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CULTURE & POLITICS, ODDS & ENDS

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12/25/2005 4:33 AM
 
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This thread is for interesting and informative stories which are not directly related to Pope Benedict or to the Catholic Church, but are tangential or peripheral to religion, or may not have any religious content at all.

Here, from Corriere della Sera, is a story about the Star of Bethlehem - what was it really? However, after reading it, the most intersting thing about the story is the conclusion, apparently arrived at scientifically, that Jesus was really born in 12 BC, according to how we have reckoned time for centuries. If that were so, then we would be entering the year 2018 A.D. in a few days, because Jesus was born 12 years earlier than we thought.

What was the Star of Bethlehem, or
More important, when was Jesus born?

By Franco Foresta Martin

For years there has been a debate over the astronomical phenomenon that reportedly accompanied the birth of Jesus. The problem concerns the date.

Suspended over the roof of the Nativity stable or impressed on cardboard sky of blue, the traditional comet-star stands out in every creche in the world. But was it really a comet with a tail that showed the magi the road to Bethlehem? Or was it another astronomical phenomenon?

Around Christmastime, this debate promptly reopens among scholars of astronomy who have different views about it. In the last few years, the hypothesis of a planetary conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars appeared to be prevailing. But now, the old belief in a comet is coming back. Let us see why.

THE GOSPEL TRADITION - The first, in chronological order, to speak of a celestial phenomenon associated with the birth of Jesus was St. Matthew (first century AD), author of the first Gospel, who wrote that the Magi, arriving in Jerusalem, asked: “Where is the newbork King of the Jews? Because we saw his star in the East and we have come to adore him.” After a meeting with King Herod, who “asked them in detail about the time of the star’s apparition,” the Magi resumed their journey “…and there was the star, which they had seen in the east, which went before them until, arriving at the place where the baby was, it stopped.”

Matthew, then, spoke of a star (“aster” in the t4ext that came down from the Greeks) which showed a motion different from any other star, but however, did not specifiy what was the nature of the star. Since Matthew’s account was detailed enough, the celestial body would have been identified as a comet if it had shown a head and tail, rather than generically as a star. In the texts of the other evangelists (Mark, Luke and John), there is no indication at all of any astronomical phenomenon at the time of the Nativity.

FROM STAR TO COMET - The person who first proposed the comet hypothesis, in the third century after Christ, was Origine of Alexandria, one of the principal apologetists for Christianity. In his book “Against Celsus”, railing against popular superstitions which considered comets to be stars of bad omen, Origine affirmed that, on the contrary, they could be bearers of good news, as with the appearance of the comet which announced the birth of Jesus.

Several centuries later, another Church father, the Byzantine John of Damascus (7 centuries after Origine), wrote in his “Exposition of the Faith” that the star which appeared to the Magi, considering the course it took, could not be anything but a comet. Up to this time, the debate was limited to gifted men of faith.

The intervention of a great artist like Giotto of Bordone (1267-1337) would be necessary for the legend of a Nativity comet to take root in popular tradition. In fact, in Giotto’s “Adoration of the Magi”, one of the stupendous frescoes painted by Giotto in the Chapel of the Scrovegni in Padua, the artist illustrates for the first time the star described in the Gospel of St. Mattjew as a luminous comet.

From then on, whether in artistic iconography or in sacred and popular representations of the Creche, a comet with a tail was almost always present. One must note that before Giotto, other artists who were inspired by the Gospel of Matthew, had represented the Nativity with only a simple star in the sky over Bethlehem.

For example, in a 6th century mosaic found in the Basilica of Sant'Apollinario Nuovo in Ravenna, a yellow star with eight points stands over the stable with the Baby Jesus.

According to historians of astronomy, Giotto’s choice of the comet was inspired - more than by knowing the hypothesis of Origene and John of Damascus - by the fact that he was an eyewitness to the passage of Halley’s comet in 1301 and remained so impressed with it that he used it as the model for the Adoration fresco.

A PROBLEM WITH THE DATE – But why do some astronomers say that the Star of Jesus was not a comet? If this hypothesis is excluded, what other relevant astronomical event should be taken into account? To answer this, it is necessary first of all to reconstruct the true date of Jesus’s birth, which is surely mistaken, according to what has been accepted for sometime now.

It was the monk-astronomer Dionigi the Small who, in the 6th century, designated the date of the Nativity as taking place 753 years after the founding of Rome, marking the STart of our present calendar. But in the 18th century Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, disputed this date and suggested that the birth took place a few years earlier to coincide with the planetary conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars which he believed to be the event described buy Matthew.

That Jesus was born earlier than what has been historically accepted can also be inferred from a reference to a precise and datable historical event contained in the Gospel of Luke, who wrote: “At that time, an edict of Caesar Augustus was issued ordering a census of the whole empire.”

An ancient inscription on a stele, recently found near Ankara, confirmed that the census engaged Roman functionaries in the Orient in the years 7-6 BC. Therefore, it would be right to date the birth of Jesus to this interval.

SUPERNOVA OR PLANETARY CONJUNCTION? – At this point, one can calculate, a posteriori, which relevant celestial phenomena were verified to have taken place between 7-6 B.C.

Inasmuch as it has been determined that there is no record of the passage at that time of any comets that were sufficiently luminous, two possibilities remain:
1. A “new star” (or supernova) which was chronicled by Chinese astronomers to have appeared around 5 BC.
2. A long ocnjunction of planets, primarily Jupiter and Saturn, and later Mars as well, which took place between 8-6 BC.

The first candidate is less favored because, apart from the slight displacement of the date, a supernova does not have apaprent motion in relation to other fixed stars - it doesn’t move from one part of the sky to another.

The second possiblity could be the right one because the apparent motion of the planets with respect to fixed stars is compatible with the movement of the star of the Nativity as Matthew described it.

After almost five cneturies, then, Kepler’s old theory is back in the news, supported by new historical data and most recent astronomical calculations. But the question does not end here.

Recently, the whole issue was studied in depth – both historically and astronomically – by professor Giovanni Battista Baratta of the Rome Astronomical Observatory, who has published several articles about it in national and international scientific journals.

According to Baratta, the date of Jesus’ birth assigned by Dionigi and Kepler is definitely wrong. He claims the right date would correspond to 12 BC, the year in which the splendid and beautiful Halley’s comet crossed the heavens in one of its cyclic passages. If that were true, then traditional iconography would represent historical fact as well.
12/25/2005 4:44 AM
 
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WAS SHAKESPEARE CATHOLIC?
This article from ZENIT may make you re-read Shakespeare, or re-think his work when you watch it next.

www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=82024
----------------------------------------------------------------

Investigating Shakespeare's Hidden Catholicism
Clare Asquith on the Bard's Faith and Coded Works


LONDON, DEC. 21, 2005 (Zenit.org).- As the wife of a British diplomat posted in Moscow during the Cold War, Clare Asquith witnessed firsthand how double-entendres in Soviet theater communicated secret meanings to audiences.

Her experience in Moscow opened her eyes to underlying messages in the plays and poems of William Shakespeare, who Asquith believes was a covert Roman Catholic in the days of Protestant Elizabethan England.

Asquith, author of "Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare" (PublicAffairs), shared with ZENIT her evidence of the Bard's Catholicism and the possible meaning behind his famous words.

What are the main reasons you believe Shakespeare was a Catholic? Why do you think this is noteworthy?
One reason, often overlooked, is that it was statistically more likely that Shakespeare was a Catholic than otherwise.

Until recently it was widely assumed that Catholicism was a dwindling sect in Shakespeare's day. But the recent "revisionist" history of the period stresses the fact that in spite of persecution, most of the country was either overtly or secretly Catholic up to 1600.

And among the intelligentsia who opposed the Cecils -- Elizabeth's powerful advisers -- covert Catholicism was respectable, indeed fashionable, in the 1590s.

Outwardly "Protestant" Elizabethan figures such as Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Penelope Rich and the Queen's witty godson, John Harrington, all expressed private sympathy with the undercover priests who were bringing a revived form of Counter-Reformation Catholicism to England. The attitudes and themes of Shakespeare's work suggest that one of his primary aims was to address the concerns of sophisticated, disaffected courtiers like these.

Secondly, recent biographers have explored the full, often startling extent of Shakespeare's Catholic background, a fact discreetly sidelined for centuries by a predominantly Protestant academic establishment in England.

Finally, in an age when anti-papist jibes were a sure way to get your work past the censor, Shakespeare makes emphatic use of the idiom of the old religion, treating it with insight, delicacy and respect. "He died a papist," remembered one Anglican divine, who had no reason to invent such an unpalatable biographical detail.

Shakespeare's Catholicism and its necessary concealment should not be surprising: More surprising is the fact that it has been ignored for so long.

What is the main evidence for your claim? How has your theory fared among prominent Shakespeare scholars?
My claim is that there was only one way to get the forbidden concerns of covert Catholics onto the stage or into print, and that was by using a commonly understood subversive language. This occurred in Soviet Eastern Europe, a parallel I explore in my book.

Shakespeare's period was the golden age of double meanings, an era when the many-layered symbolism of medieval art met the allegorical wealth of the Renaissance. Examined in the light of the recently revised history, the highly ornamental literature of late 16th-century England reveals a mass of hidden allusions to the proscribed subjects of contemporary religion and politics.

To take a single example, the immense popularity of Thomas Kyd's play, "The Spanish Tragedy," has always puzzled scholars. It is only now that we can begin to detect in this shocking tragedy a moving and powerful dramatization of the central concern of English Catholics: How should the virtuous man react to intolerable injury when all recourse to justice is denied?

But it seems that scholars are not yet ready to align the literature of the day with the revised history of 16th-century England. So far, the theory that all this was going on in the work of any Elizabethan writer, let alone the works of Shakespeare, interests many English academics, but has been dismissed by leading Shakespeare scholars such as Stanley Wells and Ann Barton.

