are not permitted. I’m sure I’m not wrong in saying that some states permit abortions to be performed even almost up to the time of giving birth. It seems to me that this is probably the generally understood situation with regard to abortion.

It is ironic (at best) that this young woman is being charged for putting an untimely end to the life of her child (with the name of murder); for if she had acted a few months before giving birth, the law would have allowed her to put an untimely end to her child’s life while still in the womb, and there would have been no action by the state – it would all have been perfectly legal. I’m college educated (seminary gave me the third degree); lots of life experience; I’d like to think I’m fairly intelligent – but I can’t find a way to explain how we can kill children before they are born, but not after they are born. If I can’t do it, why should I be surprised if a young woman of 18 years, in what may have been a moment of confusion, has made a tragic, and fatal, mistake?

May 29, 2004 Update
Laurie Roberts, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, comments on this event. Her column is found here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

This Just In...

Louisiana and the "Baggy Pants" Bill
The House of Representatives of the State of Louisiana voted today, 54-39, against the "Baggy Pants" Bill. As the report by the Associated Press notes, the "fashion police" won't be coming to Louisiana. The proposal had called for violators to serve three days of community service and pay a fine up to $175.

Rep. Danny Martiny is reported to have said that the measure would make Louisiana, "the laughingstock of the country." I guess he didn't want to contribute to making his state the, uh, butt of an endless number of jokes. (Sorry; it was too much to pass by...)

We have a Winner!
Those of you wise in the ways of the world spotted this one coming as soon as it was posted. The name of this blog is going to be changed to, "Observations from an Empty Well." The reference to the empty well (as suggested by my wife) keeps the desert theme; while retaining the "Observations" means that those of you who have been kind enough to link to this blog using that term won't have to re-work your link. "Evil Juan" will remain in the URL; and that will have to be enough for me...

A Victory for State’s Rights, But Not for Human Dignity

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that Oregon doctors cannot be sanctioned or prosecuted as being criminally liable for prescribing overdoses, allowed by the state's voter-approved “Death with Dignity Act.” Oregon currently is the only state in the nation where physicians are legally permitted to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients. The law allows terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to request a lethal dose of drugs. Two doctors must confirm the diagnosis and determine that the patient is mentally competent to make the request. According to records kept by the state, at least 171 people have made, and subsequently acted upon, such a request since 1998, following the resolution of earlier legal challenges made to the law’s passage in 1994. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft had attempted to establish the ability of the federal government to pursue doctors prescribing medication for lethal purposes under the Controlled Substances Act.

The ruling of the Court, in a 2-1 decision, found that states historically have regulated and licensed the practice of medical doctors, and that Ashcroft exceeded his authority when he issued a directive attempting to use the Controlled Substances Act as a means to put a stop to the implementation of the “Death with Dignity Act.” Judge Richard Tallman wrote, "The attorney general's unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers interferes with the democratic debate about physician-assisted suicide."

The case decided today began in April, 2002, when a judge in Portland blocked the Justice Department from threatening to punish doctors. The Ninth Circuit Court, in a 1996 decision arising from a case in the State of Washington, ruled that assisted suicide was permitted because there is a constitutional right to die.

Does the Constitution of the United States establish a right to die? I could insert pages of quotations from this document, as well as the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,”) but I don’t really think anyone reading this will accept the argument that each of us has a constitutional right to die. As with the interesting decision in 1972 by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Roe v. Wade, finding a constitutional “right to privacy,” this so-called finding by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals of a right to die is absurd. And, as a supporter of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”), I agree with the ruling that reserves the right to license and regulate the practice of medicine to the states.

But does a state have the ability to create, by law, a right to die? Do we, individually, have the right to die? Or, as our faith teaches us, is this right God’s, and God’s alone?

We do not have the power to create life. We do have the power to “procreate,” to “bring forth” life. In this way we are like God; but then we must acknowledge that this is a power granted to us by God, Who alone has the power to “bring forth from nothing” – that is, to create ex nihilo. Likewise, the power to mete out death is limited, beginning with “Thou shalt not murder.” Suicide, in a way being “self-murder,” is an act prohibited to us.

