Friday, January 29, 2010

Fr. Z Considers Purchase of National Catholic Reporter

Father John Zuhlsdorf of WDTPRS fame is in town for our annual Support Our Seminarians dinner. He very kindly stopped by the chancery this morning and offered Mass in our chapel. We took separate cars to meet for lunch as we were heading in different directions afterward. I suggested he drop by the NCR on the way since it is only a block from the chancery. He’s a mischievous fellow. Here’s what I found on his blog later today:

I’ve always wanted to be a landlord

CATEGORY: Lighter fare, SESSIUNCULA — Fr. John Zuhlsdorf @ 3:11 pm

As we were zooming around in Kansas City today, looking at sites, we stopped in at the HQ of the National Catholic Reporter.

The building is actually for sale

They say location is very important and NCR’s building is within sight of the diocesan chancery.

I’d buy it but I hear they have a shaky foundation.

It was great fun to meet to meet him and to attend my first Extraordinary Form Low Mass. Thanks to a good friend who arranged it.

On a separate note, apologies to regular readers here for the sparse blogging lately. I took a long vacation around Christmas time and found I had a lot of non-blog catching up to do since then. Will return in earnest next week, beginning with coverage of Cardinal Schonborn’s visit to Benedictine College in nearby Atchison, Kansas on Sunday.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

'Caprica' - SyFy Channel Asks the Right Questions

Santiago Ramos thinks a new series on the SyFy Channel does a better job of considering “the relationship between personal identity and software avatars” than the “Biggest Movie of All Time”. From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

‘Caprica’

Fridays 9/8 Central on SyFy

Reviewed by Santiago Ramos

The new science fiction series “Caprica” is more evidence to back up what has become conventional wisdom: in our time, the quality of television drama outmatches that of mainstream Hollywood cinema. One gets the sense that some filmmakers believe their audience to be just as two-dimensional as the images they summon to the screen. Television drama, on the other hand, is the kingdom of writers, who deal with dialogue more than with imagery, and assume an audience with fully-formed frontal lobes. The most famous avatars in the world right now are on the big screen, yet the first two episodes of “Caprica” deal with the relationship between personal identity and software avatars with a deeper poignancy than is found in Biggest Movie of All Time.

“Caprica” is a city and a planet, the capital of a 12-planet system surrounding a distant star. Its shiny civilization is advanced and wealthy and decadent. Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) is a brilliant scientist who was made a millionaire by his invention of a virtual reality simulator, and currently designs artificially-intelligent robots for the Ministry of Defense. The foreboding is obvious, of course, but the show is far from cliche.

Graystone’s daughter, Zoe (Alessandra Torressani), high school-aged but just as intelligent as her father, spends much time within the virtual reality night clubs that have become a popular craze among the youth of “Caprica” — they are loud, violent, full of sex and drugs and random killing (when you’re living through an avatar, you can explore the full range of your animalian urges and wake up unscathed — well, physically unscathed, anyway). But Zoe doesn’t indulge in those things. She is a follower of the true god, and she visits the night clubs to cast judgment and to plan for a day of deliverance. The religion of “Caprica” is polytheistic — everyone believes, or sort of believes, in the full pantheon of Greek gods. Monotheists are seen as dangerous absolutists. Zoe is one of them.

The plot-trigger moment for the two-hour pilot — and, most likely, for the entire series — is the terrorist attack wherein Zoe dies. Travelling with one other member of her religious sect, she was escaping “Caprica” for the more religious planet of Gemenon; she didn’t plan on her friend’s excess of zeal. Her friend blows himself up and the train they were travelling in is torn to bits. Government authorities quickly pin the blame for the attacks on a terrorist group called “Soldiers of the One.” Daniel Graystone—who had become alienated from his daughter and was on bad terms with her at the time of her death — is disconsolate. But he finds hope in the free-standing avatar that Zoe had created of herself before she died — an avatar that can “think” for itself.

Graystone wants to implant that avatar into a robot, and “resurrect” Zoe. He explains his plan to a friend who also suffered the loss of his daughter in the same attack: “Do you know what your brain is, Joseph? It’s a database and a processor, that’s all. Information and a way to use it … [Zoe] took a search engine and turned it into a way to cheat death.”

But Zoe, while a technological genius, would not have been so sanguine about her mad-scientist father’s plans — she judged him with a standard that put her at odds with his society: “There is truth in the world,” she tells a friend. “There is a right and there is a wrong. And there is a god, a god who knows the difference.”

