Friday, January 20, 2006
One change is made to the essay (with regard to how many years have passed) to correspond to this year's anniversary of the Supreme Court decision.
17 Jan 98
Language and Liberty
This country recently commemorated two events: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the ... [thirty-third] anniversary of Roe v. Wade. They are related by similar concerns: freedom and equality for all. Recalling the former sheds some light on the latter.
The fundamental source of King’s message is “the moral law or the law of God.” This law binds all humans in granting liberty and demanding justice. As history has shown, unfortunately, man-made law does not always conform to this greater and higher law. When a law, as Rev. King put it, is “out of harmony” with the universal law, it is an “unjust law” and thus no law at all. During the American experience, there have been many unjust laws. In fact, this country was founded in response to unjust laws.
Rooting himself in a tradition that incorporates America’s Founding Fathers, King suggested a response: disobedience. However, the disobedience of King is not a license to do anything. It is a morally-superior response to grave injustice. He writes, “One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.”
This disobedience of King is his extremism. It is a truly morally-uplifting extremism. For King, the question “is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremist will we be.” This sense of action rooted in justice harkens back to the abolitionists of the mid-1800s. “I will be as harsh as truth,” David Walker wrote in 1831, “and as uncompromising as justice.” Faced with the great deprivation of rights in the battle against slavery, Walker continued to voice his commitment to endure and persevere against any and all injustice, “On this subject [of slavery] I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation....I am in earnest—I will not equivocate –I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard.” I am sure King felt the same sentiment and passion for his cause of true justice and liberty for all.
The Declaration of Independence asserts that “all men are created equal” with the same “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Slavery and many laws of the early and mid-1900s were not in harmony with this truth of the Declaration and this is what King and Walker attested to.
They were arguing against a system at odds with itself. The black American was considered a “subordinate and inferior class of being,” “an article of property,” and even “not a person.” This abuse of language was the legal foundation upon which racist attitudes could translate into discrimination and acts of evil. What happened to “all men are created equal”?
The abuse of language is part of what happened. “When words lose their meaning,” Confucius once said, “peoples lose their liberty.” This is probably one of the greatest evils of man: Deny the full personhood or humanity of those we do not like and then we have the legal justification to discriminate, segregate, enslave, and even murder in mass numbers (e.g., the Holocaust).
Before being elected President, Abraham Lincoln joined in the debate over the evil of slavery: “‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” He went on to later voice his concern over the abuse of language and the relative manner by which men selectively acknowledged humanity in others: “I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a Negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man?”
Some other man? Yes. Today, society has found another, but this time, this “other” is a baby. The unborn baby! The humanity of the child in the womb is unquestionably affirmed by science. The zygote “results from fertilization of an oocyte by a sperm and is the beginning of a human being.” (The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 1) Besides, what else could the entity be? If the natural and physical source is human (the mother and father), then the result (the new life) will be human. Basic common sense. Thus, the entity in the womb who is often torn apart in an abortion is none other than a little defenseless child, the most vulnerable of all human life. What do these issues all have to do with each other, one might ask?
The answer is simple. The attempt to redefine a human person, whether it is with regard to black Americans, Jews, or even the child in the womb, is nothing but “semantic gymnastics,” as one critic (William Brennan) put it. Again, the words of Confucius reveal great wisdom, “When words lose their meaning, peoples lose their liberty.” And, I might add, their lives!
One should never forget where our rights and privileges come from. The rights to property, free speech, religion, liberty, etc. are great, but what roots them? It is the right to life. It is my right to keep and maintain my life which no one on earth has sovereignty over. Sincere and unbiased seekers of justice and liberty must acknowledge that at conception, a new human being is present. Since this new being is human, all rights predicated to a human as basic must be predicated to all humans, whether they be Black, Jewish, disabled, elderly, or even a young human in the womb. This young human being is a person with rights that must be protected. What good are all the other rights if we forego the right to life? It is the right upon which all others are rooted. Without it, the others are worthless.