So, while the right of the state has been upheld, there is no reason to celebrate – because the end result of this ruling is the upholding of a law allowing a right to die, of which we cannot approve.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Update: Abortion and Excommunication

The headline reads, "Arizona Bishops: Communion OK for Pro-choice Politicians." Where Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis acted to refuse communion to Sen. John Kerry while he was campaigning in the diocese, and Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs has ordered that those who support politicians who hold positions opposed by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church should not receive communion, Bishop Thomas Olmstead of the Diocese of Phoenix has said that he prefers persuasion to excommunication. Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson and Cardinals Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C. are also counted among those Roman Catholic hierarchs who oppose the policy of blanket excommunication. Cardinal McCarrick is the chairman of a commission that has been formed to consider how to respond to politicians who advocate views contrary to the positions of the Roman Catholic Church; Bp. Kicanas is a member of that commission.

The article also reports that 48 House Democrats sent a letter to Cardinal McCarrick, expressing their opposition to attempts to use excommunication as a means of changing the positions of politicians, calling it “counterproductive,” and citing fears of an “anti-Catholic backlash.” (Huh?) Two Arizona Congressmen, Ed Pastor of Phoenix and Raul Grijalva of Tucson, signed the letter. Mr. Pastor (I live in his district) is reported to have said that he supports abortion rights, and that he is sworn to uphold the law, which includes the law allowing abortions.

I’ve never met Mr. Pastor; but I’m sure he is an intelligent man, who also has bright and capable people employed on his staff. So I’m sure that he is aware that, from the standpoint of “law” as what is enacted by the vote of the legislative branch of government, and signed by the executive, there is not a “law” which allows abortions. In fact, prior to the 1973 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, the laws of all 50 states either restricted or banned abortion. What we’re talking about, then, is the action of the judicial branch of the government “making law” – and this is what Mr. Pastor says he is sworn to uphold. I don’t suppose his “pro-choice” stance colors his support of judicial law-making… (As for the whole “pro-choice” issue – “I’m in favor of a woman’s right to choose” – let’s also be real on two counts. First, as I’ve said before, when a woman chooses to engage in an activity potentially resulting in pregnancy, she’s made her choice. Second, when we say “the right to choose” in reference to abortion, we talking about the right to choose to kill another human being – to choose to murder.) What, I wonder, would Mr. Pastor have to say to those who were sworn to uphold the law, when the law in question was the “Nuremberg laws” in Germany in the 1930’s? Or to those who swore to uphold the law when the “law” in question was the “Jim Crow” laws in the South after the Civil War? But I digress.

As my friend Steve has (eloquently and correctly) argued, communion is a “personal thing.” He opposes a policy of blanket excommunication; and is concerned that the efforts of the Roman Catholics in this matter may constitute an attempt to influence who is elected to public office, including the President of the United States. For myself, I am thankful that it is not the practice of our Orthodox bishops to make such a blanket statement. It is also not the place of the Church, in my opinion, to advocate the election of one candidate or another. I cannot imagine saying, either from the pulpit or in the trapeza, “Vote for…,” or, “Do not vote for…” – much less denying the holy Mysteries to someone who then does the opposite. As for the politician? That would be a matter between the two of us in the Mystery of Confession, and I will do everything in my power for the salvation of any and all of those whom God has entrusted to my pastoral care. This would include excommunication – a radical treatment, to be sure, a last resort – but if that is what is necessary, so be it. This would not, however, be a matter for public notification or discussion.

But we do not, and cannot, put aside our beliefs and convictions as Orthodox Christians when we enter the voting booth. We are responsible for our actions – indeed, we will be held accountable before God for every thought, word, deed, and feeling. This would, it seems to me, include how we use the vote entrusted to us. This is not attempting to “influence the vote” in a “Bush vs. Kerry” sense – but I do encourage everyone to be aware of the issues being decided, and the positions of the various candidates on the ballot, when deciding how to vote. Does a candidate advocate actions or policies that are inconsistent with our Orthodox faith? If so, why would you want to support that candidate?

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Tarrying in Jerusalem

And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. (Luke 24:49)

In all probability, most of us, when we hear this reading for the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, think of this solely as an event in time and space; that is, something which unquestionably happened, but "there and then," and not "here and now." Our Lord – crucified, dead, buried, and risen from the dead – having spent the last forty days with His disciples, appearing to as many as 500 people, prepares to return to heaven, where He will, in the fullness of both His divinity and the humanity which He shares with us, be seated at the right hand of God, His Father. He instructs His disciples to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. We have the advantage of knowing what they do not – the place and time when the promise that our Lord will send a Comforter, Who will lead us into all truth, will be fulfilled.

But in addition to the “there and then” aspects of this event, I believe that there is something more for us than just a recalling of history. There is a “here and now” element, an element of blessing for us today. As disciples of the Lord, we, too, are to tarry in Jerusalem, that we, also, may be filled with power from on high.