Lines like that make me feel the way Virginia Woolf felt when she discovered the great Russian novelists who were writing about far more interesting characters than her bland Victorian compatriots. Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy were writing about faith, violence and ideology, with stories set in places almost as alien to Virginia as “Caprica” is to us. Yet the writers of “Caprica” risk a lot in crafting such obvious parallels to the world we live in here on Earth. They risk becoming too allegorical, or worse, they risk becoming moralistic. But the picture they set up has enough ambiguity built-in that they will be able to avoid sounding sanctimonious: on the one hand, Zoe is right about Caprica’s decadence and violent excesses; on the other hand, terrorism is evil.

The most interesting dimension to the show, I think, has to do with the relationship between science and religion — that is, between Graystone and his daughter’s avatar. If indeed we are nothing by a database and a processor, as Graystone maintains — why is it that we refuse to accept this simple fact? Why do we refuse to accept that death is the end?

And why is it that the SyFy Channel is becoming one of the few places where we can ask these questions in a story?

Santiago Ramos is a graduate of Rockhurst University in Kansas City and has written for First Things (online), Commonweal, The Pitch, Traces, Image Journal and various blogs. He is currently studying toward a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Boston College.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Vatican Twitter Feed Looks Like Computer Generated Hoax

@Vatican_Va went live on twitter a few weeks ago and already they’ve sent out 34,677 tweets. I figure that would take the combined efforts of several congregations doing nothing but tweeting. John Thavis at CNS’ Rome Bureau smelled a rat and did some digging:

I e-mailed Father Federico Lombardi, who heads both the Vatican press office and Vatican Radio. I got a response rather quickly, and a surprising one. He said the Twitter feed was news to him, and that neither the press office nor Vatican Radio was doing the tweeting. A call to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications elicited a similar response: it wasn’t them, and they didn’t know who it was.

John’s going to stay on the story and if he uncovers an actual Vatican sponsor for the twitter-feed, we’ll update this, but I don’t think it’s likely.

For a number of reasons, I suspect the Vatican twitter feed is a computer generated hoax:

1. All of the Vatican tweets are nothing but the headlines of stories followed by a bit.ly link to the story.

2. Sometimes the headlines are truncated to fit, never edited to send a more coherent message. Most twitter users that are human tend to try to get the gist of the thought out rather than simply truncating a message to fit the character count.

3. This morning, several tweets were missing the bit.ly link and in it’s place was an “ERROR” message. For example:

I vescovi del Kenya: la vita inizia dal concepimento ERROR

If a human being messes up a tweet, they generally try again. Yet no attempt was made to correct those tweets or to repost the intended article. Furthermore, all the ERROR tweets were in a cluster.

4. There’s 34,677 tweets, which as @americanpapist noted this morning is ridiculous.

Congrats and thanks to @CatholicNewsSvc for investigating this.

By the way, The Catholic Key twitter feed is for real. Follow us @CatholicKey

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Religion Bashing Proceeds Apace at Prop. 8 Trial - Updated

A federal trial heard by a single, unelected judge seeking to overturn the judgment of 7 million California voters is now in its second week. The voters supported Proposition 8 which simply defined again that marriage is between a man and a woman. Plaintiffs seek to establish that the voters’ only possible motivation was prejudice against homosexuals and thereby strike-down Prop. 8 on the basis of equal protection. See this excellent report at National Catholic Register for background on the case. As the trial progresses, it appears more and more that the possession of religious belief itself is in the dock.

The following report on court proceedings this week was sent out by Bill May who is chairman of Catholics for the Common Good in San Francisco (not to be confused with a similarly named organization in DC) UPDATED BELOW this report:

Trial Drags on Tediously
Religion Bashing Increases
Keep Prayers Coming


The second week of the trial about traditional marriage and those that support it recommenced on Tuesday, January 19, with more emotional testimony and issue advocacy that would be more proper to a legislative hearing or to a campaign than to a law trial. Alliance Defense Fund lawyer, Austin R. Nimocks provided perspective reminding us that, “ jurors are regularly instructed [by judges] to dismiss and put aside emotional appeals. Cases are decided on the facts and the evidence, not on how someone feels about this or that.” The question is, will Judge Vaughn Walker be influenced by these appeals. The outcome of a decision made by 7 million California voters depends on one judge, appointed for life.


