Children will better, not hinder, our world

{mosimage}This just in folks, children are bad for the environment — because humans are bad for the environment. But of course! I guess that makes some sense if the environment is the universal ultimate good of the world. And is that so? Do we value the world more than we value human life?

Even if the environment is the ultimate good, how does this argument work? Jonathan Pitt, the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission chair, states that “Couples who have more than two children are being ‘irresponsible’ by creating an unbearable burden on the environment.” He, of course, leads by example, and has only two children. The assumption is that every couple with reproductive capacity will have only two children and thus this reaches, apparently, the level of replacement for the world population.

Sexual authenticity

{mosimage}It was the Marquis de Sade who first put into writing the idea that homosexuality is, for some, an inclination that emerges in childhood and remains more or less fixed throughout life. This view developed, over several centuries, into the modern notion of sexual orientation: same-sex attraction ceased to be a temptation or inclination from which some people suffered at various points in their lives and became something fixed, immutable and fundamental to the personality.

This understanding of same-sex attraction is held more or less universally in mainstream modern culture. Looking at the writings of the press, the gay and lesbian organizations and the North American psychological establishment, one gets the impression that the matter is very simple. Some people are born gay, some people are born straight and some people are born bisexual. It is as unnatural and unhealthy to expect a gay person to have heterosexual relationships as it would be for a straight person to seek out same-sex partners. Whatever your orientation is, it’s that way for life and it cannot be changed.

Making sense of Lent in economic turmoil

{mosimage}Lent is back big time and in a wholly unexpected manner. There is an odd, though understandable, confluence of pop culture, economic trends and the liturgical calendar this year that makes the essence of the Lenten season appropriate to Christians and non-Christians.

In the theatres Confessions of a Shop-a-holic (the film treatment of the Chick-Lit book whose title says it all) and The International (the thriller about a truly killer bank) each speak in their own way to a mood that has swept the world: true discomfort at unfettered greed at the personal and corporate level. Combine the movies with mounting job losses and continual admonitions that everything is just going to get worse and some of us could be forgiven for concluding that Lent, a time of abstinence, sacrifice and reflection, began some time ago.

Has fasting become a lost treasure?

{mosimage}Some would say that Christians in general have lost all sense of the why, the when and the how of fasting. Would you agree? Even if that assessment is only partially right, a review of the forgotten fundamentals might be beneficial.

There are three major themes in the history and practice of Christian fasting: Mystical longing for fulfilment, liberation through discipline and the relationship of fasting to works of charity and justice.

Approaching Lent as a family unit

{mosimage}Each year at the beginning of Lent, my family receives a “Lifestyle Awareness Calendar” in our parish bulletin from the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. The idea is to set aside small sums of money which accumulate for the Share Lent collection. Each day there’s a different donation suggestion, such as “15 cents for each glass of unpolluted water you drink today.”

My children go around counting the number of appliances, light bulbs, books or other items in our house, then we calculate how much to deposit in our collection container that day. On Sundays there’s a social justice issue to pray about — for example, South African women who struggle for just working conditions.

Reconciliation botched

{mosimage}The first weekend of February found me, like scores of other North American presidents of Catholic universities, in Washington, D.C., for the annual conference of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and because I sit on the board I arrived a day earlier. Just in time to get the very beginning of the Williamson imbroglio.

Bishop Richard Williamson is the controversial British bishop whose excommunication along with three other schismatic bishops has been lifted by Rome. A member of the traditionalist Society of St.  Pius X ,  he was excommunicated because of his illicit ordination by a presiding bishop who was warned by Rome not to proceed with his intended act of defiance. The followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre are nothing if not obdurate. No doubt they preferred to call it holy stubbornness. The end result was the same: schism.

I'm still a believer

{mosimage}I’m really not a true believer. I learned this at a recent workshop. People like me who receive the host at Communion-time but walk past the cup are showing that we really don’t believe God is present in both species.

I’m not a germ-phobic person. I shake hands at the Sign of Peace, even in cold and flu season. I don’t use hand sanitizers obsessively. I even dip into those 1950s-style sponges in Holy Water fonts (even if they look as though they’ve been there since the ’50s, gathering bacteria). However, something just stops me from drinking out of the same cup as family, friends and strangers.

Economic crisis a deadly sin misdiagnosed

What we know for sure is that the economic crisis that began perhaps as long as two years ago and began roiling the stock markets and the real economy in the summer-fall of last year is real. We know it is causing huge amounts of real pain, provoking increasing amounts of real fear and causing consumers, producers, politicians and pundits to assume the position of a deer caught in the headlights. There is no shortage of advice, most of the same in deep conflict with each other. And the other thing we know for sure is that we don’t know how bad it will get or how long it will last.

What we don’t really know, but seem to argue about nearly ad nauseum, is how it all started. The immediate cause cited by most is mortgages to Americans who couldn’t afford houses. The underlying cause is argued to be the greed of the banks making the loans and the cupidity and greed of the borrowers. And the poster image that encapsulates the entire mess is bankers spending $1,800 on waste baskets while earning tens of millions in bonuses and corporate executives flying in on private jets to plead for public dollars to bail them out.   

Loneliness: spectre of human life

{mosimage}Frederick Olmstead’s design of the 19th century’s Central Park in New York during the Industrial Age was meant to act as a place to breathe and relax amidst the pollution of an emerging manufacturing colossus. The park was a respite for the weary factory worker who could not afford the more pleasant surroundings of upstate New York. No doubt, the park was also a place to socialize and be with family.

Sociologists of the time suggested that the sudden rush to dense urban living was contrary to social evolution and the maturation of the human condition; while the body would accept the changes, the human soul would be hard pressed to acclimatize. This seems a paradox; more togetherness creates a cloak of invisibility around persons whom, to coin a new saying, were not in our calling circle. The paradox employs anonymity, the cold rapidity of technology and the theft of time’s true meaning.

Housing key to breaking cycle of poverty

{mosimage}The face of poverty and homelessness is often hidden in Canada. Unlike the stark faces of children and families that stare at us from photos in stories about the millions huddled together in refugee camps in Africa and elsewhere, we do not see the same faces here.

They are hidden away in shabby apartments or isolated rural areas. They are not gathered together in camps as in Darfur but they still shoulder the burden of poverty and homelessness made more stark and bitter because it occurs in a land that is bountiful and abundant.

Are Darwin and Galileo a tag team against religion?

{mosimage}“Be afraid, be very afraid!” is perhaps a tad too dramatic, but on the other hand be prepared for a year that promises to go too far in setting up one of the great fake dramas of all time.

The first hint of what 2009 portends was in the last issue of New Scientist for 2008. The editors of the magazine in their collective wisdom decided to poll leading scientists around the world on the vital question, “Who did more to knock man off his pedestal: Darwin or Galileo?” As with any vital question of the day, the framing of the question is truly much more important that the answer. The question is timely because this year marks two “very special” anniversaries. It is 400 years since the Catholic Church put Galileo on trial for heresy and 150 years since the publication of Darwin’s groundbreaking work on evolution. To round out the trifecta of anniversaries, it is also the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.