Retaining current conscience regulations

8 04 2009

Ever since the threat of rescission of the conscience regulations instituted by the Bush administration (which protect the rights of health care workers), many of the U.S. bishops (including my own) have spoken out in order to protect the regulations which are currently in place. (The call of Cardinal Francis George may be seen here and the USCCB’s page dedicated to this effort is here.) We, as U.S. citizens, and especially as Catholics, are being asked to speak out to our leaders in order to prevent the government from attempting to intrude an aspect of humans which should be revered as fundamental to individual and, consequently, societal flourishing: our consciences. Granted, our consciences as a society (often enough) aren’t properly formed, but to have the ability to say “no” (without a penalty) removed for those who would refrain from doing something which they consider to be inherently evil, is, frankly, scary. In order to attempt to protect those who are affected by these regulations, we have been asked to contact those in charge. This may be done in several ways (n.b.: a sample statement to send may be found below these options):

  1. e-mail proposedrescission@hhs.gov,
  2. sending your comments via NCHLA – sponsored by the USCCB (also, it has a generic message which you may edit before sending),
  3. visiting the U.S. Government Regulations website and enter “0991-AB49” in the search box (via Word, Wordperfect, or Excel),
  4. mailing one original and two copies via snail mail to: Office of Public Health and Science, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: Rescission Proposal Comments, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Avenue SW, Room 716G, Washington, D.C. 20201.

Here is an argument against the proposed rescission, which you may use in contacting them, if you so choose:

I am writing today to ask those who are in charge to retain the conscience regulations which are in place to protect health care workers from providing services which they regard as morally offensive. I find that this destroys the freedom and autonomy of the individual to act according to his or her conscience, which I find, in itself, to be morally offensive. Removing this protection would prevent citizens from acting freely, according to their most deeply held convictions (which shape who we are), forcing them either to be penalized, resign, or act as “robots” of the State’s bidding, none of which respect the dignity and autonomy of the human person to act on his or her own free will according to the formation of their conscience. It would also seem that, were this regulation be eliminated, the problem would then be prepared to spread itself throughout the rest of the institutions of our country. And then, are we all to bow before the will of the State (read: those few who are in control and want their will obeyed through the power of the State), regardless of the things which we believe and especially those which believe to be duties higher than those of the State? The consequences of eliminating these regulations would be the beginning (continuing?) of the removal of the ability of the person to act according to his own mind and will, rendering him (for all practical purposes) less than human and nothing more than a blind instrument of the State: consequences which have nothing to do with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all citizens of the United States.

Sincerely,
Name, Address, etc.
Thanks in particular to my bishop, Robert Baker, and CatholicVote.org for raising awareness of this issue.




A reply to Mark Morford on the Pope, condoms, and AIDS

8 04 2009

Almost a week ago, I received an e-mail which I had initially assumed was related to the comment of Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project for the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, which said “the Pope is correct” about the use of condoms increasing the spread of HIV/AIDS, etc., rather than decreasing them, as its supporters would have us to believe (check below for links to articles of Mr. Green’s statement). However, the e-mail was only an article written by Mark Morford of the San Francisco Gate, which was simply a lengthy character attack of the Pope. I let the e-mail hang out in my inbox for a few days, until I finally decided to respond to it. What follows is the text (minus personal elements) of my response which I now offer as a response to Mr. Morford’s article.

I have read and skimmed through the article which you have sent me and have discovered that the clip in the e-mail would have been enough to suffice for what was to follow in the rest of the article. It is, from beginning to end, simply an attack on the character of a man with whom the author does not even seem to have any familiarity at all – else he would not lower himself to speak so superficially and dismissively about him. Nor would he have any reason to hold the Dalai Lama up on a pedestal (also a religious leader) while simultaneously attempting to attack a man who sticks to what he believes to be true – a characteristic in men, I think you would agree, that is lacking in our day in time (and is consequently a courageous thing, in my opinion). My question to him would be, how quickly would he remove the Dalai Lama from his pedestal were he to pronounce a statement against the same issue? The answer to me would appear to be that because the Dalai Lama has not pronounced anything against contraception, he is fair game to be used as an example to be followed – but, were he to do so, were he to pronounce something against what this author holds to be “good,” “right,” “just,” etc., he would write the same scathing article denouncing him. Now, the question then to ask is: who set him up as the dogmatic figure who may pronounce what is truly good, right, and just? He only supports the Dalai Lama because he supposes that the Dalai Lama falls in line with his beliefs – not because he actually cares what the Dalai Lama says. At the pinnacle of irony, who set him up as Pope? This, to me, is as “dogmatic” as it gets. But, this problem continues to multiply as you have multitude upon multitude of Mr. Morford’s running around declaring that what they think to be good, right, and just truly is, because they say so. And on what authority? With the Pope, there is only one figure who has been granted authority by Christ (who we, as Christians, believe to be God in the flesh) to sustain unity of belief (i.e., what God has revealed to us both through nature and through Scripture and Tradition) among His children.