San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders took the stand to discuss how he came to reverse his position on same-sex "marriage." In emotional and at times tearful testimony he described his close relationship with his daughter who announced that she was a lesbian and subsequently “married” another woman in a ceremony in Vermont. He acknowledged that he had harbored prejudice against gays in the past and now feels that anyone who opposes same-sex “marriage” for whatever reason, must be prejudiced. It was obvious that he had been coached and was extremely intent on advocating what became apparent on cross examination as an unreasonable position.


The next witness for the plaintiffs was Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute at UCLA and same-sex marriage advocate. He testified that same-sex “marriage” in the Netherlands has had no impact on marriage between a man and a woman. Through long and tedious cross examination by lead defense counsel, Charles Cooper, Badgett acknowledged indisputable facts that out of wedlock births and the number of single parents have increased dramatically since same-sex “marriage” was legalized there.


Catholic Doctrine on Trail Again


On Wednesday, Day 7, the focus on religion of supporters of Prop 8 increasingly took center stage with a fair amount of Catholic bashing. It will be interesting to see where the plaintiffs' counsel goes with this as the trial progresses.


Remember, supporters of Prop 8 are on trial as being haters and bigots in an effort to overturn their vote to preserve traditional marriage. If the court were to accept the arguments presented in this testimony, I agree with the point Andy Pugno made that it would be like saying that people could not consider their religious beliefs when voting on any moral issue.


The day began by bringing a man from Colorado to the stand who was bitter about an experience with “homosexual conversion therapy.” It was hard to imagine why this man was there and what his testimony had to do with Prop 8. This seemed to be part of the plaintiffs' effort to demonstrate that homosexuality is an immutable trait like sex or race, and it provided another opportunity for more religion bashing. Plaintiffs' counsel Davie Boise used the witness to bring up what was portrayed as “faith-based” discrimination against women and blacks, and actually tried to link violence against gays to doctrine of the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention.


The next witness, Gary Segura, a Stanford University political science professor was called to provide support for the plaintiffs contention that homosexuals need special protection and argued that they are politically powerless, giving defeats on initiatives and legislation as examples. The logic throughout his testimony was so transparently flawed. The subject of religious discrimination came up again and as ProtectMarriage.com General Counsel Andy Pugno summed it up, “according to his logic, gays and lesbians must be given special legal protection by the U.S. Constitution against religion itself.”


When the day ended, Segura was still on the stand. More cross examination will follow when the trial continues on Thursday. I continue to be very impressed with the preparation and the skill of the attorneys representing supporters of Prop 8. They are methodically building a strong record if needed for appeal.


I will not report on Thursday and Friday until the end of the weekend. We are preparing for the a major marriage advocate Leadership Summit in San Francisco for the valiant team of CCG County Co-Chairs from all over California. More than seventy are expected at the summit.


Please pray for the summit and these leaders. They are building a campaign to restore a marriage culture in California called Stand with Children. The same-sex “marriage” issue is merely a symptom of what the plaintiffs describe in court as the “evolution” of marriage. The word should really be “devolution” because indoctrination redefining marriage, the family, and human sexuality is influencing children and is touching just about every family. Our children are being taught that marriage is nothing but a committed relationship for the benefit of adults and that it is incidental to children and family.


We continue to be overwhelmed by the expressions of prayer and fasting for the trial. This is a spiritual battle and we are all reminded and buoyed by the communion we share through Our Lord, Jesus Christ as we stand in solidarity with the common interest that every child has in the marriage of his or her mother and father.


Our Lady of Guadalupe, please pray for the Prop 8 supporters who may be called and attacked as witnesses to the truth about marriage as part of God's plan for creation.


For the Common Good,
Bill May
Chairman, Catholics for the Common Good


UPDATE - Catholic League president Bill Donohue also weighed in today on the proceedings this week in San Francisco:

The voters in 30 states who have taken up the issue of gay marriage have voted 30-0 to affirm marriage as a union between a man and a woman; Proposition 8 did exactly that in California. Attorneys David Boies and Theodore B. Olsen, however, are contesting this issue in court.

Yesterday, the judge allowed Boies and Olsen to submit e-mails they obtained between the director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the bishops. Allowing such communication in a trial is unusual enough, but the purpose was even more invidious: to show that Catholics played a major role in passing Proposition 8. The lawyers did the same thing to Mormons, offering more e-mail “proof” of their involvement.

Now some will reply that it should not matter what the adherents of any religion say about public policy issues. After all, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Unfortunately, this misses the point the lawyers want to make.