Rev. King had a dream where “all men...would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is a dream where the nation’s people would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Today, we still face the test of our character. We made it through the evils of slavery and racist laws. Now, we face the test with abortion. How we treat the defenseless is a true mark of our character. With slavery and the Holocaust, this country was involved in bloody wars. The same need not happen to save the unborn child. However, true seekers of justice for all will not back down. The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremist we will be. We do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation. We are in earnest. We will not equivocate. We will not excuse. We will not retreat a single inch. And we will be heard: Direct abortions are the unjust killing of innocent human beings, of little children! Life is not negotiable and neither are the passions and principles of those who truly seek liberty and justice for all, as we will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice!
Friday, January 13, 2006
Now, we have "emotional truth." Huh? Well, ask James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, the book that is now subject to much criticism since
In an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Wednesday, Frey admitted embellishing some details of the book, but insisted that was part of the memoir-writing business. He also said that "the emotional truth is there."The controversy has not died down as this article attests: "Pundits attack author Frey and unhappy reader sues."
His insistence that people who write memoirs are not writing what he called journalistic truth touched a raw nerve, especially among journalists, editors and writers who publicly question whether writing a memoir should be a license to lie.
In a related post, Ignatius Insight Scoop has a humorous take on the whole thing:
In a related story*, Pontius Pilate has released his memoirs, translated from the original Latin and published by Random Hose, titled What Is Truth? Sources say that Pilate argues that truth is "essentially emotional" and also "emotionally essential." Pilate could not be reached for comment since he is currently dead.
(* Brief Author's Note: This paragraph contains true content that is embellished by content that is not true, but supports the desire of the author and publisher to sell books.)
Must he sit there bland-faced and unmoving as they say what they say? Yes, of course. Judge Alito and the White House know they have to let these men talk. They don't want the senators to feel resentful or frustrated. They know each senator feels he has to play to his base. They know the senators are, by nature, like Conair 2000 hairdryers: They just love to blow, and hard. Fwwaaaaahhhhhhhhh. And they know it is good, it is helpful, to let each senator reveal himself through his own words. I think senators feel that their words, when strung together, become little bridges. I think the White House feels that their words, when strung together, become little nooses.
I wish they would be, thought they could be, honest. "You are bad because you are not a liberal, and I am a liberal so I vote against you. Feh." "Of course I think Roe v. Wade was badly thought through, and you probably admit as much yourself, enator, in your private thoughts."
But here's where the issue clears some air. Either liberals like Ted Kennedy really believe that conservatives harbor deep in their hearts an animus toward women, and blacks, and Hispanics, and everyone who is not a white male, or liberals simply enjoy, for reasons that are cynical and perhaps also psychological ("The people I fight are bad; this buttresses my belief that I, in spite of what I know about myself, am good"), suggesting that conservatives are full of narrow-minded bigotry and hatred. Maybe a Republican senator could bring this question to the floor, and ask Pat Leahy or Mr. Kennedy. The thing is, it is a mystery: Do they really think that about us, or are they just playing games and jerking everyone around?
Also: wouldn't it be nice if the senators suggesting bigotry apologized to Mrs. Alito for causing her distress? Oh, I wish they'd apologize to the country for causing it distress. Anyway, they made a mistake. Her tears presage his victory.
Let's cause some senators distress. The great thing about Joe Biden during the Alito hearings, the reason he is, to me, actually endearing, is that as he speaks, as he goes on and on and spins his long statements, hypotheticals, and free associations--as he demonstrates yet again ... that he is incapable of staying on the river of a thought, and is constantly lured down tributaries from which he can never quite work his way back--you can see him batting the little paddles of his mind against the weeds, trying desperately to return to the river but not remembering where it is, or where it was going. I love him. He's human, like a garrulous uncle after a drink.
In this, in the hearings, he is unlike Ted Kennedy in that he doesn't seem driven by some obscure malice--Uh, I, uh, cannot, uh, remembuh why I hate you, Judge Alioto, but there, uh, must be a good reason and I will, um, damn well find it. When he peers over his glasses at Judge Alito he is like an old woman who's unfortunately senile and quite sure the teapot on the stove is plotting against her. Mr. Biden is also unlike Chuck Schumer in that he doesn't ask questions with an air of, With this one I'm going to trap you and leave you flailing like a bug in a bug zapper--we're going to hear your last little crackling buzz any minute now!