We should not be looking for another day of Pentecost (except for the celebration of the Feast on the church calendar!); for, as we sing at the end of most Divine Liturgies, “We have seen the true Light; we have received the Heavenly Spirit…” In our baptism, we have “put on” Christ – that is, we have been buried with Him in the descent into the waters of the font, and raised with Him in His deathless life. Then, in our chrismation, we are anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit to empower us to live this new life. The challenge for each of us, in the days that God provides for us thereafter, is to “grow into” this life, to fulfill this life, to bring into reality the great potential established in us at baptism and chrismation. On our own, we lack the power to accomplish this task; and so we must be regular recipients of God’s grace – power from on high.

As we see the account of our Lord’s ascension as “there and then” in history, so, too, do we miss a dimension of the reality of the city in which we are to tarry. Jerusalem is a city in the Middle East, in the land of Israel – right? There’s no denying that this is true. However, if we think of things beyond time and space, there is more to consider. “Jerusalem” can be translated, “the foundation of peace.” Jerusalem became the “holy city” when God’s Anointed, the holy Prophet King David, brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city he made his capital. It was here that King Solomon built a house for the Lord, the Temple on Mount Zion. The Temple in Jerusalem was the center of worship at the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry. And the disciples tarried in Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost when the Church, the Body of Christ, was established – the new Jerusalem.

Do you see it? “The foundation of peace” is not a city, but our Lord Jesus Christ. The center of worship is not a building, but our Lord Jesus Christ. The Temple, destroyed and raised once more in three days, was not the structure on the hillside, but His Body – and His Body is the Church. And it is in the Church that we receive the Holy Mysteries, the means whereby we have assurance of receiving God’s grace, and especially in the Mystery of His holy Body and Blood.

And so we tarry in the Church, and in the life we have in Christ, and in the way of that life we learn from “holy Mother Church” – a life of prayer, and fasting, of giving alms, and struggling to overcome our weaknesses and the ways of wickedness we have learned, seeking instead the virtues that oppose our passions. We tarry in the new Jerusalem, to be filled with power from on high; and then, as the first disciples went forth to preach the good news of our salvation, we are to go forth to proclaim that Christ is risen, and we have the hope of the forgiveness of our sins, and the transformation of our being. So tarry ye, beloved, in Jerusalem, and be filled with power from on high, so that we can then go in peace to love and serve the Lord, to the glory of His Name, and the salvation of our souls.

Monday, May 17, 2004

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy?

With apologies to former President Roosevelt, and all those who experienced the shock and horror of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, as I sought a “headline” for the events of this day in Massachusetts, that quote came to mind once more. Unlike the situations in many places earlier this year, most notably in San Francisco, where local officials decided to defy state law and issue marriage licenses to persons who were not eligible to receive them under law – in a word, same-sex couples – the State of Massachusetts, by reason of judicial fiat, will begin today to issue licenses that are legally valid to these persons previously denied these documents, and the rights and responsibilities associated with them.

While doing some reading on another topic, I ran across this quotation from an article by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, which I find particularly pertinent:
Not able to satisfy all the demands of their lust by marriage in the Church, some ignore all Church and moral laws and do not bother to trouble themselves by asking the Church for a blessing. In countries where the civil law does not demand a church wedding, we very often see people living together without the blessing of the Church, or obtaining a divorce without the consent of the Church, even if the marriage was performed in the Church. One easily forgets that there is no less a sin because an official, 'proper' name is given to something sinful and that a bond, not sanctified by the Church, is nonetheless, fornication or adultery.(Emphasis added.) Many openly live together without the slightest concern about hiding their open dissipation. Some are joined together out of passion, others for the advantage gained from the marriage and without the slightest shame appear everywhere in society together with their "live in" and dare to introduce them as their spouse. It is especially pathetic that people have begun to look at such occurrences with indifference, not expressing any negative opinions about them. Thus, the number of such cases increases, since there is nothing holding them back. According to Church rules people who fall into this category should be refused Communion for seven years or more; according to civil laws they should be restricted in their civil rights. Not long ago, this behavior was despised by society, now has become commonplace among people who attend church regularly. They also desire to take part in Church functions, but in such cases, it is forbidden by Church rules. What can we say of those who are even less influenced by the Church! How low has the morality fallen among our countrymen? On one hand, coming to church out of habit and the other hand, turning into the dwelling place of lower passions. They have given in to a life-style worse than the animals.