What sort of methods did Shakespeare use to communicate Catholic ideas in his plays? Why did he need to speak in coded language?
I contend that Shakespeare began to write when this form of coded communication was well established, and that it was an art form he perfected. Like his contemporaries -- and not unlike modern political cartoonists -- the technique involved the personification of abstractions as living people, and the re-application of myths and legends to contemporary events.

This was commonplace in Renaissance and medieval iconography. But Shakespeare's universal layer is so brilliant that it conceals his "shadow play" from all but the cognoscenti.

Unlike other writers, who often relied on deniable parallels, he used a rigorously accurate set of coded "markers" to indicate the contours of the hidden plot. These markers allow him an extraordinary degree of sophistication, and mean that he was able to dramatize the forgotten history of the times in unusually nuanced detail, while dodging hostile censorship.

Do you think Shakespeare was involved in any of the Catholic resistance movements?
One of the unexpected elements to emerge from the hidden level is the close parallel between the concealed themes of the plays and the gradually evolving advice to English Catholics from leaders in exile like Robert Persons and William Allen.

Shakespeare's early comedies take a resolutely lighthearted view of the sectarian struggle, portraying an optimistically happy outcome; the plays and poems of the mid-1590s reflect the increasing persecution, but recommend patience rather than rebellion, repeatedly staging the ideal Catholic scenario of a successful rescue attempt from abroad.

After the death of his first patron, the dissident Lord Strange, Shakespeare's hidden plays reveal the influence of the opposition party of the Earl of Essex, a magnet for Catholic as well as Puritan dissenters. This involved a change of course; rebellion was now an option.

"Hamlet" is on one level a play addressed to the influential but timorous "don't knows" of Elizabeth's England: those who loathed the Cecils but shrank from outright rebellion.

The 1601 Essex rebellion was expertly defused, and Shakespeare's remaining plays appeal for toleration directly to the monarch -- or, in the case of King James I's son, Henry, to the heir to the throne -- or else address a dispirited Catholic resistance movement, divided and weakened by pressure from without and within.

Like the resistance leaders, he now stresses inner, spiritual solutions to the Catholic dilemma rather than direct political action. He remains committed to the end. The hidden level of the finale of "The Winter's Tale" pays unmistakable homage to the Mass and to those who preserved it under persecution.

Was the purpose of his plays to serve as Catholic propaganda, or was that simply a secondary element?
Under an oppressive regime one of the most exhilarating and liberating experiences is to witness a skillfully ambiguous discussion of forbidden matters in public, under the nose of the unwitting authorities. Czechs, Poles and Russians often recall these dangerously double-edged dramas with nostalgia.

Such performances are not so much propaganda as a much-needed antidote to propaganda.

How do your findings impact the way people should or should not read Shakespeare?
There are patches of Shakespeare which are difficult to appreciate without an awareness of the hidden level. "The Rape of Lucrece," "Venus and Adonis" and "Titus Andronicus" are three works that gain greatly from an understanding of their "shadowplay."

More generally, the double-vision approach resurrected by my book should enrich the experience of watching any Shakespeare play or reading any Shakespeare poem. It is not necessary -- but it is fascinating. Rightly understood, it should take us back to the full experience Shakespeare originally intended for certain sympathetic audiences.

Can you describe the possible connection that may have existed between Shakespeare and St. Edmund Campion? What influence, if any, might this encounter have had on the Bard?
Biographers have traced the connection between Campion and the young Shakespeare. This may well have been close. The brother of one of Shakespeare's teachers was a missionary who came to England with Campion and died with him.

Campion and Persons were known to have visited close neighbors of Shakespeare's family. A spiritual document distributed by Campion was found hundreds of years later in the roof of the Shakespeare's house, signed by Shakespeare's father.

And there is a possibility Shakespeare traveled north with Campion to the Jesuit center at Hoghton Tower, where he studied while working as a "schoolmaster in the country."

I came on only one allusion to Campion in Shakespeare's work, and it is profoundly respectful, but wary of the angry extremism that may have been induced by his death. My book, "Shadowplay," points to a carefully oblique series of references to the unmentionable Campion affair in the nurse's famously rambling speech in "Romeo and Juliet."

Like much else in the play, it gives a religious dimension to the theme of the heroic pursuit of love, truth and beauty in Elizabeth's England, and associates such a course with death.
12/26/2005 10:30 PM
 
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THANKS TERESA BENEDETTA!
Teresa, you're like the rock of Gibraltar. One can always depend on you to find and share news and articles with substance. Thank you for the two posts up here!! Very interesting.
1/2/2006 6:56 PM
 
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LIMBO IS BIG NEWS THESE DAYS

Here is a new Time Magazine article on the possibility of the church zapping its former view of Limbo. Papa is quoted several times in his former life as Joseph Ratzinger.


www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1145257-1,00.html



1/2/2006 7:11 PM
 
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LIMBO IS BIG NEWS THESE DAYS
Thanks for the link Benefan! It made for very interesting reading - COOL! [SM=g27823]

1/4/2006 4:57 AM
 
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MAKING SENSE OF SUFFERING
Looking for God Amid the World's Disasters

WASHINGTON, D.C., DEC. 10, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Nearly a year after the Dec. 26 tsunami, many of the hard-hit communities in Asia are still struggling to return to normality. A special report in the Dec. 8 issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy noted that the devastating tidal wave sparked one of the largest charitable efforts ever seen.

"Yet signs of progress remain rare as the calamity's one-year anniversary approaches," an article in the Washington-based publication said. Causes of this slow recovery include a lack of coordination among charities and government agencies, and the loss of legal records detailing land ownership.

Another problem is the very quantity of the aid being given. In some cases it has disrupted the normal functioning of the local economies, leading many tsunami survivors to become dependent on relief programs.

The tsunami also posed spiritual questions as well. This theme was addressed in a recent book, "The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?" (Eerdmans Publishing). The slim volume was written by David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian who has taught in a number of American universities.

In the opening pages Hart observes that the initial rush of reactions claiming to find some meaning, or meaninglessness, behind the tsunami "is both cruel and presumptuous at such times."

Discerning the motives of those who rush out with judgments on catastrophes is not easy. Hart says that it is difficult to tell if they are moved by a moral need to shed light on events, or by a rhetorical opportunism. The theologian finds it hard not to suspect callousness on the part of triumphalistic atheists who proclaim the vindication of their ideas in the wake of disasters.

Weak thought

Hart sees superficiality in many of the media commentaries published right after the tsunami. They confidently proclaimed the supposed absurdity of religious beliefs, yet they made little effort to ascertain the content of the creeds they were consigning to the dustbin. It is almost as if they imagined that during the last 2,000 years Christians had never responded to the questions posed by evil and suffering, Hart adds.

Many of the commentaries stemmed from a materialistic outlook, Hart contends. In the face of unjust suffering, a materialist concludes that in the absence of any immediate visible moral order, nothing transcendent exists. This can seem a superficial way to proceed, Hart notes. But behind this facile dismissal of God there can also be an "authentic moral horror" in the face of misery and "a kind of rage for justice." Ironically, these sentiments owe a lot to the way our culture has been shaped by Christianity, he concludes.

The starting point for many modern discussions about disasters and the role of God, Hart explains, is the reaction of French philosopher Voltaire to the massive earthquake that struck Lisbon in 1755. Tens of thousands died in the All Saints' Day quake and subsequent fires.

In his poem written about the tragedy, Voltaire did not attack the idea of God as creator. But he did strongly criticize the attitude of theological optimism that, inspired by the German philosopher Leibniz, considered this to be "the best of all possible worlds."

Hart doubts that Voltaire correctly understood Leibniz's ideas. But the French thinker did clearly distinguish between the idea of belief in a providential order in history (a view he did not doubt) and the concept of a God who designed the world as some kind of perpetual machine run by eternal laws that determine even the will of God (a view he did criticize).

Valid questions

According to Hart, Voltaire's poem is no threat to Christians, as its real target is a sort of ethical deism. It does, however, raise valid questions that Christianity needs to answer. The faith, after all, proclaims a God of infinite goodness and infinite love. And the nonbeliever who, faced with suffering, argues against a benevolent God, needs to be answered.

The answers given by Christians to last year's tsunami are varied and reflect widely differing theological positions, Hart notes. Common among them is a desire to believe there is some kind of divine plan in the seeming randomness of nature's violence, which could give meaning to the instances of suffering and pain. Finding such an explanation is indeed difficult, he notes.

Christians affirm that there is a transcendent providence that will bring God's good ends out of the darkness of history, Hart explains. Yet, one has to avoid the error of asserting that every finite act is solely the effect of a single will, thus ignoring the role of human freedom. Taken to its extreme, such a position reduces God to a mere expression of will, which is then impressed upon creatures by means both good and evil, Hart says.

Another reaction is to see in suffering and death some kind of punishment for human sin, doled out in a way to balance accounts. Christ, in fact, ruled out the idea of a strict proportion between misfortune and culpability, Hart points out.

Before giving his answer to the question of suffering, Hart takes a step back and considers what is meant by nature or the natural world. Nature is generally considered, apart from those who profess paganism, as something neutral and material. Modern technological mastery also enables nature to be considered as something benign -- until a disease or disaster strikes, shocking people with its power and indifference.

Love in creation

But the Christian view of God and nature is different. The believer is encouraged to see the glory of God in the created world, a glory that elevates a nature that has been redeemed. Moreover, Christianity, both in the Orthodox and Catholic theologies, encourages mankind to find the love and goodness of God in the created order.

This vision does not, however, lead to a sort of facile optimism about nature and the economy of life and death. The Christian, Hart exhorts, should contemplate the world with eyes informed by love. This vision goes further than the elaborate machine of the deists or the mechanistic vision of modernity. A Christian sees the world in its beauty and terror, and in its first and ultimate truth: not just nature, but creation.