Their goal is not to contest the First Amendment rights of Catholics and others—their goal is to put religion on trial. What they are saying is that religious-based reasons for rejecting gay marriage are irrational, and thus do not meet the test of promoting a legitimate state interest. That is why they have trotted out professors like Gary Segura of Stanford and George Chauncey of Yale to testify to the irrationality of the pro-Proposition 8 side. Chauncey was even given the opportunity to read from a Vatican document that rejects homosexual marriage.

Society cannot exist without families; families cannot exist without reproduction; reproduction cannot exist without a sexual union between a man and a woman; and every society in the history of the world has created an institution called marriage to provide for this end. In short, it is nothing but irrational to challenge such a timeless verity. No matter, what is going on in the courtroom smacks of an animus against religion.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Turn Again - 'Up in the Air' Reviewed

From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

Turn Again

Up in the Air

DIR Jason Reitman SCR Ivan Reitman
Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick

By Santiago Ramos

I don’t want to be like Ryan Bingham, and it’s not because I don’t like to fly. No one wants to be like Ryan Bingham.

Bingham, the protagonist (played by George Clooney) of Up in the Air, works a job which has him travelling over 300 days a year. He calls himself a “career transition counselor,” and forms part of a corporation which sends its representatives across the country to do the dirty work of firing people for other companies—they deliver the pink slips so you don’t have to. Bingham is good at his job; he does it with firmness and humanity, with a mask of compassion which, while not making himself actually feel any empathy for the person being fired, nevertheless helps the termination progress without any major problems.

No, the reason why I would not want to be Bingham has more to do with his other job. Bingham also runs the lecture circuit, propagating his philosophy of individualism: Every person carries a backpack. Most back packs are too full, and weigh you down. The heaviest item you can place in a backpack is a relationship—family or friends. Keep your backpack light, because, “Make no mistake—to move is to live.” Thus Bingham lives from airport hub to airport hub, from Admiral’s Club to Marriott, and keeps a one-bedroom apartment in Omaha which is unoccupied most of the year.

Bingham is not bothered by his systematically-maintained loneliness. He glides swiftly through the aesthetic pleasures of life—food, sex, and fine hotel linens—without asking for more, and without admitting to himself any need for anything more. Thus a dramatic irony builds up throughout the first act of the film: we all know that Bingham can’t live like this—unattached and superficially—forever. Something will happen. The ultimate teleological meaning that Bingham has artificially created for himself—becoming the seventh person ever to collect ten million frequent flyer miles—will not be enough, either. The tension in the film is generated by bad philosophy.

Something does happen when Bingham falls in love with Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), a woman with whom he has been in a casual sexual relationship for a few months. After Bingham attends his sister’s wedding with Alex as his date, he learns to appreciate the joys of attachment and stability. And after he is forced to give a pep talk to his sister’s fiancé—who develops cold feet on the day of the wedding—he formulates a new philosophy of life: Life is pointless, but it’s better if you go through it with people you love.

Now we have a movie about romantic relationships, but the tension is still generated by Bingham’s philosophy of life. During the second act of the film, Bingham travels accompanied by Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a recent college graduate and Bingham’s newly-hired coworker. Bingham is supposed to teach her the hub-to-hub lifestyle, and to inculcate his philosophy into her consciousness. When Keener’s boyfriend dumps her via text message, Bingham tells her that she is better off being unattached. But after changing his philosophy of life, Bingham thinks differently, and decides to try something like commitment, with Alex.

Director Jason Reitman was able to avoid sentimentality with the happy ending that he crafted for Juno, and in Up in the Air, he has gone a step further. Juno ends with a romantic embrace: We will take care of the baby together, and we will care for each other. Bingham is a lot older than Juno, however, and he is left with an unanswered question: What do I do now? The movie in the end is not about discovering a philosophy of life—neither of Bingham’s philosophies is adequate in the end—but about refining and articulating that question. At least now Bingham knows that his chosen life is not enough. He can fly anywhere, but he wants to fly somewhere. The last shot of the film is the most interesting image in it—sad and pregnant with possibility.

Few films I’ve seen in the last year attempt to involve the viewer as much as this one. I felt more a part of Bingham’s world than I ever did in Cameron’s Pandora. The film contains many monologues from fired workers, broken and desolate before Bingham and Keener after they have been told that they have been fired. These speeches almost break the fourth wall because we all know that they have been happening every day in our country during in the last year and a half. But the film also shows the way in which vulnerability before the question of happiness is something shared by the employed and unemployed alike, even by a high-flying debonair bachelor like Bingham. Even Ryan Bingham does not want to be Ryan Bingham.