As the debate about the legalization of same-sex unions under the name of “marriage” has proceeded over the last few months, I have repeatedly found myself questioning those who take the position that this somehow threatens the institution of marriage, and of the family. Even as I disagree with the proponents of this change, I can admit the logic of some of their questions about this position. Will my wife and I be any less married if the state decides to call same-sex unions a marriage? Does the substance and nature of our family change because Adam and Steve, or Lois and Lana, call themselves “husband” and “wife?”

There is no question in my mind that there is a threat to the institutions of marriage and the family when the state makes legal what was formerly prohibited; and children too young today to grapple with the issues this raises begin to live in a society which allows, if not openly accepts, what is contrary to the will of God. But, on the other hand, we should not look to the state to be the last resort in teaching our children what is morally right – this is our responsibility. The time may well come when we will need to oppose the state in matters of morality: to say, “This is wrong, and we will not accept it.”

Much of the wrestling with my inability to agree with those who see the legalization as a threat to marriage and the family has been resolved with the phrase emphasized in the quotation above. Just because “an official, 'proper' name is given to something sinful” doesn’t make it so. Only God can create a union that is truly marriage. As the state has accepted our understanding, we can be thankful for that support. Now, as the state appears to be on the verge of abandoning this position for another one, our position is unchanged. Sin is still sin. Obedience to the precepts of the Lord is still necessary, no matter what the state may or may not allow.

And what about love? What do we say to those who believe and teach that “God is love,” and what these same-sex couples share is love; and that those who would deny them the opportunity to express this emotion, and “sanctify” it with the “bonds of marriage” are bigots who do not understand the love of God? Here’s one response: If I allow you to do something that I know is harmful to you, do I love you? Or am I merely indulging you in your passion by being silent?

Saturday, May 15, 2004

The Religious Liberties Restoration Act

An email arrived in my inbox this morning, urging me to go to a website of the American Family Association named “”; part of an AFA “online campaign.” The website asks its readers to contact the U.S. Senators from their state, urging them to support SB 1558, the “Religious Liberties Restoration Act.”

The RLRA is quick and easy to read. At its core, it would reserve to the states the power to regulate the display of the Ten Commandments, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and the use of the national motto, “In God We Trust,” when these activities take place on property owned by the state or a political subdivision of a state. It would also establish an exception for these activities, removing them from the jurisdiction of any federal court inferior to the Supreme Court. Finally, it provides that the text of the Pledge of Allegiance would include the phrase, “one Nation under God.”

Clearly, the provision regarding the display of the Ten Commandments addresses the situation which arose last year in Alabama, when a federal court ordered the removal of a monument displaying the Ten Commandments from the building in which the Supreme Court of Alabama meets. Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who had ordered the monument’s placement, was suspended for defying the order of the federal court for its removal; he was later impeached and removed from his office. Similarly, the provision for the Pledge of Allegiance addresses the ruling in 2002 by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, finding that the inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge is an unconstitutional “endorsement of religion.” The national motto, “In God We Trust,” has also been targeted by many lawsuits.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy, and was first published in August, 1892. Interestingly, the original pledge made no mention of God, even though Bellamy was a Baptist minister. The phrase “under God” was added by an act of Congress in 1954, at the urging of the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic men’s benevolent society. This was a political act; to distinguish us from the “commie atheists” of the Soviet Union, with whom we were engaged in the Cold War. The motto, “In God We Trust,” first appeared on a penny minted in 1864. It was proposed to the Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, by the Rev. Mark R. Watkinson of Ridleyville, Pennsylvania, in a letter dated November 13, 1861. [I will assume that most readers know the source, origin, and dates for the Ten Commandments.]

Now, let me say that I have no reason to oppose the “Religious Liberties Restoration Act.” By the same token, I have no reason to take the action urged by the AFA. I am not going to contact our U.S. Senators to ask them to co-sponsor or otherwise support SB 1558. Why? At the heart of the matter, I guess I’d have to say that I do not believe the power of the state should be used to impose beliefs that are not accepted by the population at large. Those who believe in the sovereignty of God know that this nation, and all nations, are “under God,” whether we say this when we pledge our allegiance, or are silent. To require those who do not believe this to say the words makes the words empty of meaning. Writing the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone and placing them in the lobby of a courthouse, or on the mall outside the statehouse, or on the walls of a classroom does not write these on the hearts of those who do not believe; while those who believe strive to engrave these on their hearts and minds, whether or not these are on public display. Again, I have no objection to the display; I believe no harm is done to anyone by these things being found in public. But I can see the point of those who object to the required recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Turn it around: what if the state were openly atheistic, and required all the children in school to recite a statement denying the existence of God, and ridiculing those who believe in such “nonsense.” (This, of course, has happened, and may still be happening.) Or, suppose the state used its power to make declarations about another religion – Islam would be especially timely to use as an example. As Christians, we would protest this, if given the opportunity.