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Hugh Hewitt posted his interview with Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ.
Yesterday I interviewd Father Jospeh Fessio, Provosty of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, and student and friend of Benedict XVI. (Father Fessio is also the founder of Ignatius Press.) The entire interview should be read, and the transcript is here, but the most fascinating part concerned a gathering at Castle Gandolfo with the Pope and his students this past September, where the subject was Islam.
HH: Father Fessio, before the break, you were telling us that after the presentation at Castel Gandolfo by two scholars of Islam this summer with Benedict in attendance, as well as his former students, for the first time in your memory, the Pope did not allow his students to first comment and reserve comment, but in fact, went first. Why, and what did he say?
JF: Well, the thesis that was proposed by this scholar was that Islam can enter into the modern world if the Koran is reinterpreted by taking the specific legislation, and going back to the principles, and then adapting it to our times, especially with the dignity that we ascribe to women, which has come through Christianity, of course. And immediately, the Holy Father, in his beautiful calm but clear way, said well, there's a fundamental problem with that, because he said in the Islamic tradition, God has given His word to Mohammed, but it's an eternal word. It's not ohammed's word. It's there for eternity the way it is. There's no possibility of adapting it or interpreting it, whereas in Christianity, and Judaism, the dynamism's completely different, that God has worked through His creatures. And so, it is not just the word of God, it's the word of Isaiah, not just the word of God, but the word of Mark. He's used His human creatures, and inspired them to speak His word to the world, and therefore by establishing a Church in which he gives authority to His followers to carry on the tradition and interpret it, there's an inner logic to the Christian Bible, which permits it and requires it to be adapted and applied to new situations. I was...I mean, Hugh, I wish I could say it as clearly and as beautifully as he did, but that's why he's Pope and I'm not, okay? That's one of the reasons. One of others, but his seeing that distinction when the Koran, which is seen as something dropped out of Heaven, which cannot be adapted or applied, even, and the Bible, which is a word of God that comes through a human community, it was stunning.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Rapist's Prison Sentence Triggers Outrage
Burlington, Vermont -- January 4, 2005
There was outrage Wednesday when a Vermont judge handed out a 60-day jail sentence to a man who raped a little girl many,many times over a four-year span starting when she was seven.
The judge said he no longer believes in punishment and is more concerned about rehabilitation.
Prosecutors argued that confessed child-rapist Mark Hulett, 34, of Williston deserved at least eight years behind bars for repeatedly raping a littler girl countless times starting when she was seven.
But Judge Edward Cashman disagreed explaining that he no longer believes that punishment works. "The one message I want to get through is that anger doesn't solve anything. It just corrodes your soul," said Judge Edward Cashman speaking to a packed Burlington courtroom. Most of the on-lookers were related to a young girl who was repeatedly raped by Mark Hulett who was in court to be sentenced. The sex abuse started when the girl was seven and ended when she was ten. Prosecutors were seeking a sentence of eight to twenty years in prison, in part, as punishment.
"Punishment is a valid purpose," Chittenden Deputy Prosecutor Nicole Andreson argued to Judge Edward Cashman.
"The state recognizes that the court may not agree or subscribe to that method of sentencing but the state does. The state thinks that it is a very important factor for the court to consider," Andreson added.
But Judge Cashman explained that he is more concerned that Hulett receive sex offender treatment as rehabilitation. But under Department of Corrections classification, Hulett is considered a low-risk for re-offense so he does not qualify for in-prison treatment.So the judge sentenced him to just 60 days in prison and then Hulett must complete sex treatment when he gets out or face a possible life sentence.
Judge Cashman also also revealed that he once handed down stiff sentences when he first got on the bench 25 years ago, but he no longer believes in punishment.
"I discovered it accomplishes nothing of value;it doesn't make anything better; it costs us a lot of money; we create a lot of expectation, and we feed on anger,"Cashman explained to the people in the court.
The sentence outraged the victim's family who asked not to be identified. "I don't like it," the victim's mother,in tears, told Channel 3. "He should pay for what he did to my baby and stop it here. She's not even home with me and he can be home for all this time, and do what he did in my house," she added.
Hulett -- who had been out on bail-- was taken away to start his sentence immediately.