Santiago Ramos is a graduate of Rockhurst University in Kansas City and has written for First Things (online), Commonweal, The Pitch, Traces, Image Journal and various blogs. He is currently studying toward a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Boston College.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Message from Saint Gabriel on Haiti

The student council at St. Gabriel Elementary School in North Kansas City has produced a video encouraging donations to Catholic Relief Services for the Haitian relief effort. They've done a beautiful job. You've got to watch it.



Now visit CRS to make your donation. You can also follow what's happening with the CRS relief effort on the CRS blog.

(Note to email feed subscribers - Videos don't show up in the email feed. Please click on the actual post to see the video.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cardinal George, Archbishop Dolan Urge Nationwide 2nd Collection for Haiti

This afternoon, USCCB President Cardinal George of Chicago and Catholic Relief Services Chair Archbishop Dolan of New York wrote the nation’s bishops urging them to take up a second collection this weekend for the relief of the people of Haiti. Bishop Finn is encouraging parishes in the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph to do just that, and I notice on twitter that several other dioceses are already doing the same.

I’m informed that the 2004 Special Collection for victims of the Indonesian Tsunami was the largest in the history of this diocese, as I imagine it was elsewhere. Let’s make this one bigger – These are our neighbors and their suffering is terrible.

Please read the following letter carefully. The collection for Haiti this weekend should not be confused with the scheduled special collection for the Church in Latin America next weekend. Both should be taken up. The following was sent on the letterhead of the USCCB President:

Your Eminence/Excellency:

Our Church mourns the terrible suffering of our brothers and sisters in Haiti. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that ravaged Haiti on January 12, 2010 has already claimed thousands of lives including the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince. It has destroyed countless homes, churches, seminaries, schools, and other buildings and has left millions without the most basic necessities of life. Our faith compels us to pray for and reach out to our brothers and sisters in their time of suffering.

We invite you to encourage your pastors to take up a second collection for the people and Church of Haiti this weekend , January 16 and 17, 2010. These funds will be used to support the efforts of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Church, as they respond to immediate emergency needs for such necessities as water, food, shelter and medical care, as well as to the long term need to rebuild after widespread destruction, and to the pastoral and reconstruction needs of the Church in Haiti.

Catholic Relief Services is already mounting a major emergency response to this severe disaster and has committed an initial $5 million to fund relief efforts which are likely to go on for some time. Your help and the help of the Catholic people of the United States are urgently needed.

Next weekend January 23-24, many dioceses are scheduled to take up the Collection for the Church in Latin America. This Collection is vitally important for our ability to respond to the pastoral needs of the Church in Haiti and other parts of Latin America in the weeks and months ahead. We urge that you use both of these opportunities to express our solidarity and our loving support for our brothers and sisters in Haiti and ask you not to substitute one collection for the other.

Additional information on the U.S. Catholic community’s response to this emergency and how U.S. Catholics can help can be found at CRS.org and USCCB.org

Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Chicago
President

Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan
Chairman
Catholic Relief Services

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bishop Finn's Message Supporting Immigration Reform

Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn delivered the following message on immigration reform in English and Spanish during Mass on the Feast of The Baptism of the Lord at St. Anthony Church in Kansas City. For more information on the U.S. Bishops’ efforts toward just and comprehensive immigration reform visit their Justice for Immigrants website.

Supporting Immigration Reform
Bishop Robert W. Finn

Dear Friends in Christ,

The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the conclusion of the Christmas season. In these past weeks we have celebrated the mystery of God’s love for every human person. In the person of Jesus, God entered our world. In some way we can say that God migrated to our world. He destroyed the borders that separated us from Him. He came among us, full of love, wanting to bring us hope.

In the Christmas story, we recall that, when Herod sought to kill Jesus, the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt, to a foreign land, to find peace and the opportunity to work. Throughout the history of the United States many have come here seeking a new beginning: some come as political refugees; others come because of famine or serious economic destitution as they try to attain a decent life for themselves and their families.

Today’s immigrants are not so different from those of generations past. My own family has roots in Ireland, Germany, England, and Poland. We are all children of our heavenly Father. We are loved by Him. We are redeemed by Christ. We each have infinite value. We love our families. We are called to live for God and grow in holiness. We must also love one another. This is not merely my expectation as bishop. It is the commandment of Jesus Christ.

Our Lord knew that we would sometimes be tempted to reject those who are different from ourselves. Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me. …Whatever you do, or fail to do to, the least of my brothers, you do to me.”