As for evil and suffering, Christian thought gives another dimension to these events. God can make them occasions for accomplishing his good ends, Hart argues, even though they are not in themselves moral goods. In addition, the Gospel teaches that God cannot be defeated and that the victory over evil and death has already been won, the theologian states. But it is a victory that has not reached its fulfillment; we must wait until the final coming of God.

For Christians who really have faith in this promise, the reality of death and suffering should not present an insurmountable obstacle. It is, in fact, more of a stumbling block for a superficial optimism or pagan fatalism. Christian believers, instead, embrace hope in the final victory of God.
1/6/2006 12:11 AM
 
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CURIOUS NEWS FROM KREUZ.NET
IS ARIEL SHARON THE VICTIM OF A SUCCESSFUL CURSE?

Following is a translation of an item today from kreuz.net,
an online Catholic news service in German:


(kreuz.net, Rosch Pina) In July last year, several Israeli daily newspapers reported
on a religious curse which some extreme right rabbis had placed on Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon. The reason was the gradual pullout of settlements and military outposts
from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which Sharon initiated last summer.

A ceremony called “pulsa denura” in Aramaic (meaning “fire whip”) imposes a curse
whose origins reportedly go back to the Kabbalah.

The rite first came to public knowledge in Israel when it was used by extreme right rabbis
against then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who was later assassinated by an extremist.

In the ceremony, which is supposed to cause death to the accursed within a year,
the Angel of Destruction is called on not to forgive the sins of the accursed,
to kill him, and to visit on him all the plagues mentioned in the Old Testament.

The hexing ceremony on Sharon reportedly took place in the northern Israel city of
Rosch Pina, 40 kilometers northeast of Nazareth.

Ten to twenty rabbis reportedly took part, among them the extreme rightist Rabbi
Josef Dakan, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Psagot. Dajan was arrested
shortly after Rabin’s assassination, for having threatened ex Prime Minister
Shimon Peres with a similar curse.

Dajan is a member of an illegal racist group, which challs itself Kahane Chai
(Kahane lives), after Rabbi Meir Kahane who was assassinated in New York in 1990.

As early as 2004, Dajan made it known that he was ready to place a curse on Sharon
and that he wished him to die.
One of the participants in the cursing rite, Michael ben-Horin, was quoted as saying
that no one was in a position to kill Sharon because his personal security was
“ten times more than even that which Hitler or Stalin had”, and therefore, the Angel of
Destruction had to be invoked.

Another participant said they prayed to got “to liberate us from the evil
murderous dictator Sharon.”

The cursing rite was shot on video and Israel’s Channel 2 reportedly bought the tape
for 4000 Euro, beating out all other commercial stations who were equally interested.

State Attorney-General Menachem Madsuds refused to start an investigation of the rabbis
who were responsible for the cursing rite, because “holding a Pulsa denura is not a crime”
under the law of the land.

---------------------------------------------------------------
1/6/2006 12:31 AM
 
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C.S. LEWIS & THE NARNIA CHRONICLES
The Subtle Magic of C.S. Lewis' Narnia:
Michael Coren's Perspective as New Movie Looms


TORONTO (Zenit.org).- "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" may provide an opportunity
for adults to talk about the faith, but don't expect children to notice the film's
Christian themes.

So says Michael Coren, author, columnist and broadcaster who recently wrote
"C.S. Lewis: The Man Who Created Narnia" (Ignatius), a biography of Lewis written for teens.

Coren told ZENIT how mostly adults will understand Lewis' subtle Christian allegory,
and how "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" has the power to plant seeds of faith
in kids just the same.

Q: What do Catholics need to know about C.S. Lewis? Coren: They should know
he wasn't a Catholic, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't have
become one eventually.
G.K. Chesterton became a Catholic in 1922 but had really
been one for 20 years.

Lewis was born in Belfast, in sectarian Northern Ireland, so he was raised anti-Catholic
like most Protestant children there. He was a man of his background but his views
were very Catholic: He believed in purgatory, believed in the sacraments, went to confession.

Otherwise, he was the finest Christian apologist in modern times and could communicate
the Gospel message in a thoughtful, accessible way.

Q: How blatantly does C.S. Lewis use Aslan as the figure of Christ in the Narnia series?
Coren: He does and he doesn't. Unlike many modern Christian writers, Lewis was subtle
and implicit. When I read the book as a little boy I was overwhelmed by the greatness
of it, but I didn't realize the Christian message until I was an adult.

It's explicit when you're older, but I don't think we should necessarily be
pointing it out to children; we can let them find it themselves. They don't
need a running commentary. Let them read it and be overwhelmed by it and not realize
what they're really getting at the moment.

Q: What are some of the most notable parallels between Jesus and Aslan the Lion
in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"?

Coren: There are many in this book and the other six in the series, but some obvious
ones are: the breaking of the stone table and the old law being shattered; how it is winter
but never Christmas, and it doesn't become Christmas until Aslan arrives; how Aslan
dies for a sinner, a little boy who represents everyone, and takes away his sins;
and how Aslan comes to life again and re-creates the world.

In the scene before Aslan's sacrifice for the little boy, Edmund, the White Witch says,
"Because he has sinned, he is mine," and she intends to kill Edmund. And Aslan says,
"But I can give myself in his place." She agrees to this and kills him, but then
he is resurrected.

Q: What can we learn from Lewis about the integration of popular fiction and
Christian values? Do you hope modern writers might follow suit?

Coren: J.K. Rowling has said that Lewis had a huge influence on her, yet many people
have problems with Harry Potter. I've heard many writers say they've been influenced
by Lewis and they try to copy him. It is often too similar; all these books are pale imitations.

He was of his age and wrote at a specific time in history. Some of his characters
would not translate into modern times. If someone wrote a book today with those characters,
kids wouldn't be able to relate to them. He was a man of 1963.

Q: What is the significance of another Christian film coming out of Hollywood,
on the coattails of "The Passion of the Christ"?

Coren: I don't think "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is a "Christian" film;
we have to be careful with calling it that. I don't believe "The Passion"
produced this movie -- I think "The Lord of the Rings" did.

What is more significant is why there have been no biblical movies after "The Passion."
They could make a really bad movie and it would do well financially because
there is such a hunger for Christian movies out there.

But Hollywood would rather do anything than make a movie with Christian values.
It is a wonder that nothing has come after "The Passion."

Q: What are your hopes -- and fears -- for "The Lion"? Do you expect it
to bear fruit as a witness to Christ and the Gospel message?

Coren: I haven't been able to see any special early screenings of "The Lion, the Witch
and the Wardrobe" up here in Canada; the Christian world is not as organized or influential
like in the States.

I have no fears about the movie. There will always be some Christians who define
their faith by what they are offended by, and nothing is ever pure enough for them.
There will be people who say this or that is wrong, and some who think the movie
should not have been made.

I think the movie will be a helpful way to talk about Christianity. People will
read Lewis, talk about faith and the movie and other good things.

I read the book when I was 6 or 7. I wasn't raised in a Christian family and
had no exposure to Christianity. Twenty years later I came into my faith and I am
convinced the seeds were planted by that book. I believe my faith began then.

But we can't expect someone to see the movie, have an evangelical experience,
and come out of the theater on their knees and say "Save me!" We shouldn't think
it will change everything -- what did "The Passion" change? They are only movies.
The Holy Spirit can use a movie but it doesn't need to.

1/6/2006 3:06 AM
 
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DIDEROT: ATHEIST WITH THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
Sandro Magister devoted his blog today (1/5/06) to Diderot, the French Encyclopedist
of the Age of Enlightenment. Here is a translation
-
----------------------------------------------------------

Atheist but devout: Diderot was Ratzingerian before the fact

Benedict XVI’s call for atheists to live their lives “as if God existed” even if
they don’t believe in God is not totally unfounded.

One of the most famous professed atheists in history wrote down in black and white
that he adheres wholeheartedly with the appeal by the future Pope.
He lived 3 centuries ago.

Denis Diderot, 1713-1784, champion of the French Enlightenment and a pillar of
the famous Encyclopedia, touched on the question often and wrote about it.
The literary scholar Giuseppe Scaraffia writes about it in “Il Foglio” – doctrinal organ
of modern devout atheists.

Example: Diderot concluded his “Thoughts on the interpretation of nature",
published in 1753, with a prayer - “I began with nature, which has been called
your work, and I will end with you, whose name on earth is God. Oh God, I know
you do not exist, but I will think as if I see you in my heart and I will behave
as if I were in front of you.”

And in the later “Interview of a philosopher with Madame Marschallin of ***,”
published in 1774, he is more explicit:

Marschallin: So you are he who does not believe in anything?
Diderot: That’s me.
Marschallin: But your morals are those of a believer.
Diderot: Why not, if one is an honest man?
Marschallin: What do you gain by being a non-believer?
Diderot: Nothing really, madame. But does one believe because there is
something to be gained?
Marschallin: I confess that I believe in God to get something useful.
Diderot: I for one concede I may trust in something unsecured.
Marschallin: One can believe and still behave daily as though one does not believe.
Diderot: And even without believing, one can behave almost as though one believes.
Marschallin: So, after all is said and done, the simplest thing is to behave
as though the old man (God) exists.
Diderot: Even when one does not believe in him!

When he died, although Diderot was a well-known atheist, his reputation
for uprightness was such that no one dared to refuse his burial on sacred ground.

-------------------------------------------------------------

1/6/2006 5:43 PM
 
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MAKING SENSE OF SUFFERING
Another interesting article better late than never from ZENIT.
------------------------------------------------------------

Looking for God Amid the World's Disasters

WASHINGTON, D.C., DEC. 10, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Nearly a year after the Dec. 26 tsunami, many of the hard-hit communities in Asia are still struggling to return to normality. A special report in the Dec. 8 issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy noted that the devastating tidal wave sparked one of the largest charitable efforts ever seen.