Forced inculcation of the faith does not work. We should not use the power of the state to impose belief on those who do not share it. We can – and should – and must teach our children about faith in God, and His rule over all nations; but we do not need to do so in the public schools. (That’s one of the reasons I’d like to see more Orthodox churches opening private schools.) We should all know, and strive to live by, the Ten Commandments. The state, in its role as the protector of society from those who would prey upon it, has an interest in using its power to enforce those commandments that directly affect public order: Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness. But how does the state enforce, “Honor thy father and thy mother;” or, “Thou shalt not covet” – to name just a few?

Forced inculcation of the faith does not work. We should not use the power of the state to impose belief on those who do not share it.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Low-rider Jeans and the “Baggy Pants” Bill: Legislating Morality in Louisiana

Don’t these folks have anything better to do? The Criminal Justice Committee of the House of Representatives for the State of Louisiana considered proposed legislation that makes a certain style of attire a misdemeanor offense punishable by three eight-hour days of community service and a fine of up to $175. House Bill 1626, also known as the “Baggy Pants Bill,” in part reads: “It shall be unlawful for any person to appear in public wearing his pants below his waist and thereby exposing his skin or intimate clothing.” (A note from the land of the “politically correct” – presumably, in Louisiana, “he,” when in the context of the law, still means “he or she.”) The bill, passed by the committee, is expected to be considered by the full House within the next two months.

Please don’t misunderstand me here: I don’t approve of people dressing in ways that are revealing or provocative. I don’t think there is a constitutional right to dress any way you want to, “freedom of expression” notwithstanding. I also don’t think that laws such as the one contemplated by Louisiana is constitutional; or ultimately enforceable.

Beyond the humorous/satiric possibilities presented by the “Baggy Pants Bill,” there is the question of whether or not it is possible to legislate morality. The news article reporting the committee’s passage of HB 1626 includes a quotation from an elected official, who said in part, “It’s hard to legislate morality; you can’t really do that. It just comes to a point of plain old bad taste and it’s just gotta stop.”

Here’s an example of an attempt to legislate morality; and the ultimate failure of such an attempt. In the Volstead Act of 1920, the manufacture, sale, transportation or possession of any beer, wine, or intoxicating liquor was outlawed in the United States. “Prohibition” became the law of the land. As the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, it required action in Congress, and in the legislatures of the individual states. The amendment required a majority vote in both houses of Congress; and the approval by two-thirds of the states in order to become law – and these approvals were given. Presumably, then, the law expressed the will and desires of a majority of the population. But the flagrant violations, and the incredible criminal enterprises that arose to supply the desire of a significant minority for that which was legally denied them by law, led to the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933 with the passage of the Twenty-First Amendment.

What is the role of the state? At its most basic level, the state exists to defend its citizens against attack from outside, and to maintain order internally. Attempts to legislate morality usually fall into the latter realm. Activities or behaviors on the part of individuals or groups that prove to be disruptive to the larger society tend to bring into existence laws which regulate these activities or behaviors; seeking to control or eliminate these by way of punishing the violators responsible for causing the disruption. At least in the West, the theory holds that activities or behaviors not specifically prescribed are permitted.

At a certain level, it must be acknowledged that no rule of law, whether promulgated by the decree of an absolute monarch, the vote of a democratic gathering, or enactment by a legislature and subsequent endorsement by the executive, can ultimately be effective if it is not accepted by the majority of those subject to that law. (Here it must be said that, in the case of a dictatorship, such as in Germany in the 1930’s, or the Soviet Union, laws that are not accepted as such by the majority of the citizenry are nevertheless enforced, the situation has moved from one of being a “rule of law” and has become a “rule of force” – particularly insidious when this is under the guise of being a “rule of law.”) Very few people would approve of a law that did not punish murder; any “state” in which murder was ignored, tolerated, or accepted could only be considered to be nihilistic or anarchistic – the rule of law having ceased to function, or even exist.