As you know, many people have strong feelings about immigration in our country. Almost everyone agrees that our system is deeply flawed and must be changed to better protect and respect the integrity of our nation’s borders, and also the most fundamental rights of people and their families to work and live in peace. In response to these needs, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a campaign to work for comprehensive immigration reform. Postcards are available that urge Congress to enact immigration reform that, while addressing legitimate security concerns, respects the dignity of the human person, the unity of the family, and offers a reasonable and responsible path to legal status and eventual citizenship. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his latest encyclical Caritas in Veritate, “The migrant is a human person who possesses fundamental and inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance” (#62).

After holy Mass I will be signing these postcards, which will be sent to our elected officials, and I encourage everyone to please join me in this campaign, so that when the Lord Jesus asks us on the Day of Judgment whether we welcomed the stranger in our midst, we can confidently say yes. May almighty God bless you and protect you. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, our mother, teach us to see and serve her Son in others.

Friday, January 8, 2010

San Francisco, Beverly Hills and New York are 'Very Close' to Reconciliation on Abortion Funding

On Nov. 7, 240 House members from every region of the country and both political parties supported current restrictions on federal funding of abortion by voting for the Stupak Amendment to the House health reform bill. That’s 20 more than voted for the health bill itself. Not satisfied with that fair and open result of the constitutional legislative process, 3 pro-abortion Democrats from California and 2 pro-abortion Democrats from New York have taken it upon themselves to re-write the bill this week – while Congress is out of session, behind closed doors and outside of the normal legislative process.

Many have rightfully complained that this closed-door process violates President Obama’s repeated promise of transparency in the creation of a health bill. That’s fair criticism, but more importantly the extraordinary negotiations of Reps. Pelosi (D-CA), Miller (D-CA), Waxman (D-CA). Rangel (D-NY) and Slaughter (D-NY) violate the constitutional principle of democratic rule by a representative legislature. How has the effective force of our House been reduced to those representatives whose constituencies might appear as branches on a shopping bag from a chichi boutique – San Francisco, Beverly Hills, New York?

Speaker Pelosi is opposed to the Stupak language passed by the House. Rep. George Miller has told constituents he will try to have it removed. Reps. Rangel and Waxman, who both voted against Stupak, both pointedly refused to answer House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) when he asked during floor debate whether they’d fight for Stupak in Conference should it pass the House. And Rep. Louise Slaughter is both the Chair of the House Rules Committee and Chair of the House pro-choice caucus.

In short, the will of the House has no voice if these five are the sole negotiators in a closed-door reconciliation of the House and Senate health bills. After these five representatives emerged from a closed-door meeting Wednesday, Speaker Pelosi held a press conference in which she declared, “I think we're very close to reconciliation.” Well San Francisco, Beverly Hills and New York may be agreed, but what about the majority of the House which voted in favor of Stupak?

It is safe to say that what emerges as abortion language from this process will be awful. It’s also safe to predict that the administration will have their Catholic lackeys at Catholics in Alliance and Catholics United lined up with an endorsement before anybody else has seen the text. But that trick is tired. Congress knows that not only a majority of Catholics, but the vast majority of all Americans oppose funding of abortion through health care reform.

If it does come to pass that the final abortion language is opposed to life, the final House vote will stand as a vital challenge to the notion of a “pro-life Democrat”. Will those who voted for Stupak stand firm, oppose the final bill, and prove that they can have a tremendous positive role for life in Congress? Or will they stand down, proving that any Democrat anywhere you vote for is ultimately beholden to the cultural demands of San Francisco, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles?

I’m praying, hoping and working for the former. And I really do believe it is possible if Bart Stupak continues to lead the way. If you haven’t yet, check out this message from the USCCB on how you can help.

UPDATE: American Papist has a list of Pro-Life Democrats in the House and instructions on contacting them. It's easy. I'm doing it.

Four Extraordinary Brides

What’s happening here?

Go to Kansas Catholic to find out.

The Catholic Key will have full coverage of this event in the next issue and maybe some of KC’s extraordinary pics.

USCCB Issues Urgent Call for Parish Action on Health Care

As certain select Representatives and Senators are holding secret meetings to determine the final shape of health care reform, the U.S. Bishops are urging a renewed and urgent effort by every parish in the country to contact Congress with essential concerns. The bishops' bottom line remains the same:

Provisions against abortion funding and in favor of conscience protection, affordability, and immigrants’ access to health care must be part of a fair and just health care reform bill, or the final bill must be opposed.