"Yet signs of progress remain rare as the calamity's one-year anniversary approaches," an article in the Washington-based publication said. Causes of this slow recovery include a lack of coordination among charities and government agencies, and the loss of legal records detailing land ownership.

Another problem is the very quantity of the aid being given. In some cases it has disrupted the normal functioning of the local economies, leading many tsunami survivors to become dependent on relief programs.

The tsunami also posed spiritual questions as well. This theme was addressed in a recent book, "The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?" (Eerdmans Publishing). The slim volume was written by David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian who has taught in a number of American universities.

In the opening pages Hart observes that the initial rush of reactions claiming to find some meaning, or meaninglessness, behind the tsunami "is both cruel and presumptuous at such times."

Discerning the motives of those who rush out with judgments on catastrophes is not easy. Hart says that it is difficult to tell if they are moved by a moral need to shed light on events, or by a rhetorical opportunism. The theologian finds it hard not to suspect callousness on the part of triumphalistic atheists who proclaim the vindication of their ideas in the wake of disasters.

Weak thought

Hart sees superficiality in many of the media commentaries published right after the tsunami. They confidently proclaimed the supposed absurdity of religious beliefs, yet they made little effort to ascertain the content of the creeds they were consigning to the dustbin. It is almost as if they imagined that during the last 2,000 years Christians had never responded to the questions posed by evil and suffering, Hart adds.

Many of the commentaries stemmed from a materialistic outlook, Hart contends. In the face of unjust suffering, a materialist concludes that in the absence of any immediate visible moral order, nothing transcendent exists. This can seem a superficial way to proceed, Hart notes. But behind this facile dismissal of God there can also be an "authentic moral horror" in the face of misery and "a kind of rage for justice." Ironically, these sentiments owe a lot to the way our culture has been shaped by Christianity, he concludes.

The starting point for many modern discussions about disasters and the role of God, Hart explains, is the reaction of French philosopher Voltaire to the massive earthquake that struck Lisbon in 1755. Tens of thousands died in the All Saints' Day quake and subsequent fires.

In his poem written about the tragedy, Voltaire did not attack the idea of God as creator. But he did strongly criticize the attitude of theological optimism that, inspired by the German philosopher Leibniz, considered this to be "the best of all possible worlds."

Hart doubts that Voltaire correctly understood Leibniz's ideas. But the French thinker did clearly distinguish between the idea of belief in a providential order in history (a view he did not doubt) and the concept of a God who designed the world as some kind of perpetual machine run by eternal laws that determine even the will of God (a view he did criticize).

Valid questions

According to Hart, Voltaire's poem is no threat to Christians, as its real target is a sort of ethical deism. It does, however, raise valid questions that Christianity needs to answer. The faith, after all, proclaims a God of infinite goodness and infinite love. And the nonbeliever who, faced with suffering, argues against a benevolent God, needs to be answered.

The answers given by Christians to last year's tsunami are varied and reflect widely differing theological positions, Hart notes. Common among them is a desire to believe there is some kind of divine plan in the seeming randomness of nature's violence, which could give meaning to the instances of suffering and pain. Finding such an explanation is indeed difficult, he notes.

Christians affirm that there is a transcendent providence that will bring God's good ends out of the darkness of history, Hart explains. Yet, one has to avoid the error of asserting that every finite act is solely the effect of a single will, thus ignoring the role of human freedom. Taken to its extreme, such a position reduces God to a mere expression of will, which is then impressed upon creatures by means both good and evil, Hart says.

Another reaction is to see in suffering and death some kind of punishment for human sin, doled out in a way to balance accounts. Christ, in fact, ruled out the idea of a strict proportion between misfortune and culpability, Hart points out.

Before giving his answer to the question of suffering, Hart takes a step back and considers what is meant by nature or the natural world. Nature is generally considered, apart from those who profess paganism, as something neutral and material. Modern technological mastery also enables nature to be considered as something benign -- until a disease or disaster strikes, shocking people with its power and indifference.

Love in creation

But the Christian view of God and nature is different. The believer is encouraged to see the glory of God in the created world, a glory that elevates a nature that has been redeemed. Moreover, Christianity, both in the Orthodox and Catholic theologies, encourages mankind to find the love and goodness of God in the created order.

This vision does not, however, lead to a sort of facile optimism about nature and the economy of life and death. The Christian, Hart exhorts, should contemplate the world with eyes informed by love. This vision goes further than the elaborate machine of the deists or the mechanistic vision of modernity. A Christian sees the world in its beauty and terror, and in its first and ultimate truth: not just nature, but creation.

As for evil and suffering, Christian thought gives another dimension to these events. God can make them occasions for accomplishing his good ends, Hart argues, even though they are not in themselves moral goods. In addition, the Gospel teaches that God cannot be defeated and that the victory over evil and death has already been won, the theologian states. But it is a victory that has not reached its fulfillment; we must wait until the final coming of God.

For Christians who really have faith in this promise, the reality of death and suffering should not present an insurmountable obstacle. It is, in fact, more of a stumbling block for a superficial optimism or pagan fatalism. Christian believers, instead, embrace hope in the final victory of God.

1/7/2006 4:43 PM
 
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CHILDREN OF DIVORCE

From the Catholic News Agency:

New Book studies dramatic consequences of divorce among children and damage in children’s religious identity.

Washington DC, Jan. 06, 2006 (CNA) - Between two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, a new publishing tackling the eminent question of divorce and its consequences, reveals for the first time ever a national study, in shocking details, the dramatic moral, spiritual, and religious impact of divorce on children

With almost one in two first marriages now ending in divorce, Elizabeth Marquardt, a thirty-four year old graduate of the University of Chicago Divinity School, draws on exclusive access to the first such study and personal experience to report on the first generation of young people to grow up in an era of widespread divorce.


Breaking the myth about a “good” and a “bad” divorce, she says “good” divorces often compare poorly even to children of unhappy marriages, and look much worse than children raised in happy marriages. Divorce confronts the child with the monumental task of having to make sense, alone, of the parents’ very different beliefs, values, and ways of living – a job the parents are no longer required to do.
These children come to feel like divided selves. They lead a wholly separate life in each parent’s world, leading over time to a troubling inner division that goes to the heart of their identity, they are less protected from their parents’ worries, feel less emotionally safe, are far less able to go to their parents for comfort, and are much more often left alone, and are forced to figure out the big questions in life alone because divorced parents often hold different moral views and no longer talk about those views together.

Concerning their religious education, they experience a loss of trust that affects their belief in God—making them overall much less religious than their peers from intact families, but for some dramatically strengthening their faith. They are less likely to have strong religious bases as prayer life, they Feel pain and loss evoked by the idea of God as a father or parent.

Elizabeth Marquardt is an affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values, a nonpartisan think tank focused on marriage, children, and civil society. She regularly appears on National Television Networks, and has published her articles in countless papers and magazines.
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SACRED SOUNDS

This article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review contains some interesting comments about Papa's musical interests.

Concert series aims to memorialize 'Music for the Spirit'

By Mark Kanny
TRIBUNE-REVIEW CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC
Saturday, January 7, 2006

Two years after Sir Gilbert Levine and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra gave the first concert by an American orchestra at the Vatican in Rome, they start a new series of local concerts this week devoted to "Music for the Spirit."
Levine, vocal soloists, the Mendelssohn Choir and the symphony will perform Franz Joseph Haydn's "The Creation" for an invitation-only audience Wednesday evening at St. Paul Cathedral. At their first public concert of the series in June, they will perform Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony at Heinz Hall. The date of the concert and when tickets will be available have yet to be announced.

The "Music for the Spirit" series began because Levine, who lives in New York City and has been conducting concerts at the Vatican since 1987, says he had "never seen a city come alive for a Vatican concert ... as Pittsburgh did. It awakened an awareness in parts of the faith community who were really touched by the nature of that 'Concert of Reconciliation' and its meaning to their lives as Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities."

Levine went to symphony leaders and Bishop Donald W. Wuerl to suggest capturing and prolonging the spirit of the Jan. 17, 2004, Rome concert and says they all loved the idea. After much discussion, Haydn's "The Creation" was selected to inaugurate "Music for the Spirit." Symphony leaders say they hope the series will include performances at houses of worship of many faiths in Pittsburgh in future seasons, as well as at Heinz Hall.

"Music touches something that is deep in the human spirit. It has a way of bringing out feelings and sensitivities that can't always be articulated in words," Wuerl says. "That's why the Psalms are so important. They are a form of musical speech. They fall into that genre of great classical poetry that was meant to be recited by a bard, in a way almost sung, and accompanied by a harp." He says that the Greek epic poems "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" are examples of other great poems that were meant to be memorized and recited, not read.

Much of Western art has been concerned with spiritual events and the experience of faith, in painting and sculpture no less than in music. Some of the most remarkable music was written as celebrations of Mass, Wuerl says, "as liturgical music to contemplate the act of worship."

"The Creation" is "one of the supreme oratorio achievements of all classical music," says Levine, "but it represents the epitome of Haydn's authoritative spiritual powers."

Wednesday evening's concert will be a re-creation of one Levine led at the Vatican for the 80th birthday of Pope John Paul II, consisting of the first two parts of Haydn's score. "It has a wonderful Biblical underpinning," the conductor says, "telling the story of Creation up to the point where the three Abrahamic faith traditions part company."

"The Creation" was a sensational success when premiered in Vienna in 1800. It draws inspiration from George Frideric Handel, whose music Haydn heard in both Vienna and London, and his friend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who had died nine years earlier. It also looks forward to the "Missa solemnis" by his student Ludwig van Beethoven. "There is a drama in 'The Creation,' a tone painting in the orchestra and a remarkable sense of forward movement to this story that presages Beethoven," Levine says.