Morality arises from within each of us. It is impossible to impose morality from without. Murder is against the law; yet thousands of people are murdered every year. Again, don’t misunderstand what I am trying to say. This is not an argument against making laws, or enforcing laws. There is a marvelous freedom which comes from knowing what is permitted, and what is not; and what penalty for violation will be meted out as a consequence of performing that which is not permitted. Perhaps the fact of capital punishment does deter some from acts of violence; perhaps the existence of a law does prevent someone from breaking it, if for no other reason than the fear of being punished if one is caught. The virtue of self-restraint begins when the boundaries of acceptable behavior are made known to us.

However, that is only the beginning. If we do not progress beyond the point of grudging adherence to these external controls because we are unwilling to accept the consequences, in effect, we have no personal morality. Here’s an example. Mom says, “Don’t watch television today,” even though that is what you’d like to do. Then she leaves, and you’re alone in the house. What do you do? If you break the rule, can you say you are moral? If you obey the rule, the answer is, “Yes.” Another example: The speed limit for a particular stretch of roadway is 45 m.p.h. The road, multi-laned, straight, and flat, can safely support a higher rate of speed; and you’re all alone on this stretch of road. How fast do you go? You’d like to go fast – faster than is permitted by law. If you do what you want, you’ve broken the law, even if you get away with this violation. If you obey the law, you have some claim to be moral.

Sometimes, using the law to impose morality is the “easy way out.” I think that’s the case with the “Baggy Pants Bill.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The Red Pill, or the Blue Pill?

(If you haven’t seen the film,The Matrix, this will be a little harder to follow…)

The other evening, we were sitting and watching (not for the first time) The Matrix, when Michele asked, “Which one would you take?” I let the question go by me, and each of our daughters gave their answer, as did Michele. With the exception of our youngest (who said, “blue”), everyone chose the red pill. I asked each person, “Why?” The answers involved knowing the truth; and freedom; and the pursuit of knowledge. (“Because you can believe what you want to believe,” said the blue pill daughter.)

The question came back to me. I said, “It depends on the circumstances.” Michele, who likes it when she catches me when I appear to be “copping out,” jumped on that one (as well she should). The ensuing discussion took up the rest of the evening; the film (paused as it was in the DVD player) is still there, waiting to be finished.

“What if, “ I said, “the red pill is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?” (The red pill, after all, opens your eyes to the truth of the Matrix; while the blue pill leaves you with your illusions intact.) Posited this way, the proper choice would seem to be the blue pill. Lots of discussion ensued; the assignment of Morpheus to the role of the serpent in the garden, rather than the Promethean role he has in the film, was an interesting sideline. I was asked again, “So which pill would you choose?” I replied, “That depends.”

“What if, having awakened, you have to choose? What if the choice is between receiving the Gospel, or turning your back on it, so that you can, as Morpheus says, ‘believe what you want to believe’?” From this line of reasoning, the proper choice was agreed to be the red pill. “So, which pill would you choose, Dad?” “That depends.”

We revisited some of the earlier arguments, emphasizing the choice of the red pill in order to be free. Free to do what? I asked, at one point, “If you don’t know you’re a slave, do you need to be freed?” If you are in the Matrix, but to you, it’s the real world, and not an illusion that enslaves, do you want to be set free? Do you need to be set free?

Insofar as the film is concerned, the consensus opinion we reached was that for those who knew that they were living in the Matrix (in other words, for whom the Matrix is not the “real” world), taking the blue pill instead of the red would be akin to denying their awareness of the illusion; choosing the illusion instead of the Truth – however unpleasant life lived with the truth instead of the illusion might become.

When Adam and Eve took the red pill of the knowledge of good and evil, in a way, they left the “Matrix” of the Garden of Eden. When Morpheus is being interrogated by Agent Smith, we learn that the first Matrix was a virtual paradise – and a “disaster” – leading the machines, who control the world, and the vast majority of the human race, to conclude that humans are “programmed” to suffer. Humanity is not fit for life in Paradise. Now the choice is ours; not to repeat the choice made by Adam and Eve – that’s no longer an option. Now, we must choose: the red pill of the Gospel; or the blue pill of denial.

Which would you choose? Why?

Saturday, May 08, 2004

"Rename this Blog!" Contest Extended

Acting upon a suggestion from my good friend, Steve, the deadline for the "Rename this Blog!" contest has been extended to May 5th on the old calendar; or May 18th on the Gregorian/secular calendar.

Actually, the leading entry hasn't been posted yet. It's, "Rumblings from an Empty Well"; and not only is it clever, it was suggested by my wife! (The astute can see where this is going...) The fact that she came up with it doesn't, by itself, guarantee it anything except serious consideration; but, hey, it's a good one, even if she didn't suggest it! So, we'll see if anyone can post a better one...

