View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Problems with "small government" libertarianism (and doubts about Ron Paul)

Small government is a nice-sounding ideal. But as is often the case with “nice-sounding” things, the reality is sometimes something quite different.

The small-government mantra voiced by libertarians and their fellow travelers (usually Republicans) like Ron Paul is a euphemism for minimal government interference with individual rights – especially as they pertain to property - and even more, with business.

Libertarianism is basically a materialist philosophy that emphasizes ownership of resources and property. Libertarians oppose taxation and favor a laissez-faire economic system.

Laissez-faire economics relies on nonintervention by the government in individual or industry business affairs. The belief is that if businesses are left alone, competition, the market place and individual effort will lead to prosperity and freedom. Adam Smith argued that individual welfare was more important that national power, and that the “invisible” hand of competition would act as an economic regulator.

So the small government folks are really calling for government to keep their hands of how they run their businesses.

It sounds nice, as I noted. And in its less radical forms, it provides a lens to view government policies.

But there is a problem: Human nature.

If all people acted in moral, ethical ways, the system would work. But for every individual who acts that way, there are others who take advantage of the system for their own gain – the selfish philosophy espoused by Ayn Rand and her children – and others who are swept along by the selfish intentions and actions of others.

Think of the corporate greed of the late 80s – or in 19th century England. Money is made into the god, the end that justifies all means.

Moreover, look at the social implications. If the goal is maximizing profits for my own gain, and if there are no government or ethical limits - other than what the marketplace will allow, or some vague notion of not hurting others -- then I can do what I want in my business.

If I choose not to serve people because they are black, or Middle Eastern, or Catholic, I can.

If I want to underpay and exploit my workers, I can.

If I want to produce goods that are not of high quality, I can.

If I want to have unsafe work conditions, I can.

If I want to pollute without interference, I can.

If I want to conspire with other business owners to set prices higher than they need be or quality lower than it needs be, I can.

If I want to sell drugs, or my body, I can.

It is freedom without responsibility (except to myself and my desires).

Yes, the marketplace may decide that what I am doing is wrong or of poor quality – but sometimes consumers don’t pay much attention, don't know, or they don’t have much of a choice.

And I love the “small government" because it does not have the power or will to stop me.

That’s the danger of the small government philosophy.

Historically, the dangers are well documented.

What we need is a balance between freedom and social responsibility. And sometimes that responsibility requires government to step in.

As for libertarianism and Catholicism, the Church has not condemned it outright, but it has clearly been critical of it, especially in its most extreme forms.

In 2002, for example, the Vatican released The Church and the Internet in which it states "The ideology of radical libertarianism is both mistaken and harmful. The error lies in exalting freedom 'to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values.... In this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear.'"

And in his homily before ascending to the Papacy, Pope Benedict XVI warning against the moral relativism of modern secular life and urging the cardinals to withstand the "tides of trends and latest novelties ... from Marxism to freemarket liberalism to even libertarianism, from collectivism to radical individualism, from atheism to a vague religious mysticism ... and so forth."

So I look at Ron Paul with a skeptical eye – given the pattern of neglect that some Republicans who worship “small government” have wrought.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Censoring Christmas

I just got this from the Catholic League. The beat goes on.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue commented today on efforts to censor Christmas:
“We haven’t hit December yet and already the politically correct police are out in force trying to censor Christmas. Here’s a sample:

· For 75 years, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce sponsored the ‘Hollywood Christmas Parade.’ When it refused to sponsor the parade this year, the L.A. City Council took over, renaming it the ‘Hollywood Santa Parade.’
· The Department of Housing and Urban Development has censored Christmas religious symbols from its housing complexes.
· No Christmas decorations are allowed on school buses in parts of Vermont.
· A Jewish public official in Wisconsin wants to rename the State Capitol Holiday Tree the Christmas Tree, but is being opposed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
· Chattanooga has banned a live nativity scene from its public festivities.
· Sonoma City Council has nixed religious displays on the Plaza.
· Voters in Berkley, Michigan have forbidden a crèche at City Hall.
· Fort Collins, Colorado says it is okay to have green and red lights outside city buildings, but only secular symbols are allowed inside.
· After Briarcliff Manor, New York was ordered to erect a crèche next to a menorah, the village elected to ban all religious symbols.
· Residents in Olean, New York are fighting over privately owned nativity scenes being displayed in city parks.
· A nativity scene in front of the Ypsilanti Township fire hall in Michigan has been banned.
· No religious symbols are allowed in Seattle-Tacoma airport, but trees made of cardboard are legit.
· Nativity scenes at Texas Tech are not permissible, but a tree is okay. The official in charge says, ‘We’re not saying it’s a holiday tree, because it’s a Christmas tree, but we choose to do a tasteful tree that really anybody can embrace.’ Great idea!
“There you have it. The multicultural monsters are rearing their ugly heads once again, showing what they really mean by tolerance for diversity.”


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cardinal laments Catholics turning into evangelicals

A Vatican official has noticed that many Catholics are leaving the Church for evangelical churches, and is wondering what we are doing wrong in the battle for souls.


Cardinal Walter Kasper, the head of the Vatican's office for relations with other Christians, said to fellow cardinals that church must undergo a "self-critical pastoral examination of conscience" to confront the "exponential" rise of Pentecostal movements.