Pope Benedict XVI gave the pre-concert talk this summer when Levine performed the "Missa solemnis" in Cologne Cathedral in Germany for European television. The Pope "spoke at great length of music, and liturgical music in the spiritual development of mankind particularly centered on the 'Missa solemnis,'" the conductor says. "The Beethoven is not in essence liturgical, because it's too long, but it is the quintessence of music and spirit together."

Levine says that three days after the concert, he received a call from the Vatican conveying the Pope's request for a DVD of the Cologne concert. Shortly thereafter, Pope Benedict awarded Levine the silver star of the Order of St. Gregory, which recognizes special service to the church. Levine already had been a Knight Commander of the order.

Pope Benedict is truly devoted to music and plays it himself, Levine says. "Cardinal (Joachim) Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, told me that every time he's in the new pope's apartment there's a different Beethoven piano sonata opened to be played. He begins or ends his day by playing Beethoven."

"Music bridges the finite and the transcendent," Wuerl says. "It is one of the places where heaven and earth touch. That's why St. Paul Cathedral, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, seems so appropriate to be the place to launch this series of concerts on music and spirit.

"When you enter any house of God, you want to be caught up in the mystery of God, and music is one of the ways we are caught up in the mystery."
1/7/2006 6:58 PM
 
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THERE IS EPIPHANY AND THEN THERE IS...


Katrina survivors to party on Twelfth Night
'I think a lot of people need fun and craziness and distraction.'

Friday, January 6, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AP) -- Since Hurricane Katrina, Jolie Bonck has been living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer in front of her flood-wrecked house.

But on Friday, she will lead a raucous streetcar party to celebrate Twelfth Night, the start of the Carnival season leading up to Mardi Gras.

Bonck will appear as Queen MRE Antoinette, dressed in a blue tarp and labels from the ready-to-eat meals that were distributed to hungry residents after the storm.

She's queen of the Phunny Phorty Phellows, a costumed group that helps kick off the city's biggest blowout -- a party that has been muted by the devastation left by the deadly hurricane.

"I know there's controversy about having Carnival," said Bonck, who is a program director at a historic house at the city's edge. "Being someone who's staying in the city, rebuilding her home and trying to rebuild her life in the city, I need something like this to help me through what's going on. I think a lot of people need fun and craziness and distraction."

Like Mardi Gras itself, Twelfth Night began as a Catholic celebration. Fat Tuesday is a blowout in preparation for the austerities of Lent. Twelfth Night is the last of the twelve days of Christmas, marking the Feast of the Epiphany, the day that, according to tradition, the three Kings laid their gifts before the baby Jesus.

The Phunny Phorty Phellows used to make their unofficial launch of Carnival with a streetcar ride along St. Charles Avenue, but that route still has no power. The Phellows considered a bus, but decided to take the working streetcar route down Canal Street.

There usually are about 12 days of parades leading into Mardi Gras, which is February 28 this year. Because the city is so short of cash, with three-quarters of its residents living somewhere else, the schedule has been cut to eight days, with only eight hours of parades on any day unless corporate sponsors cover the overtime.
1/9/2006 4:00 AM
 
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THEN THERE'S PHILADELPHIA'S MUMMERY
And who better to tell us what it is all about than Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia,
who is a Philadelphian. This is what he posted on 12/31 about Philly's New Year's Day happening
.


Tomorrow, the greatest civic ritual ever devised in the history of Western civilization marks
another year as the 105th Mummers' Parade steps off on Broad Street, the main drag here.

The story of how trigger-happy Irish immigrants who called themselves Shooters became Mummers,
and lured upwards of 1 million people to the heart of the city to sing, dance and party is
a uniquely Philadelphia one, and one of those things that make this place great, and why I love it
that I'm still here. New York can have its big Ball, and the rest of the world can have
the night of the 31st, but New Year's Day and the wenches belong to us. And we wouldn't
have it any other way.

The 10,000 or so marchers who comprise Mummery's four divisions (Comics, Fancies, String Bands
and Brigades) may take over Broad Street for the day, but the heart of the operation lies
not far from my childhood home in South Philly, down by the Delaware River along 2nd Street.
The guys may just have the one day to show their stuff in the sight of the world, but picking
themes (which change annually), designing and making the lavish costumes, fund-raising, "drills"
(rehearsals), etc. is a year-round operation, and when you live near 2nd, it's a part of your
daily life. And even for those who've long gone, it has its unmistakable way of staying
with you always....

Tonight, in accord with tradition, I'll make my one visit of the year back to the church
at the foot of "2 Street" where I received my sacraments, the place which has welcomed,
nurtured, married off and buried four generations of my family. Every year on New Year's Eve,
the parish hosts a gigantic Mummers' Mass -- and it's one of the most unique, and effective,
examples of inculturation you'll ever see in your life.

The celebrant's vestment is usually a special white chasuble (the aforementioned one with
gold sequins) pulled out for this event. The processional is the Mummers' version of
"When the Saints Go Marchin' In" (performed with banjos, saxophones and glockenspiels),
after which a proper opening hymn (with organ) is sung. All Lectors wear their "club"
jackets -- in the colors of their group, with the name and logos emblazoned -- a sequined
parasol, gold-painted wench boots and banjo are placed before the altar, and the church
is downright packed with a steady stream out the door. It's a big church, mind you, so this
means 1,500 people or more even when what used to be called The Circumcision isn't held on
a Sunday. It's just a very popular event and it means the world to the neighborhood. And as
"Alabama Jubilee" and "O'Dem Golden Slippers" -- the Mummers' theme songs -- break out for
the recessional, the place goes wild with cheering, whooping and dancing as the celebrants do
the Mummers' strut back down the aisle.

There is no more joyous thing in the whole world.

And then, after a quiet Eve, all hell breaks loose tomorrow. To Broad Street for the actual
parade and back, and then the trudge from my parent's house, all the way up 2nd for about
five miles, stopping every 500ft to head into the homes of people I only see once a year
(i.e. January 1) for soup, beer, and catching up. It's just a great way to start the year,
the party runs long into the morning of the 2nd, and... well... there's no other place I'd be.

And if you ever experienced it, believe me, you'd feel the same way.

---------------------------------------------------------------


[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 09/01/2006 4.45]

1/9/2006 4:14 AM
 
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MAKING SENSE OF SUFFERING - II
This is excerpted from a lengthy and wide-ranging interview with Father James Schall, S.J.,
who has written 27 books on theology and political theory. Fr. Schall is one of the rare
Jesuits with a public profile who is "conservative" rather than liberal-progressive. His
bibliography and numerous articles are available on his website
www.morec.com/schall/
This interview was conducted by writer Ken Masugi for the Claremont Institute and posted
12/20/05 at
http://www.claremont.org/writings/051220masugic.html
-------------------------------------------------------------

Masugi: Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and the Asian tsunami raise both theological and political questions. Do you have a way of relating these two questions to the natural disasters we faced this past year?

Schall: Natural disasters from Vesuvius to the Black Plague to Krakatoa to the recent Southern hurricanes and floods, followed by a much more lethal earthquake in Pakistan, in themselves are relatively regular events in human history. No generation of mankind has altogether escaped blizzards, tidal waves, lightning strikes, volcanoes blowing up, droughts, floods, tornados, and other "natural" disasters like plagues and bugs. The word "natural" means that the disaster is not and, except by some weird stretch of the imagination, cannot be caused by human agency. It is perhaps the most outlandish of modern temptations to conceive natural disasters to be results of human irresponsibility so that we can "blame" someone for them. This tendency may be an indirect but logical result of understanding nature solely in human terms, as if we cannot allow an agency outside of ourselves. In a broader sense, it is a human claim that it itself is the divinity.

As a race of beings on this planet, we are simply subject to these devastating happenings on a more or less recurrent and often anticipated basis. The annual number of hurricanes occurring in the Caribbean over the past couple of centuries, for instance, is relatively stable. If a hurricane, like a meteor, hits a populated area, we hear about it. If it does not, we do not. One of the reasons recent hurricanes cause more damage than earlier ones is that we insist on our "right" to build on the same shores and beaches, which, when earlier hurricanes struck, were relatively empty.

This recurrence of natural disasters is the nature of the planet on which we live. To wish such things out of existence is simply blind. Like forest fires, these disasters normally serve their own purposes so that without them, other natural things go wrong. So long as our race exists on this Earth, such things will happen. We might be able to "predict" them within a limited range of probability or fortify ourselves against them with, say, earthquake fortified buildings. But a great percentage of them will happen where or when we do not expect. And if government or insurance pays us to rebuild in hurricane alley, the subsequent disaster will indeed be less than natural.

Masugi: Yes, but what do they say about theological issues?
Schall: What particularly calls our attention to such disasters, as I mentioned, is their happening in populated areas, where they cause much damage and death. In the New Testament, an incident is reported in which a wall fell on some people killing them. The witnesses did not ask "whose fault was it that that badly constructed wall fell?" But they did ask Christ whose fault, parents or ancestors, this accident was that it killed these particular people? Why were these particular people killed and not others? The plot of Wilder's novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, incidentally, falls into this broad area of consideration, with the added notion that such things may happen at a time in our lives when we are most ready for them.

Christ answered this question about whose fault it was. He said that it was not either the fault of the ones who were killed nor of their parents. That is, no moral or religious conclusion can be drawn from a natural or accidental disaster, though a providential one may be. Someone, no doubt, will write a novel about the Swedes killed in the Asian tidal wave after the manner of The Bridge of San Luis Rey. No accident falls outside the range of providence. The fact that some people die as a result of natural disasters is only an aspect of the fact that all men die. The total number of people who die each year from cancer or heart failure or auto accidents is as much a natural disaster as a hurricane's death toll.