Friday, May 07, 2004

The Quagmire Deepens

Captured Female Soldiers May be Kept as Slaves

Abdul-Satar al-Bahadli, a follower of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has announced that female British soldiers who are captured while serving in Iraq may be kept as slaves; and has offered a bounty for those women captured and turned over to the religious leaders in Basra. His comments came as a part of the sermon he gave today. Any women soldiers, he said, will be kept as concubines.

Does this barbarism require any additional comment? Does anyone still think that there is really no difference between Christianity and Islam?

Folks, I really believe that we -- the vast majority of the American people -- don't get it. We don't understand who, or what, we're fighting against, and why. We're going to wind up losing in Afghanistan and Iraq, as we have been losing in Kosovo, and Bosnia -- losing, even though we may take and hold the territory itself.

When I taught world history, I began by telling my students to learn three rules: (1) Follow the money. (1a) Watch the wars - they tell you where the money is. (2) Ask yourself, "What's the agenda?" What's happening now in the "War on Terror" doesn't fit within this system of rules. That's because this is not a war for the control of land, or people, or natural resources -- it's part of the war between the darkness and the light.

At its roots, the War on Terror is a battle between the followers of Allah and those who do not. The jihad seeks to establish the supremacy of Allah, to impose submission to Allah (Islam means "submit") upon every person on the face of the earth. Those who reject this must be destroyed. Not only that: the jihad will not end until either its goals are accomplished, or the last mujahideen departs from this life. (A mujahideen is a Muslim guerilla warrior engaged in a jihad.) As it is not our policy to practice extermination...

This is not a conventional war. It cannot be fought by conventional means. If we don't grasp this...

Embryos as Sources for Replacement Parts?

According to this report, a laboratory in Chicago has been “successful” in five different instances with the conception and development of a child, so that stem cells from the embryo’s umbilical cord could be “harvested” and used to try to restore the health of the older brothers or sisters already born to the family. The article quotes University of Wisconsin medical ethicist Norman Fost, who said, “Of all the reasons people have babies, this would seem to be a wonderful reason. Most reasons are either mindless sex or selfish reasons." He also observed that parents seeking donor babies are well-intentioned and love the donor children.

This opinion is not shared by all. The article quotes Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who comments that the embryos from which the stem cells were taken (with no known detriments to the health of the donor), "were allowed to be born so they could donate tissue to benefit someone else." Nine families submitted embryos for testing, with only five being found to be suitable for stem cell use. The remaining four were aborted after the results of the test became known.

I don’t know about you, but this sounds really creepy to me. It’s one thing for a person in a family to donate an organ for the health and well-being of another; even if the donor is a minor, maybe even too young to understand what is going on, and for whom the decision is made by the parents. (Ands thanks be to God that we haven’t had to make such a choice in our family.) But to conceive a child to be a source of “replacement parts” – even when, as is apparently the case with using stem cells – well, that’s scary. Children are a gift, a blessing from God. Sooner or later, our children will ask, “Why was I born?” How can we tell them that they are a gift from God, born from the love between their mother and father, when they were called into existence to save the life of another sibling? And what will these “well-intentioned” and “loving” parents, applauded by medical ethicist Fost, say to those whose lives were ended by abortion because their genetic makeup wasn’t good enough? “Oh, Mommy and Daddy wanted to love you, but the parts weren’t right, so we put an end to your life?”

Orthodox Evangelism and the Orthodox Church in Tanzania

From a note scribbled on a piece of scrap paper on my desk:
In 2003, the Orthodox Church in Tanzania opened 20 new communities (which I interpret to mean, “parishes”), and some 3,000 people were baptized.

To put this in some perspective, Holy Archangels Orthodox Church in Phoenix, Arizona, began holding services in early 2002. At Pascha, there were 8 people in attendance, and 8 communions. In 2003, having moved from living rooms to a rented office suite, we had 24 attending the Paschal service, with 22 communions. This year, in our own building, we had 46 people attending, with 38 communions. (For those of you experiencing déjà vu at this point, I mentioned this before, in the blog on April 14th.) We’ve had a baptism each of the three years on Great and Holy Saturday; and there have been three others baptized at other times over the past year as well.