"We shouldn't begin by asking ourselves what is wrong with the Pentecostals, but what our own pastoral shortcomings are," Kasper told the gathering, noting that such evangelical and charismatic groups count 400 million faithful around the world.

Cardinal, I wrote an article about this a decade ago when I was a Catholic journalist. This is old news.

At least this is coming from a Cardinal, and not from a humble journalist. The reaction to my piece was a threatened boycott of the diocesan newspaper by a number of offended pastors (who were and still are losing members of their flocks to the evangelical churches).

But back to the Cardinal.

The Vatican is apparently increasingly concerned about the rise of Protestant evangelical communities, which it describes as "sects," in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere, and the resulting flight of Catholics.

In Brazil alone, Roman Catholics used to account for about 90 percent of the population in the 1960s; by 2005, it was down to 67 percent.

The stats here in U.S. would probably be eye-opening. I remember going to a rapidly growing Assembly of God to research the article. About 70 percent of the congregation were former Catholics. In fact, most of the minsters and pastoral staff members were former Catholics.

I found similar patterns in the other growing evangelical churches I visited. Lots of former Catholics, often in leadership positions.

Among the reason cited by the people I interviewed:

Enthusiastic leadership.
Better preaching.
Better music.
Congregations encouraged to be active in worship and in running the church.
Warmer welcoming environments.

I remember at one church I visited - one with more than 1000 members at the time.

It was recognized almost immediately that I was new there. I was warmly greeted by several people (ushers?), an assistant pastor, and the youth minister - all while I was still in the entry area. They regarded it as part of their ministry to greet people.

Talk about feeling welcomed!

Oh, and the collection would put almost any Catholic Church to shame. People really did believe in tithing.

So when was the last time you felt welcomed at a Catholic Church?

As for worship. Good preaching? Enthusiasm? Lively music? Right.

The universal reaction I get when talking to fellow Catholics about Mass is it's dull.

Yeah, I know that one of the arguments is that the evangelical churches offer a "shallow" faith for many folks, one based on emotion rather than deep belief.

There's a point to that.

But you'd think we could try to add some of that energy to our own worship. Even just making people feel welcome would be a help.

That's something each one of us can do.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hawk haiku

Crisp autumn day
freshly-filled bird feeder -
red tailed hawk waits

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Saturday, November 17, 2007


I was asked if I wanted to be a Huckabee delegate to the national convention if he wins New York. I said yes, depending on when the convention is.

I thought it would be August. It's September 1-4. School starts on the 2nd. As principal/lead teacher, I can't justify taking off the first week of school.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Huckabee leads Catholic Radio Poll

Ave Maria Radio is running a poll on the Republican Presidential candidates. The results thus far:

Rudy Giuliani 5%
Mike Huckabee 35%
John McCain 11%
Mitt Romney 14%
Fred Thompson 16%
Other 19%

So far, Huckabee is clearly winning.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Go ahead: Say "Merry Christmas!"

Every year we hear about the Grinches who try to undermine Christmas - from fighting displays to even curbing the right to wish people "Merry Christmas."

The Catholic Daughters of the Americas in one parish in the Diocese of Rochester is taking action when it comes to the greeting.

The CDA court at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Brockport is selling green buttons that read, "It's OK to say Merry Christmas to me!"

They've ordered a thousand of the buttons, and they are reportedly selling well this year.

Not only are the buttons intended to help keep the Christmas spirit alive, but they also draw attention to the CDA. It's a worthy social and service organization started by Knights of Columbus members back in 1903.

The Brockport group got the idea from a CDA court in Sparkill, N.Y. (Court John Paul II).

You can call the the Brockport CDA at 585-637-6325 to get information about the buttons. Maybe other groups and courts could do the same. What a positive way to buck the trend.

It would be great if they all sold out, and we heard "Merry Christmas!" at area stores.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Catholics for Huckabee

More and more Catholics are starting to take a serious look at Mike Huckabee for Presdient.

He has a clear pro-life record, and clearly faith plays a major role in his life.

But he's not Catholic. A few folks say we should support a Catholic like Alan Keyes.

Now, I've always liked Keyes - the man can give a great speech - but I don't think he's electable, and he lacks executive experience. He's a good man, and I'd like to see him get a role in a pro-life administration.

Huckabee may not be perfect, but he has a chance. He's slowly rising in the Republican polls while the front runners are stalled (he's already polling ahead of Mitt Romney among the Republicans in the Daily Rasmussen Tracking Poll).

The Democrats are not offering pro-lifers any real choices this time around.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Huckabee article

The Washington Post has an interesting piece on Mike Huckabee:

One part of it reads:

Huckabee is for real -- a man poised to go further on the national stage than any other candidate produced by the Christian conservative movement. Sure, some pundits still write him off, and back home, detractors insist that he's just angling for a plum Cabinet post. But you can spot an awfully convincing blueprint for how the candidate once tagged as "the hillbilly Ronald Reagan" could win the Republican nomination -- or end up as the inevitable vice presidential pick on a GOP ticket led by Rudy Giuliani. That's more than you can say for some of Huckabee's rivals.

Well, Reagan is not a selling point with me - and if he's vp on Giuliani's ticket I'll consider him a hypocrite (and someone I won't vote for).