We live currently in an age in which we like to think that natural disasters are both predictable and avoidable. In addition, we think that the damage they cause should be repaired immediately, and at the cost of the rest of the society, by the government or insurance companies. If you give most governments an excuse to think they are divine providence, they will accept it. But great damage is done when we seek to assign human causes for natural disasters. Natural disasters are not humanly culpable, though some aspects of them might have been foreseen, provided for, or repaired sooner. I find something frightening about a mentality that insists that all natural disasters are reducible to human disasters.

These past years in which we have had so many natural disasters of various kinds have reminded many of the apocalyptic descriptions in Scripture about the end times and the catastrophes said to be endemic to this time. Obviously, I am most reluctant to suggest that these natural disasters we have recently witnessed are a sign of God's anger at the way we live. God may be angry at the way we live and still not send floods and earthquakes. Or, He, as we read in Job, may be delighted with the way we live and still bring on tornados and volcano eruptions. Both the guilty and the innocent suffer. The rain falls on the just and the unjust.

Josef Pieper, however, has remarked that in the end, Scripture seems definitely to hold that certain natural disasters, indicated therein for the end of mankind, are not mere events of chance but are connected with the moral condition of humanity. Pieper wrote: "It will be we ourselves who bring about the end of history, that the catastrophe will not be visited upon us from outside, but will arise out of the historical process itself" (Josef Pieper: An Anthology, 229).

It is evident that natural disasters, even being chance events, do serve to bring forth the general character of the people who suffer them, as well as the character of those who do or do not help them in their needs. A headline in the Washington Times (Dec. 2) reported that the actual victims of the Southern floods thought that the churches offered the best practical assistance to those in need during this period. This would seem to suggest that something more than politics is needed in natural disasters where separation of church and state seems positively unseemly, especially when the city and the state perform so poorly.

Masugi: "What do these events, whether we take them as part of a created, contingent, or random universe, tell us about our character as a people and the nature of the universe?"

Schall: Several years ago, I heard of a hurricane in Florida, one that caused considerable damage. After the hurricane, frequent looting and disorder took place in the area. The National Guard had to be called out. Meanwhile, during that same period, there were widespread floods along the Missouri/Mississippi River. In the latter area, evidently, there was little if any looting. It seems quite clear that the character of the people formed before the crisis was of crucial importance. We note that after 9/11, the heros, in retrospect, were the New York Fire and Police Departments, with the governor and mayor showing considerable courage and leadership, as a result of which many lives were saved or cared for.

In New Orleans, it was evidently these key institutions in their human representatives that failed. It reinforces the old Platonic principle, that the City writ large is the individual citizen writ Small; that is, the virtue of the people needs to be in place before the disaster strikes. An un-virtuous city lives at its own peril. The military in the Southern disaster actually performed very well, even though this was not the mission it was trained for. The reason seems to be that our military still has a sense of discipline and service that can operate in an effective way in any sort of disaster.

What do these events tell us about "the character of our people" and "about the nature of the universe?" The fact is that wherever and whenever a natural disaster has happened anywhere in the world, it is generally the case that the Americans have been in the forefront of providing aid, material, and help. During the tidal waves in South Asia, there was considerable discussion about why Muslim nations with all their oil riches were not the first to offer aid and help. At least part of the answer was theological and the other part practical, the one having to do with responsibility and other with know-how. We are a society in which more than government is capable of acting. Much of the aid and help in the South arose from individuals and communities acting in a generous and charitable manner. The governments of nearby states, especially Texas, were also effective.

In the beginning, there was a certain fame in providing help. Though other nations offered some help, it is clear that not everyone thinks it incumbent on them to provide help to others in need. The notion that they do, I suspect, is largely a theological idea, now often secularized. Nothing defines the character of a people better than how they, both individually and as governments, deal with natural disasters. One could make a case for the fact that most important thing revealed in the New Orleans disaster was the character of both the people and especially the rulers. Other Southern States fared far better under similar conditions. When a people goes to vote, one of the things that they might more carefully wonder about is how their elected leaders might act in a similar disaster. Indeed, they might ask how they themselves might act.

The scenes of looting, helplessness, and failure to act, of blaming others and individual opportunism, were more mindful of scenes in Thucydides' description of the plague and the civil way on Corcyra than anything else. One of the reasons we read such books is precisely to see what is in human nature and what we might expect of it in certain circumstances. In any case, I am under the impression that, in the end, the federal government acted in a far more effective and efficient manner than we are willing to give it credit for. Its problems were themselves conditioned on the question of the moral virtues and judgment, or lack thereof, of those who were immediately on the scene.
...

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 09/01/2006 19.45]

1/9/2006 4:23 AM
 
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WHAT MAKES TOLKIEN SO POPULAR?
One of the most delightful things I discovered going online is the number of excellent articles
that have been written about J.R.R. Tolkien and how his books reflect his Christianity.
In another excerpt from the interview with Fr. Schall referred to above, he talks about Tolkien:

---------------------------------------------------------------

Masugi: As we were discussing before, you noted that Tolkien placed first, by far, in polls of the most popular English-language book of the past century. What accounts for this extraordinary popularity of Tolkien?
Schall: The best and most profound explanation of this popularity is found in Peter Kreeft's new book, The Philosophy of Tolkien (Ignatius, 2005). Chesterton has long held that the common man was, at bottom, something of a philosopher. John Paul II said it explicitly in Fides et Ratio. This normal man is not a professional philosopher who is too often a sophist. But the common man is someone who has a sense of the truth of things when they are presented to him in a way that he can easily understand, or perhaps in a way that he delightfully understands.*

Almost every ultimate, and not a few non-ultimate, issues are found in one form or another in Tolkien. As Schumacher remarked in his great A Guide for the Perplexed, many important issues are almost never talked about in our universities or even clearly in our culture. There is considerable controversy that both the Hobbit Cycle and the Narnia Cycle have something to do with Christianity. If so, evidently, for that reason, there is supposedly something wrong with them. This context, of course, is what is right about them, for it is precisely this view of reality, the whole of reality, that we almost never hear, even in our Churches. The idea that somehow Tolkien or Lewis should not write their tales if they had any Christian context is simply bigotry. The stories could not be what they are outside this Christian context.

Masugi: Please introduce Tolkien to those who don't know him or know him only through somewhat confusing movies.

Schall: The issues are clear: Is there an order of things? Are insignificant people important? Does evil always win? Indeed, is there a distinction between good and evil? Why does evil have such power? Are our wars also against principalities and powers, as St. Paul said? Is there a right order of soul and polity? Is joy at the heart of things? If we need not exist, why are we at all?

The Lord of the Rings is first a great story. Indeed, it claims to be a second creation, an account of another order of being, yet one that also falls within the same world that is. We do not live alone in either time or space.

Tolkien's books are in many ways the most "counter-cultural" books that we could imagine. They stand for life, for honor, for dignity, for wonder, but within a world in which real enemies exist, in which it is possible that things go wrong, very wrong, in which, indeed, it is possible to lose our souls by our own choices. Bilbo and Frodo set out on "adventures." Something really happens in the world that makes a difference, an ultimate difference. The great and the small are all involved and our definitions of who is great and who small may not correspond with the reality of who really is great and who small.

All of us sense this meaningfulness about our own lives but we are seldom clear about why. We are free and yet we are within a drama that includes what we do, for better or worse. We can choose against the light. Many evidently do. It is not clear that evil will not triumph, just as it is clear that it often does. We finish The Lord of the Rings with two parallel "endings," the one of Sam who returns home to the Shire, finally to settle into his home with Rosie and his children and his land. But we know this too is temporary, however happy, after long and heroic journeys.

Then there is the higher ending of Frodo to which we are all directed, however happy or sad our life here has been. Again, no one tells us these things, partly because we are very hesitant to know the truth, partly because there are those who do not want us to hear it. The Lord of the Rings is read by millions and millions. Few put it down without wondering about their own home, fewer still put it down without realizing that the final meaning of the world is what Tolkien called eucatastrophe, a happy ending, in spite of it all, yet an ending that does not save anyone but those who choose to be saved by rules of honor and good that they know they do not make.
...
----------------------------------------------------------------
*Benedict has an instinctive sense for this basic key to effective communication.

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 09/01/2006 19.46]

1/9/2006 5:37 AM
 
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Mamma Mia! how could I have forgotten [SM=g27814] I saw Peter Kreeft's new "The Philosophy of Tolkien" listed in the current Ignatius Press mail catalog some months ago, tagged it as a reminder to order it, then completely forgot to! Thanks for the Tolkien article Teresa. It reminded me to go get that book. I love reading Peter Kreeft. He's tops among the very best of Catholic writers today.
1/9/2006 6:22 AM
 
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THE BELL TOLLS FOR THE WEST
On not a few occasions, Pope Benedict XVI has reminded the world that God commanded,
"Go forth and multiply," and that Italy, like the rest of the Western world, must do something
now about alarmingly low and still falling birthrates. But are the concerned nations taking
note at all?

The governments of Europe appear blind to and paralyzed by the stupefying fact that - between
their falling birthrates and their rising immigrant Muslim populations - the Muslim tide,
which the Europeans managed to stop at the Battle of Lepanto back in 1571, has now, within
just a few decades, virtually overtaken Western Europe in the guise of large defiantly
unassimilated Muslim populations.