Anyone have any details about what they’re doing in Tanzania? Maybe we can do something similar here…

Thursday, May 06, 2004

"Deliver us from the Evil One"

Last Saturday night, I got "sucked into" watching a movie that is one of my favorites: Judgment at Nuremberg, with an all-star cast of actors and actresses. When it was over, I found myself wondering, not for the first time, how it was possible for one group of people to inflict pain and degradation and death on another group of people. Among the thoughts that crossed my mind was this: If the Nazi Party had not existed, it would have been necessary for us to have invented them -- because we can look at the evil they believed and performed, and so say of ourselves, "Well, at least I'm not like them."

Now, reflecting upon the scandal of abused prisoners that has taken place as our armed forces are fighting in Iraq, those who have held such illusions about American goodness and morality must be shaken; at least, if they are willing to consider these events honestly. As I ponder, I recall a scene from a book, a spy-thriller called, The Kremlin Letter, in which a German woman who has become involved with an American agent in the Soviet Union is attempting to describe to him the reason for her contempt upon learning that he is an American. Although the book itself is a work of fiction, the events of this particular scene undoubtedly took place in real life. As a young woman at the end of World War II, she and her sister and mother were raped by both the Soviet troops and by American soldiers. (I've forgotten the order; it isn't important, really.) She does not differentiate the assaults; it is in the aftermath that the distinctions between the two cultures represented by the soldiers responsible, and the origins for her contempt, arise. The Americans, she says, left food and chewing gum; the Soviets gave up their own rations. In other words, the Americans gave from their abundance; the Soviets gave all that they had. (Please don't misunderstand this; this is not an, "Americans bad, Soviets good" argument.) The woman telling the story makes two points. The first is to highlight the "widow's mite" aspect of the response by the Soviet soldiers (although not using that imagery, or making reference to that account, in the actual story -- but the undertones are there); and the second is to say to the American protagonist, who is clearly the "hero" of the story, that he needs to "grow up" -- for he is shocked to hear that Americans could have done such a thing as rape this woman and her family, and then heap more contempt upon them by showering material goods on them; as if these women should be grateful to their violators for their "generosity" in material goods.

The pictures, what I've seen of them -- and I haven't pursued this; a glance at the thumbnails was enough, more than enough -- force us, now that we have become aware of what has happened, to come to grips with the reality of the evil that can be found in each of us. Those of us who are Americans must admit that we are blessed to have been born in, or become citizens of, a land rich in both material goods, and freedom. None of us can know what we might have done, or how we might have responded, when the knock on the door came in the middle of the night, and we, or someone in our family, or a neighbor, was taken away, never to be seen again. How would I have responded to being arrested, tortured, imprisoned? How would I have faced death under such circumstances?

By the same token, what would we have done if we had been brought in by the security forces and ordered to take part in the surveillance of our neighbors, and to inform the police of any suspicious activity? This is not just an idle question; and it happened in both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia -- so it's not (just) a function of ideology alone. Fear can be used to "keep us in line" -- and, if we're told it is our "patriotic duty" to turn in those who are "not like us," we may even feel virtuous, even righteous, in performing what, at Nuremberg, was judged to be perfidious and contemptible. This is not just an idle question as we live in the world after September 11, 2001; and the multi-colored system of terrorism alerts; and searches of automobiles at airports; and bombs found near tunnels; and the "Patriot Act."

What keeps me, and you, from being a Nazi? What keeps me, and you, from being an informer? What keeps us from being participants, actively or passively, in acts of atrocity? Clearly, as the events in Iraq have displayed, it is not enough to be an American. "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Maybe you're not like me. Maybe there's no anger in you, just beneath the surface, ready to break out at the slightest provocation -- say, getting cut off in traffic. Maybe you've never had feelings of hatred, never had any desire for revenge. But if you have ever felt even the slightest twinge in such a direction, you must, if you are honest, admit that the line between ourselves and those who have committed atrocities is a very narrow one indeed.

The evil in the world begins in me; finds its home in me; is expressed by me. If I will fight evil, I must begin with me. It's not "they" -- the faceless, unknown others - -who are evil; it's me. It's not the Nazis; it's not the "Commies"; it's not the "A-rabs"; it's not the terrorists: it's me. It's not even Satan who is the source of all evil -- it's me. This is not to excuse, or otherwise "let off the hook," Hitler, or Stalin, or Osama bin Laden; it's not to forget about Himmler, or Beria, or Saddam Hussein; or any of those who took part, either out of agreement with the means and ends, or, simply out of fear, with the torture and killing of other people. But I have to admit that I am really no different from them; and before I can address any other form of evil, I must first begin by attacking it in me.

"Deliver us, O Lord, from the Evil One." And please, Lord, let me begin with me.