The following is an urgent memorandum sent last night from the USCCB followed by the requested bulletin insert for every parish in the country:

Urgent Memorandum

Date: January 7, 2010

From: Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, Secretariat of Pro-Life

Activities, Office of Migration and Refugee Policy, Office of the Secretary of Communications

To: Pastors, Diocesan Pro-Life Directors, Diocesan Social Development Directors, Diocesan Communications Directors, State Catholic Conference Directors

Re: Nationwide USCCB Bulletin Insert on Health Care

During October and November, diocesan and parish leaders were asked by the U.S. Bishops’ Conference to distribute two consecutive Nationwide Bulletin Inserts on health care reform. Thank you for your great cooperation in that effort. Since that time the following has occurred:

· The U.S. House passed health care reform that reaffirms the essential, longstanding and widely supported policy against using federal funds for elective abortion coverage.

· The U.S. Senate has rejected this policy and passed health care reform that requires federal funds to help subsidize and promote health plans that cover elective abortions. All purchasers of such plans will be required to pay for other people’s abortions through a separate payment solely to pay for abortion.

· These two bills are being combined into one bill that both the House and Senate will vote on in final form.

Catholics need to make their voices heard insisting that health care reform protect the lives, dignity, consciences and health of all. Provisions against abortion funding and in favor of conscience protection, affordability, and immigrants’ access to health care must be part of a fair and just health care reform bill. Unless and until these criteria are met, the final bill must be opposed.

The U.S. bishops have asked that the attached USCCB Nationwide Bulletin Insert (Spanish Insert) on health care reform be printed or hand-stuffed in every parish bulletin and/or distributed in pews or at church entrances as soon as possible. Final House and Senate votes may take place soon. If your Arch/bishop approved disseminating the earlier bulletin inserts, consider this an update.

Also included are suggested Pulpit Announcements and a Prayer Petition (Spanish Announcements and Prayer). Please encourage parishioners to pray for this effort as well. More information can be found at www.usccb.org/healthcare.

Thank you for your urgent actions and prayers on behalf of this nationwide effort!

And here’s the bulletin insert:

URGENT: USCCB NATIONWIDE BULLETIN INSERT

Stop Abortion Funding in Health Care Reform!
Protect Conscience
Ensure Affordable Health Coverage
Allow Immigrants to Purchase Private Health Insurance

As long-time advocates of health care reform, the U.S. Catholic bishops continue to make the moral case that genuine health care reform must protect the life, dignity, consciences and health of all, especially the poor and vulnerable. Health care reform should not advance a pro-abortion agenda in our country.

- On November 7, the U.S. House of Representatives passed major health care reform that reaffirms the essential, longstanding and widely supported policy against using federal funds for elective abortions and includes positive measures on affordability and immigrants.
- On December 24, the U.S. Senate rejected this policy and passed health care reform that requires federal funds to help subsidize and promote health plans that cover elective abortions. All purchasers of such plans will be required to pay for other people’s abortions through a separate payment solely to pay for abortion.
- Outside the abortion context, neither bill has adequate conscience protection for health care
providers, plans or employers.
- These two bills must now be combined into one bill that both the House and Senate will vote on in final form. Provisions against abortion funding and in favor of conscience protection, affordability, and immigrants’ access to health care must be part of a fair and just health care reform bill, or the final bill must be opposed.

ACTION: Contact your Representative and Senators today by e-mail, phone or FAX.

- To send a pre-written, instant e-mail to Congress go to www.usccb.org/action.
- Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at: 202-224-3121, or call your Members’ local offices. Contact info can be found on Members’ web sites at www.house.gov & www.senate.gov.

MESSAGE—HOUSE:

“I am pleased that the House health care bill maintains the longstanding policy against federal funding of abortion. I urge you to work to uphold essential provisions against abortion funding, to include full conscience protection and to assure that health care is accessible and affordable for all. Until and unless these criteria are met, I urge you to oppose the final bill.”

MESSAGE—SENATE:

“I am deeply disappointed that the Senate health care bill fails to maintain the longstanding policy against federal funding of abortion and does not include adequate protection for conscience. I urge you to support essential provisions against abortion funding, similar to those in the House bill. Include full conscience protection and assure that health care is accessible and affordable for all. Until and unless these criteria are met, I urge you to oppose the final bill.”

WHEN: Votes in the House and Senate on the final bill are expected in January.

Act today! Thank You!

Later today, The Catholic Key Blog will have commentary later today on the extraordinary “reconciliation” process currently taking place behind closed doors. So check back. We’re back in business after an extended Christmas quiet.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Questioning the Tribe - Avatar reviewed by Santiago Ramos

From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

Questioning the Tribe

Avatar
DIR, SCR James Cameron
Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang.