A death knell is sounded in an article by Mark Steyn, a syndicated columnist and theater
critic for
The New Criterion, in whose January issue this article appears. It was
posted online on January 4 in the Wall Street Journal's editorial-page opinion journal.

www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110007760
Excerpts from the article follow:
----------------------------------------------------------------


It's the Demography, Stupid
The real reason the West is in danger of extinction
BY MARK STEYN

.. Much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most Western European countries. There'll probably still be a geographical area on the map marked as Italy or the Netherlands--probably--just as in Istanbul there's still a building called St. Sophia's Cathedral. But it's not a cathedral; it's merely a designation for a piece of real estate. Likewise, Italy and the Netherlands will merely be designations for real estate. The challenge for those who reckon Western civilization is on balance better than the alternatives is to figure out a way to save at least some parts of the West.

One obstacle to doing that is that, in the typical election campaign in your advanced industrial democracy, the political platforms of at least one party in the United States and pretty much all parties in the rest of the West are largely about what one would call the secondary impulses of society--government health care, government day care (which Canada's thinking of introducing), government paternity leave (which Britain's just introduced). We've prioritized the secondary impulse over the primary ones: national defense, family, faith and, most basic of all, reproductive activity--"Go forth and multiply," because if you don't you won't be able to afford all those secondary-impulse issues, like cradle-to-grave welfare.

Americans sometimes don't understand how far gone most of the rest of the developed world is down this path...

The design flaw of the secular social-democratic state is that it requires a religious-society birthrate to sustain it. Post-Christian hyperrationalism is, in the objective sense, a lot less rational than Catholicism or Mormonism. Indeed, in its reliance on immigration to ensure its future, the European Union has adopted a 21st-century variation on the strategy of the Shakers, who were forbidden from reproducing and thus could increase their numbers only by conversion. The problem is that secondary-impulse societies mistake their weaknesses for strengths--or, at any rate, virtues--and that's why they're proving so feeble at dealing with a primal force like Islam. Speaking of which, if we are at war--and half the American people and significantly higher percentages in Britain, Canada and Europe don't accept that proposition--then what exactly is the war about?

We know it's not really a "war on terror." Nor is it, at heart, a war against Islam, or even "radical Islam." The Muslim faith, whatever its merits for the believers, is a problematic business for the rest of us. There are many trouble spots around the world, but as a general rule, it's easy to make an educated guess at one of the participants: Muslims vs. Jews in "Palestine," Muslims vs. Hindus in Kashmir, Muslims vs. Christians in Africa, Muslims vs. Buddhists in Thailand, Muslims vs. Russians in the Caucasus, Muslims vs. backpacking tourists in Bali. Like the environmentalists, these guys think globally but act locally.

Yet while Islamism is the enemy, it's not what this thing's about. Radical Islam is an opportunistic infection, like AIDS: It's not the HIV that kills you, it's the pneumonia you get when your body's too weak to fight it off. When the jihadists engage with the U.S. military, they lose--as they did in Afghanistan and Iraq. If this were like World War I with those fellows in one trench and us in ours facing them over some boggy piece of terrain, it would be over very quickly. Which the smarter Islamists have figured out. They know they can never win on the battlefield, but they figure there's an excellent chance they can drag things out until Western civilization collapses in on itself and Islam inherits by default. ...

That's what the war's about: our lack of civilizational confidence. As a famous Arnold Toynbee quote puts it: "Civilizations die from suicide, not murder"--as can be seen throughout much of "the Western world" right now. The progressive agenda--lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism--is collectively the real suicide bomb. Take multiculturalism. The great thing about multiculturalism is that it doesn't involve knowing anything about other cultures--the capital of Bhutan, the principal exports of Malawi, who cares? All it requires is feeling good about other cultures. It's fundamentally a fraud, and I would argue was subliminally accepted on that basis. Most adherents to the idea that all cultures are equal don't want to live in anything but an advanced Western society. Multiculturalism means your kid has to learn some wretched native dirge for the school holiday concert instead of getting to sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or that your holistic masseuse uses techniques developed from Native American spirituality, but not that you or anyone you care about should have to live in an African or Native American society. It's a quintessential piece of progressive humbug....

Terror groups persist because of a lack of confidence on the part of their targets: The IRA, for example, calculated correctly that the British had the capability to smash them totally but not the will. So they knew that while they could never win militarily, they also could never be defeated. The Islamists have figured similarly. The only difference is that most terrorist wars are highly localized. We now have the first truly global terrorist insurgency because the Islamists view the whole world the way the IRA view the bogs of Fermanagh: They want it, and they've calculated that our entire civilization lacks the will to see them off....

One way "societies choose to fail or succeed" is by choosing what to worry about. The Western world has delivered more wealth and more comfort to more of its citizens than any other civilization in history, and in return we've developed a great cult of worrying. You know the classics of the genre: In 1968, in his bestselling book "The Population Bomb," the eminent scientist Paul Ehrlich declared: "In the 1970s the world will undergo famines--hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death." In 1972, in their landmark study "The Limits to Growth," the Club of Rome announced that the world would run out of gold by 1981, of mercury by 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, and copper, lead and gas by 1993.

None of these things happened. In fact, quite the opposite is happening. We're pretty much awash in resources, but we're running out of people--the one truly indispensable resource, without which none of the others matter. Russia's the most obvious example: it's the largest country on earth, it's full of natural resources, and yet it's dying--its population is falling calamitously.....

The default mode of our elites is that anything that happens--from terrorism to tsunamis--can be understood only as deriving from the perniciousness of Western civilization. As Jean-Francois Revel wrote, "Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself."

And even though none of the prognostications of the eco-doom blockbusters of the 1970s came to pass, all that means is that 30 years on, the end of the world has to be rescheduled. The amended estimated time of arrival is now 2032. That's to say, in 2002, the United Nations Global Environmental Outlook predicted "the destruction of 70 percent of the natural world in thirty years, mass extinction of species. . . . More than half the world will be afflicted by water shortages, with 95 percent of people in the Middle East with severe problems . . . 25 percent of all species of mammals and 10 percent of birds will be extinct . . ."

Etc., etc., for 450 pages. Or to cut to the chase, as the Guardian headlined it, "Unless We Change Our Ways, The World Faces Disaster."

Well, here's my prediction for 2032: unless we change our ways the world faces a future . . . where the environment will look pretty darn good. If you're a tree or a rock, you'll be living in clover. It's the Italians and the Swedes who'll be facing extinction and the loss of their natural habitat.

There will be no environmental doomsday. Oil, carbon dioxide emissions, deforestation: none of these things is worth worrying about. What's worrying is that we spend so much time worrying about things that aren't worth worrying about that we don't worry about the things we should be worrying about. For 30 years, we've had endless wake-up calls for things that aren't worth waking up for. But for the very real, remorseless shifts in our society--the ones truly jeopardizing our future--we're sound asleep. The world is changing dramatically right now, and hysterical experts twitter about a hypothetical decrease in the Antarctic krill that might conceivably possibly happen so far down the road there are unlikely to be any Italian or Japanese enviro-worriers left alive to be devastated by it.

In a globalized economy, the environmentalists want us to worry about First World capitalism imposing its ways on bucolic, pastoral, primitive Third World backwaters. Yet, insofar as "globalization" is a threat, the real danger is precisely the opposite--that the peculiarities of the backwaters can leap instantly to the First World. Pigs are valued assets and sleep in the living room in rural China--and next thing you know an unknown respiratory disease is killing people in Toronto, just because someone got on a plane. That's the way to look at Islamism: We fret about McDonald's and Disney, but the big globalization success story is the way the Saudis have taken what was 80 years ago a severe but obscure and unimportant strain of Islam practiced by Bedouins of no fixed abode and successfully exported it to the heart of Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Manchester, Buffalo . . .

What's the better bet? A globalization that exports cheeseburgers and pop songs or a globalization that exports the fiercest aspects of its culture? When it comes to forecasting the future, the birthrate is the nearest thing to hard numbers. If only a million babies are born in 2006, it's hard to have two million adults enter the workforce in 2026 (or 2033, or 2037, or whenever they get around to finishing their Anger Management and Queer Studies degrees). And the hard data on babies around the Western world is that they're running out a lot faster than the oil is. "Replacement" fertility rate--i.e., the number you need for merely a stable population, not getting any bigger, not getting any smaller--is 2.1 babies per woman. Some countries are well above that: the global fertility leader, Somalia, is 6.91, Niger 6.83, Afghanistan 6.78, Yemen 6.75. Notice what those nations have in common?
Scroll way down to the bottom of the Hot One Hundred top breeders and you'll eventually find the United States, hovering just at replacement rate with 2.07 births per woman. Ireland is 1.87, New Zealand 1.79, Australia 1.76. But Canada's fertility rate is down to 1.5, well below replacement rate; Germany and Austria are at 1.3, the brink of the death spiral; Russia and Italy are at 1.2; Spain 1.1, about half replacement rate. That's to say, Spain's population is halving every generation. By 2050, Italy's population will have fallen by 22%, Bulgaria's by 36%, Estonia's by 52%. In America, demographic trends suggest that the blue states ought to apply for honorary membership of the EU: In the 2004 election, John Kerry won the 16 with the lowest birthrates; George W. Bush took 25 of the 26 states with the highest. By 2050, there will be 100 million fewer Europeans, 100 million more Americans--and mostly red-state Americans.

As fertility shrivels, societies get older--and Japan and much of Europe are set to get older than any functioning societies have ever been. And we know what comes after old age. These countries are going out of business--unless they can find the will to change their ways. Is that likely? I don't think so. If you look at European election results--most recently in Germany--it's hard not to conclude that, while voters are unhappy with their political establishments, they're unhappy mainly because they resent being asked to reconsider their government benefits and, no matter how unaffordable they may be a generation down the road, they have no intention of seriously reconsidering them....The average German worker now puts in 22% fewer hours per year than his American counterpart, and no politician who wishes to remain electorally viable will propose closing the gap in any meaningful way....

