Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Religion, Reason, and Same-Sex Marriage

Following up on his December 2010 Washington Post article, "On Gay Marriage, Stop Playing the Hate Card," Matthew J. Franck writes in the current (May 2011) issue of First Things:

In briefly rehearsing well-known defenses of conjugal marriage that others have elaborated elsewhere, I noted in the Post that marriage "has always existed in order to bring men and women together so that children will have mothers and fathers" and that same-sex unions are "not an expansion but a dismantling of the institution." The response of some readers was not merely that I had not fully fleshed out this argument (which I could readily admit) but that such statements did not even bear the marks of rationality—that they were so obviously wrong that only those in the grip of unreasoning hatred or bigotry could put them forward.

Some of our high public officials, unfortunately, have encouraged this kind of flattening and coarsening of our public discussion. Judge Joseph Tauro, of the federal district court in Boston, in ruling against the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (which defines marriage as between one man and one woman for the purposes of federal law), said last July that the difference between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples is a "distinction without meaning." How he claimed to know this, since he did not explain it, is anyone's guess, but it was enough for him to conclude that Congress, in passing DOMA, had acted on an "animus" that "targets" people on the basis of a "sexual orientation" of which Congress "disapproves." But DOMA was passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress, and signed by a Democratic president, for the express purpose of defending the right of the people in each state to govern themselves on the question of marriage. It would never even have been proposed in Congress but for the existence of a movement determined to make an end-run around the institutions of democratic decision-making—determined, that is, to persuade judges like Joseph Tauro to bend the Constitution to suit the purposes of a political agenda. DOMA is just what its title says it is—a defense of marriage against assault by a court-centered strategy. Given the feebleness of his arguments, it's a fair question just what "animus" the judge himself has toward people who disagree with him.

In late February, Judge Tauro's view was essentially adopted by the Obama administration, which announced that the Justice Department would no longer defend the constitutionality of section 3 of DOMA but would instead take the opposite position in federal courts. It is perfectly legitimate for presidents to assert their independent judgment about the constitutionality of the laws that govern us. But what passed for judgment in the administration's analysis was shockingly thin. The most substantial point made in Attorney General Eric Holder's letter to House Speaker John Boehner was that, during the 1996 debate on DOMA, some members of Congress had expressed "moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships—precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against."

The disapproval of "moral disapproval": This moves us closer to the heart of the matter. Not long after Judge Tauro's decision last summer came the ruling of Judge Vaughn Walker, of the federal district court in San Francisco, striking down California's Proposition 8, itself a defensive measure passed by a majority of the state's voters in 2008 after the state's supreme court invented a right of same-sex marriage under the California constitution. Judge Walker declared that there was no "rational basis" for Prop. 8. "Tradition alone," he wrote, "cannot form a rational basis for a law." Tradition normally has a presumption in its favor in such inquiries, but not for Judge Walker. He sniffed out what was really going on, declaring that "moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples." The law unavoidably speaks in the name of a community's moral vision, so to what did the judge really object? He called opposition to same-sex marriage a "private moral choice," with "private" meaning it was not entitled to enactment as public morality. Clearly, for Judge Walker, the reason for this conclusion lay in the second term of the phrase of his, "moral and religious views." In the most telling passage of his opinion, he claimed—as a "finding of fact," no less—that "religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful . . . harm gays and lesbians."

There we have it. Marriage only between a man and a woman is a mere "tradition" with no claim on our attention when a claim of "discrimination" is made on the other side. All that this tradition has going for it is the "moral and religious views" of its supporters. But the law embodies moral choices, so why is this moral viewpoint illegitimate as the basis of a law? The problem is that it is driven too much by the religious commitments of those who hold it—and so it must be dismissed from public life and relegated to the realm of "private moral choice," disallowed from enactment as the view of the majority in a democratic society. So toxic is it to hold certain religious views that merely believing them works a "harm" to other people. Those who hold these views must not only be prevented from enacting those views as the will of the democratic majority; they must, to the extent possible, be silenced in the public square. They must . . . shut up.

Read it all here. Prof. Franck is director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Alleluia, Christ Is Risen!

Christ is risen from the dead! By this time on Easter Day, however, many of his pastors have the energy of someone still dead. So, here's a repeat from my blog for Easter 2007, an Easter Sermon from St. John Chrysostom.

Photo: Easter 2011, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peoria

If any person is devout and loves God,
let him come to this radiant triumphant feast.

If any person is a wise follower,
let him enter into the joy of his Lord, rejoicing.

If any have fasted long
let him now receive refreshment.

If any have labored from the first hour,
let him today receive his just reward.

If any came at the third hour,
let him keep the feast with thankfulness.

If any arrived at the sixth hour,
let him have no misgivings for he shall not be deprived.

If any delayed to the ninth hour,
let him draw near, fearing nothing.

If any have waited even until the eleventh hour,
let him not be alarmed at this tardiness.

For the Lord will accept the last
even as the first.

Therefore, all of you,
enter into the joy of your Lord.

Rich and poor together,
hold high festival.

Diligent and heedless,
honor this day.

Both you who have fasted, and you who did not fast,
rejoice together today.

The table is full;
all of you, feast sumptuously.

The calf is fatted;
let no one go away hungry.

Enjoy the feast of faith;
receive the riches of God's mercy.

Let no one bewail his poverty,
for the fullness of the kingdom is revealed.

Let no one weep for his iniquities,
for forgiveness shines forth from the grave.