Reviewed by Santiago Ramos

I thought I was being clever when I started describing the plot of Avatar to my friends with a mathematical expression: “Pocahontas + The Air Up There + (Apocalypto – the cool sets).” But then, unprompted by me, a friend described the film as “Fern Gully + Dances With Wolves,” and a few days after that, I overheard a lady in a bookstore describe it as “Pocahontas + Dances With Wolves.” So I wasn’t original, but apparently neither was James Cameron.

However, I can forgive Cameron for recycling clichés because the main idea behind the film is interesting despite them. The screenplay will not win any awards (at least, it shouldn’t), but the central story idea, even if it’s been “done” before, remains compelling: the notion of transplanting a modern, rootless protagonist into a prehistoric, traditional, religious culture. This idea is present in all of the movies mentioned above (except perhaps Apocalypto), but Avatar makes the most poignant expression of it out of all of them.

The rootless modern protagonist is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic Marine. His disability is not as enervating, perhaps, as his inner, searching hollowness. The only quotable line in the film will probably not be quoted much, but Worthington says it well: “My cup is empty.”

Jake utters those lines to the head of the Na’vi, the native civilization inhabiting the moon Pandora, which orbits the distant planet of Polyphemus. Earthlings (“Sky People” to the Na’vi) have traveled to this moon and have begun to mine it for a valuable material called “unobtanium.” The human military, headed by Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), think little of the Na’vi and everything of unobtanium; they are willing to destroy the Na’vi’s central dwelling place, the vast, city-like Hometree, because equally vast amounts of unobtanium are located beneath it. Nicer humans are found among the scientists, led by the botanist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who leads a team tasked with learning the ways of the Na’vi. Stuck with conflicting loyalties between both camps is Jake, who assumes an avatar and enters the life of the Na’vi.

The avatar is the central plot device: through some mechanical contraption, a human consciousness can be transported onto a Na’vi-human hybrid down on the surface of Pandora. Jake does this and, losing his way one late evening in Pandora (I am avoiding spoilers like minefields), encounters the beautiful Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), the Na’vi who will eventually be ordered by her people to show Jake their ways and beliefs. Jake learns what she has to teach, and his cup becomes filled. Most significantly, he learns to revere Eywa, the mother goddess in some way immanent in nature. All of the species on Pandora are connected to each other and ultimately to Eywa. Eventually, Jake will defend the Na’vi against the human conquerors, and he will fall in love—and mate—with Neytiri. Jake has gone native; his avatar self will become his true self.

Rootless moderns thus become seduced by a prehistoric, pre-technological, tribal, still-enchanted culture. This is a reasonable attraction: who doesn’t want to live in a world where wonder is still our daily bread, and live a life which is in harmony with its own condition—a life where questions do not agitate our souls, where we don’t worry about aging, about heartbreak, about death? Albert Camus wrote, “Man is the only animal who refuses to be what he is,” and while I would add “apparently” between “he” and “is”, the line is useful in describing Jake’s attraction to the Na’vi. We want a life which we do not have to rebel against because it satisfies us completely.

But the Na’vi civilization is brittle. It is not only the military conquest of Hometree that would disrupt Na’vi life. The disruptions lie inchoate, and will sprout with time. Jake might be tired of questioning, but the Na’vi have not yet begun to question—they have not yet entered history, have yet to be exiled from the Garden. Dr. Augustine does not claim that Eywa is truly divine, but that Pandora is a flourishing ecosystem of interconnected animal and plant life more complex than the human brain, which hitherto had been the most complex known structure in the universe. But complexity does not sustain wonder once divinity has been lost. One day, the Na’vi will question Eywa, and history will begin for them. They too will become human.

Moreover, Jake himself introduces a taste for individuality that was previously unknown to the Na’vi. Neytiri begins the film betrothed to another, but she chooses Jake instead. The repercussions of this choice for the Na’vi are something Cameron could have explored in depth.

Our dissatisfaction with our current state, our nostalgia for a place which is in harmony with our hearts, won’t find an answer among a prehistoric people who have not asked the questions we have asked, and who have not become aware of the importance of the individual “I,” independent of the tribe and of a pantheistic deity. Our questions are not the problem; they are the starting point.

Santiago Ramos is a graduate of Rockhurst University in Kansas City and has written for First Things (online), Commonweal, The Pitch, Traces, Image Journal and various blogs. He is currently studying toward a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Boston College.