There is no "population bomb." There never was. Birthrates are declining all over the world--eventually every couple on the planet may decide to opt for the Western yuppie model of one designer baby at the age of 39. But demographics is a game of last man standing. The groups that succumb to demographic apathy last will have a huge advantage. Even in 1968 Paul Ehrlich and his ilk should have understood that their so-called population explosion was really a massive population adjustment. Of the increase in global population between 1970 and 2000, the developed world accounted for under 9% of it, while the Muslim world accounted for 26%. Between 1970 and 2000, the developed world declined from just under 30% of the world's population to just over 20%, the Muslim nations increased from about 15% to 20%....And by 2020?

So the world's people are a lot more Islamic than they were back then and a lot less "Western." Europe is significantly more Islamic, having taken in during that period some 20 million Muslims (officially)--or the equivalents of the populations of four European Union countries (Ireland, Belgium, Denmark and Estonia). Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the West: In the U.K., more Muslims than Christians attend religious services each week.

Can these trends continue for another 30 years without having consequences? Europe by the end of this century will be a continent after the neutron bomb: The grand buildings will still be standing, but the people who built them will be gone. We are living through a remarkable period: the self-extinction of the races who, for good or ill, shaped the modern world....

1/9/2006 4:58 PM
 
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UPDATE ON EUTHANASIA
Euthanasia's Growing Acceptance
Judicial Leniency for "Mercy Killing"


LONDON, JAN. 7, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Euthanasia is legal in only a few countries, but even where it is prohibited judges are increasingly reluctant to punish offenders. A recent example is the case of English father, Andrew Wragg.

Wragg's 10-year-old son, Jacob, suffered from the degenerative disease of Hunter's syndrome and had multiple disabilities. On July 24, 2004, his father smothered Jacob, afterward calling the police to tell them he had killed his son, the BBC reported Dec. 12.

During the trial, the prosecution argued that Wragg's act was a "selfish killing," carried out because he could no longer cope with looking after the boy. But the judge, Justice Anne Rafferty, said the case was "exceptional" and that there was nothing to be gained by sending the father to jail. Wragg was given a suspended jail sentence.

A similar case occurred three months earlier. On Sept. 3 the Times reported that Donald Mawditt admitted helping to kill his wife by giving her antidepressants, then suffocating her. His wife, Maureen, suffered from hemochromatosis, a condition that causes too much iron in the blood, damaging the liver and pancreas and causing heart failure. She was told she had only a 50% chance of living longer than two years.

During proceedings, evidence showed that the couple had made a pact when they married to end each other's life if they fell terminally ill. Judge Thomas Crowther decided that the case was "exceptional" and spared him a prison term. Mawditt received a three-year conditional discharge.

Another 2005 case was that of Brian Blackburn, who pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his wife, Margaret. The Guardian newspaper last Jan. 15 reported that Blackburn killed his wife, then unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide.

His wife had an advanced case of stomach cancer and would have died within weeks. Judge Richard Hawkins said that the case was one of "exceptional circumstances," and Blackburn received a suspended jail sentence.

No jail sentences

Australian judges are also sparing relatives from jail in similar cases. A case in point is that of Catherine Anne Pryor, in the state of Tasmania.

Pryor was found guilty of the attempted murder of her mother and pleaded guilty to helping her father commit suicide, the local Mercury newspaper reported Dec. 20. In March 2003 she gave her mother an injection of insulin, and about eight months later injected her father with insulin and pethidine and put a plastic bag over his head until he stopped breathing.

The court was told that both parents were in poor health. Anne Grant was 77 and in the early stages of dementia and Peter Grant was 79 and suffering from terminal cancer. Pryor received two suspended jail sentences. Justice Michael Hill declared "he did not think the community would want her to go to jail," the article reported.

Earlier last year, in the first case of its kind in the state of New South Wales, a local court magistrate, Alan Railton, set free Fred Thompson after he killed his wife, Katerina. According to the Sydney Morning Herald of Feb. 21, he gave her six sleeping tablets, then suffocated her.

She was suffering from advanced multiple sclerosis. Initially, authorities thought it was a natural death, but later Thompson admitted his deed to the police.

No proof of love

Some commentators criticized the leniency shown in the case of Andrew Wragg in England. In the opinion pages of the British Telegraph of Dec. 18, Mary Wakefield wrote that while the official verdict in the case was that Wragg suffered from "diminished responsibility," the argument that really swayed the court was that he was motivated to kill his son out of love.

This judgment could encourage others to think that the law is lenient toward mercy killing, commented Wakefield. Moreover, it seemed "that Andrew Wragg didn't love Jacob enough to want to continue the day-to-day grind of caring for him until the natural end of his life; he only loved him enough to kill him," she noted.

Muriel Gray, writing in the Sunday Herald, a Scottish paper, on Dec. 18, observed that Jacob was "innocent of everything but being born with a chromosomal deficiency." Jacob suffered from his illness, but the judge concentrated more on the suffering of the parents, Gray said.

She further noted that the judge justified the husband's decision to kill his son, even though he was not the primary caregiver; it was Wragg's wife who took the main strain of looking after Jacob. What the decision means, continued Gray, is that "our disabled children's lives are worth considerably less than the able-bodied."

Pressure also continues for easing the law on euthanasia in Britain. In the House of Lords last year a private bill by Lord Joel Joffe sought to allow the terminally ill to legally request aid to commit suicide.

Commenting on the proposal, Archbishop Peter Smith, chairman of the English and Welsh bishops' Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship, said that what is needed instead is better palliative care. "Terminally ill people need to be cared for properly, safe in the knowledge that their lives are of value, and that society does not wish them dead," the archbishop said in a Nov. 9 press release. "They need to be cared for, not killed off."

Dutch debacle

Disturbing news, meanwhile, continued to come from the Netherlands, the country that pioneered legal euthanasia. On May 7 the British Medical Journal reported that for the first time the official Dutch assessment system approved a request for assisted suicide from a patient with Alzheimer's disease.

Then, on Sept. 9, the Irish Examiner newspaper reported that a study carried out by researchers from the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam found that doctors are helping to hasten the deaths of sick children in a variety of ways, sometimes acting at the edges of the law.

The study was published in the September issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. It looked at 64 deaths of sick children during a four-month period. Of those, 42 cases involved medical decisions that could hasten death.

On Sept. 29 the Associated Press reported that the Dutch government intends to expand its euthanasia policy, setting guidelines for when doctors may end the lives of terminally ill newborns with the parents' consent.

The guidelines were drawn up in 2004 by doctors at the Groningen University Medical Center. They contemplate permitting euthanasia in cases when a child is terminally ill with no prospect of recovery; when it is suffering great pain; when two sets of doctors agree the situation is hopeless; and when parents give their consent.

The Dec. 10 issue of the British Medical Journal gave further details on the changes. Doctors who end the lives of babies will be judged by a committee of medical and legal experts to whom all cases must be reported.

Ending the life of a baby will remain illegal, but if the doctors adhere to the established criteria they are unlikely to be prosecuted. According to the medical journal, 22 cases of doctors ending the life of newborns have been reported to the public prosecution service since 1997. After two test case acquittals in the 1990s, all have been dismissed.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that painkillers can be used to alleviate the suffering of those who are dying, even when this shortens their life (No. 2279). But direct euthanasia that seeks to end the lives of the handicapped, the sick or dying "is morally unacceptable," warns the Catechism in No. 2277. A message lawmakers and judges alike are increasingly overlooking.

1/11/2006 5:55 PM
 
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THE KILLING OF THE INNOCENTS
860 Million Children Live on the Edge
A Vatican News Agency Reports on Staggering Problem


ROME, JAN. 10, 2006 (Zenit.org).- A staggering 860 million children live in dire straits,
victims of a variety of tragedies and abuses, says a report from a Vatican agency.

Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples,
highlights these phenomena in a report entitled "Herod: The Killing of the Innocents
Continues."

The report, which takes into account data of international organizations, reveals that
the number of child-laborers, between the ages of 5 and 14, reaches 211 million.

Of these, 171 million work in risky conditions. About 120 million of the youngsters
work full time. The biggest problem is Asia.

"At the root of many forms of exploitation is the fact that in the poorest among the
developing countries, more than 50 million children are not even registered when they
are born," Fides reported.

The number of children "transformed into killers to kill mercilessly -- the world's
child-soldiers -- reaches 300,000," it added.

The child-soldiers are often "full of drugs to overcome fear and kill in cold blood."
They are found "on the front of forgotten wars that bloody more than 40 countries."
The majority are ages 10 to 14.

Twenty million children live and grow up in refugee camps. Over the past decade, 2 million
children were among the civilian victims of conflicts.

Street children

The number of "street children" is estimated at 120 million, half of whom are in South America.

"Children of violence, of unbridled industrialization, of 'favelas,' of wars, of the
disintegration of social and family ties, of drug and sex" abuse, they are mostly between
5 and 16 years old, reported Fides. "But there are also those who are 3 or 4 years old."

The majority are boys. Girls are less visible because they can be forced with greater ease
into domestic tasks or prostitution.

Hunger is another tragedy; it causes the death of 11 million children before age 5,
the report said.

AIDS also feeds on children. In 2005 the disease killed 3 million people, including
500,000 children. There were 40 million who were seropositive, including 2.5 million
under age 14.

Another scourge is the traffic in human beings, a problem of worldwide reach, which every
year involves at least 1.2 million youngsters under 18.

Abused girls

An estimated 4 million girls are bought and sold for marriages, prostitution and slavery.

"The problem of arranged marriages -- more than 80 million worldwide -- imposed on girls
under 18, has been criticized by many humanitarian organizations, also because
of the risk of death of very young mothers," Fides pointed out.

Moreover, girls represent two-thirds of minors who receive no education. The "consequence
is that later they will be illiterate women: at present 600 million," the report said.

An estimated 2 million girls are faced with ritualistic genital mutilation in childhood.
In total, 120 million women worldwide have suffered this violence.
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