Let no one fear death,
for the savior's death has set us free.

He who was held prisoner by death
has annihilated it.

By descending into death,
he made death captive.

He angered it
when it tasted of his flesh.

Isaiah saw this, and he cried:
Death was angered when it encountered you
in the lower regions.

It was angered,
for it was defeated.

It was angered,
for it was mocked.

It was angered,
for it was abolished.

It was angered,
for it was overthrown.

It was angered,
for it was bound in chains.

It received a body
and it met God face to face.

It took earth
and encountered heaven.

It took that which is seen
and fell upon the unseen.

O Death,
where is your sting?

O Grave,
where is your victory?

Christ is risen
and you are overthrown.

Christ is risen
and the devils have fallen.

Christ is risen
and the angels rejoice.

Christ is risen
and life reigns.

Christ is risen
and not one dead remains in the grave.

For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, and to him be glory and honor, even to eternity.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

Photo: Good Friday 2011, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peoria

              Who was the guilty?
              Who brought this upon thee?
my treason, Jesus,
              hath undone thee.
I, Lord Jesus,
I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.

Johann Heermann, 1585-1647; tr. Robert Bridges, 1844-1930
From the hymn "Ah, Holy Jesus" (Herzliebster Jesu)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sin Clings

The conclusion of Zion's Lenten Midweek series, By Faith: the Assurance of Things Hoped for; the Conviction of Things Not Seen (from Hebrews 11), brought us to Hebrews 12:1-2:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The Early Church Father Theodoret of Cyr says:
The models of godliness are set before us on all sides, he [the author of Hebrews] is saying, in such vast numbers as to resemble a cloud in density and and testify to the power of faith. Accordingly, let us keep our eyes on them, be light on our feet and rid ourselves of teh burden of unnecessary worries, in this way being able also to avoid sin that is easy to contract.
Then comes this exquisite sentence:
Before everything else we need perseverance to succeed in the course ahead of us. He said sin "clings" because it is easily contracted and committed: the eye is fascinated, the ear charmed, touch titillated, tongue easily loosened and thought quickly directed to the worst.
From Theodoret of Cyr, "Interpretation of Hebrews 12", as found in The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT X: Hebrews (p. 209).

That about nails sin, doesn't it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Another Chernobyl? Not Quite!

Since the earthquake and tsumani in north-eastern Japan, students of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institue of Technology (MIT) have been maintaining a weblog at http://mitnse.com for "information about the incident at the Fukushima Nuclear Plants." The purpose of the MIT NSE Nuclear Information Hub is
not to provide up-to-date information about the ongoing situation at the nuclear facilities in Fukushima, Japan, nor is it to promote to a pro-nuclear political agenda. Rather, we are trying to provide non-sensationalized, factual data from engineers in a manner that the general public can understand. We are fighting to decipher conflicting news reports and manage the frustrating lack of clarity to provide this information.
The key is "non-sensationalized, factual data" at a time when the various broadcast (or "narrowcast") news media seem to specialize in sensationalizing serious matters.

Here's their take on today's news reports:
New Provisional INES Rating + A Chernobyl Primer
Posted on April 12, 2011 3:32 pm UTC by mitnse

Today the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency revised its INES rating of the Fukushima Daiichi event. The previous assessment treated the events at each of the ailing reactors as separate: the core damage to units 1-3 resulted in an assignment of a 5 (accident with wider consequences) for each reactor; the problems at unit 4′s spent fuel pool were assigned a 3 (serious incident). NISA is now treating the situation as a single event, assigned a rating of 7 (major accident). This rating is still being assessed as information about the disposition of radioactive materials originating at the reactor site comes in.

Because the rating is now the same as that assigned to the Chernobyl accident, the blog has received a number of questions about how the events at Fukushima differ from it. We present a sequence of events at Chernobyl, along with links to some denser technical matter for interested readers, and an IAEA report on the human costs of the disaster. For comparison, it’s been estimated that the radiation released by the Fukushima reactors is 1/10th that released to the environment at Chernobyl.
The rest of the post describes what really happened at Chernobyl, the worst nuclear accident in history.

But catch that closer: "it’s been estimated that the radiation released by the Fukushima reactors is 1/10th that released to the environment at Chernobyl." This is no Chernobyl. The sensation of Fukushima Daiichi is just how safe nuclear power is.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cable and the Decline of Broadcast News

Dear CNBC:

Oh, dear. I'm not sure whether the plural of "Leaf" (as in Nissan Leaf) is "Leaves" or "Leafs." One thing I know, however, is that it is *not* "Leaf's." I'm trying to imagine Huntley, Brinkley, Chancellor, or even Brokaw (to name some of NBC's news luminaries) letting such poor English show up on the screen repeatedly on their newscasts -- as I saw early this afternoon.

Steven Tibbetts

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Catch My Smile!

I know, you've seen this smiling airliner before. But in my mind PSA stands first for Pacific Southwest Airlines, and then Public Service Announcement, and only thirdly for prostate-specific antigen.

Regarding the last on that list, Thursday is the third anniversary of my prostatectomy, which is how we treated my prostate cancer. Our PSA L-1011 is still smiling because this morning I learned the results of my latest blood test: my PSA is less that 0.1. That is, still immeasurable. Praise the Lord!

Today was also local Election Day in Illinois, and in my part of Peoria the ballot included members of the City Council and the community college board. I voted shortly after 3 o'clock in the afternoon and was the 11th person to vote in my precinct. No smiles there.