Now, I know that we are coming from two different angles on the authority of the Pope and religion, etc., but I think that we can both agree that having millions of “popes” rather than one is a source of tremendous confusion and turmoil: if there are millions of different views of what is truly “good, right, and just,” then there’s not really unity – there’s just people doing what they want to do when they want to do it. How can any society (regardless of what its Constitution says) be expected to run something that is chaotic to the very core? I think that we can both see the manifestations of this at work right now. But, the thing that we have to come back to is that there’s only one truth, only one reality: the tree that you see is the same tree that I see; the Abita Amber that you drink is the same Abita Amber that I drink; the Mississippi River that you (hopefully ;) don’t swim in is the same Mississippi River that I don’t swim in. And this remains true even if one of us decides to deny the reality that is before us. If we were standing together in an open field with only one tree, and we go back to our friends and I (confused by the glare of the sun, but nonetheless fixed in my conviction), say “we stood by an elephant,” while you (unaffected by the sun because of your Ray Ban’s) said “no, we stood by a tree,” the truth remains (no matter how adamantly I believe and speak of my elephantile misperception) that I did, indeed, stand by a tree. The truth remains true regardless if one sees or believes it. And so it is with everything else in our universe – things seen and unseen – because truth is not created by us, it is received by us.

Now, back to the Pope and Mr. Morford: on what authority do they stand?

Mr. Morford: as far as I can perceive from his writing, a man with an axe to grind because a religious leader doesn’t conform to his beliefs. Where do his beliefs come from? I would surmise that his beliefs largely come from himself and what he “feels” to be “good, right, and just” by “his own” conscience, which could very well conflict with the respective consciences of his many fellow world-inhabitors. For, if there is no God (or we have killed Him, as Nietzsche wrote), what else has man left but himself to look to? Now, why would I want to follow my own, much less the beliefs of another man who stands by himself (i.e., on his own authority) in asserting what is objectively “good, right, and just,” regardless if it corresponds with what is actually true? Should one of our friends, visiting the field and seeing not an elephant, but a tree, stand with me who proclaims that the tree is an elephant because I say so? Or should, he, seeing the tree, stand by you, who stood by what is really true?

The Pope: a man who, on being elected, stated that he was but an unworthy laborer in the vineyard of the Lord, which says from the get-go that he is not laboring for himself (and even didn’t want to be elected, but wanted to retire and to finish his life writing books). Where do his beliefs come from? His beliefs are the beliefs which the Catholic Church has always taught, which, he believes were and are the teachings which Christ (God) Himself gave to the world in His time on earth. The authority on which he stands is the authority which Christ granted to the Apostle Peter, of whom he is a successor. Therefore, his responsibility is to hand on the objective truth about what God has willed for our universe and for our race. That is, God Himself, in human flesh, gave Peter (and his successors), whom He knew personally, authority to proclaim the one Truth, Himself, Who is found in everything which is true – seen and unseen. To end the contrast between the two, the Pope isn’t arbitrarily dogmatic, just because he believes it to be true, regardless as to whether it actually is, but proclaims that which God has entrusted to him to proclaim. He is “dogmatic” in the sense that the office which God has given him is to preserve those things which are always true, regardless of times and cultures. He stands by you, proclaiming that the tree is actually a tree, and not by me, who proclaims that the tree is an elephant, when it is only my misperception and adherence to it which I adhere to. A tree is a tree, regardless if I believe it or not. In the same way, murder is murder and is wrong, regardless of the time and culture it happens in.

Finally, from this to the complaint of the article: by not allowing the use of condoms (or, rather, not adhering to the dogma of Mr. Morford), the Pope is condemning millions to die. The fact is that, the Pope, by the authority with which he has been entrusted, is reaching to a deeper truth about man than simply a superficial “use of condoms.” From the way which I have argued thus far, he is saying that condoms engender an attitude, an inclination, in man which is contrary to the way in which God created us (and, I think, STD’s are an indication that “things aren’t supposed to happen this way”). Condoms are promoted as a way to have “safe sex,” but in reality, it promotes sex without consequence [and is even ineffective as a method of prevention – the safest condom in the world only offers an 85% chance of effectiveness, and none of them are tightly woven enough to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS through the condom] , i.e., it provides a way for man to not control his sexual inclinations – not controlling them by the gifts of reason and free will (which distinguish us from other animals), but submitting (and becoming enslaved) to them, thereby lowering us beneath the dignity which we have been given. It’s like putting an infectious band-aid on a wound that needs stitches: it’s only making the underlying problem worse. As the recent statement [here or here] (which I initially thought your e-mail was related to, as your article and this one came about around the same time) of Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project for the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, of the conclusions of their research shows, the promotion of condom usage is directly related to the increase and not the decrease of AIDS/HIV, etc. It is this way for the exact reasons which the Popes have always taught about contraception: using condoms promotes sexual promiscuity (a “disordering” of the way we have been created) and it is patently obvious that sexual promiscuity was and is the cause of STD’s. I mean, remove promiscuity, and there are no more STD problems. It is a matter of self-control, of mastering oneself (which the Greek philosophers understood even before Christ’s taking on flesh, i.e., through reason), which is further supported and enlightened by God’s revelation (i.e., through faith) about man.

I know that we’re coming from two different perspectives on this issue, but I think that the facts (as supported by Edward Green of Harvard) are confirming what the Popes have been saying ever since this has been a problem (which did not begin in the 60’s, though it has certainly been a prevalent issue since then). In this case, I think that Mr. Morford is crying “elephant,” all the while the Popes have been standing by the tree and calling us to look deeper than the surface and to heal the deeper wound of selfishness and self-gratification with self-gift and self-sacrifice – which must be present for authentic love – not by furthering the damage with a tool which only makes the wound become more infected and further from healing than it already is.