Sunday, December 30, 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

France to Consider Euthanasia Legislation

The French government has announced that it will introduce legislation allowing assisted suicide and some forms of euthanasia. A report by the former head of the national bioethics commission, Didier Sicard, was given to President Fran├žois Hollande. Legislation could be presented to the National Assembly as early as June.

"The existing legislation does not meet the legitimate concerns expressed by people who are gravely and incurably ill," Hollande told the media this week.

Sicard professes to be a foe of legalised euthanasia. However, his three main proposals do involve ending life without consent. He says that death should be "accelerated" if patients ask for it or if they have made an advance directive. In a second scenario, doctors could withdraw nutrition and hydration at the request of relatives of an unconscious person. And third, doctors could withdraw nutrition and hydration from persons in a permanent vegetative state.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Human Cloning Predicted

This year's Nobel Prize in Medicine co-laureate, English scientist Sir John Gurdon, has predicted that within 50 years it will be possible to clone babies. Although mammals have been cloned, all attempts to clone humans have failed. Many of the animals have been deformed.

Sir John feels that the public will overcome its revulsion at cloning if they perceive that it offers health benefits. He said: "I take the view that anything you can do to relieve suffering or improve human health will usually be widely accepted by the public - that is to say if cloning actually turned out to be solving some problems and was useful to people, I think it would be accepted."

Sir John was the first researcher to clone an animal - a frog, back in 1962. He was speaking on BBC Radio Four's program The Life Scientific.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

California's Ban on "Conversion Therapies"

California's legislature has voted to ban therapies which seek to the change sexual orientation of minors. The law, which will become effective January 1, has Christian groups worried that parents of teenagers with unwanted homosexual attractions will be deprived of an important means of providing for the psychological health of their children. Legislators claim that the law is necessary to protect children from abusive interventions which may cause lasting harm.

Conversion therapies are psychological treatments which purport to be able to alter a person's sexual orientation. Proponents of these therapies believe that homosexuality is a mutable condition which has psychological roots, usually arising as a result of wounds in early childhood. Reparative therapy, one of the popular variants, seeks to alter the homosexual condition by helping the client to repair broken relationships with their father and with same-sex peers.

It is hard to judge the effectiveness of these treatments.

The first difficulty lies in what people mean by “sexual orientation”. Many Christians who hold the traditional position on homosexuality see someone who abandons homosexual activity and achieves a stable heterosexual marriage as “straight”, even if that person continues to experience some degree of same-sex attraction. Most people within the LGBTQ community would see such a person as bisexual, or as a gay person who only has cross-orientation sex. The first view makes sexual orientation a question of behaviour; the second a question of feelings.

In popular discourse, sexual orientation is generally understood as a pattern of physical attraction. This is problematic because it conflates involuntary physical arousal with a capacity for on-going emotional intimacy, fidelity and sustainable desire. Most people will recognize that there is not necessarily a direct relationship between immediate attraction and success in long-term relationships. A man who prefers blondes may happily marry a brunette, and a woman who is attracted to aggressive, dominating types may find it impossible to sustain an emotionally fulfilling relationship with such men.

Unfortunately, prominent reparative and conversion therapists are often unclear about what they are promising to change. Sometimes they merely claim that their treatments will help homosexually attracted individuals deal with their unwanted attractions; but in other contexts they seem to be offering complete remission from all homosexual thoughts and impulses. This can be very confusing for potential clients, and for the parents of children with same-sex attractions.

Organizations offering these therapies also tend to give confusing reports concerning rates of success. When someone like Dr Joseph Nicolosi, a therapist with NARTH, claims that a third of his clients are successfully treated by reparative therapy, the casual listener will naturally form the impression that a very significant percentage of clients are able to go on to have successful heterosexual relationships. This is highly misleading. Most people who are successfully treated by conversion therapies achieve chastity, not heterosexuality.

There are no controlled, longitudinal, peer-reviewed studies examining the likelihood of long-term heterosexual functioning amongst former clients of conversion therapies. However, the best available study, published by Jones and Yarhouse in 2007, followed a group of homosexuals seeking orientation change through the supports offered by Exodus International. The study findings were modest: 15 percent of respondents reported “orientation change”, with a larger group reporting that the program helped them to be chaste. It is not known what percentage of these respondents have gone on to enjoy successful heterosexual marriages.

That said, it is not impossible for a homosexual to have a happy marriage with an opposite-sex spouse. My own experience speaks to that: I am same-sex attracted, but have chosen heterosexual marriage for a combination of religious and personal reasons. I would not say, however, that I have achieved orientation change. I am not attracted to men, I am in love with a man. This is typical of the real experience of “ex-gays”: usually what changes is not the underlying pattern of attraction but rather the sort of relationship that a person chooses to pursue.

It's important to make this distinction. A lot of anger within the gay community stems from those who have suffered because of false expectations, including people who entered into heterosexual marriages in the mistaken belief that they were “cured.” My own marriage has been successful and continues to be deeply fulfilling because both my husband and myself have been willing to engage honestly and authentically with the issues surrounding my sexual identity. This has allowed me to exercise moral freedom with respect to my sexuality without having to alter my personality or practice self-deception.

There are some homosexual people who have found therapy helpful in overcoming obstacles that prevent them from having successful opposite sex relationships. These obstacles are usually much the same as the difficulties which exclusively heterosexual people experience: difficulty trusting, poor relationship role-modelling within the family of origin, unresolved traumas, deep-seated insecurities, emotional barriers and so forth. These are psychological difficulties which any secular therapist would happily treat. In so far as conversion therapies address issues of this sort they may be helpful – though they may not ultimately lead to the elimination of homosexual desires or to heterosexual marriage.

Clients must, however, have the right to receive accurate information about treatment in order to form realistic expectations and goals. I have tried diligently to uncover ex-gay success stories, and have so far not found anyone who has experienced a complete elimination of same-sex desires over the long haul. Chambers and other Exodus leaders have recently distanced themselves from conversion therapies because they have found the same thing within their ministry.

While it is generally not possible to eliminate homosexual desire, there are people who have found therapy helpful in learning to integrate their same-sex attractions with their religious convictions. Others have found that by resolving issues in their past, they are able to have increased self-awareness and greater moral autonomy when it comes to their sexuality. Therapeutic models which concentrate on helping people achieve chastity and self-possession are less controversial and seem to be more effective than models which focus on changing people's underlying pattern of attraction.

Some therapists acknowledge this. They are very conscientious, deal honestly with their clients, will not work with patients who are unable to fully consent, and use only responsible means. These therapists do not harm their patients. Other therapists, however, use morally questionable means, make false claims about the efficacy of treatment, and blame the client when treatment fails. Former clients of such therapies report that treatment increased feelings of shame, guilt, self-loathing and depression without in any way allaying homosexual desire.

Adults who have chosen to undergo therapy are in a position to change therapists or to abandon treatment if they find that the therapy does more harm than good. Minors who are forced into therapy by adult authority figures do not have this option. Even if young people are theoretically seeking treatment under their own power, many feel intense pressure to overcome homosexual desires in order to please their parents, and some fear punishment or recrimination if they fail. Unscrupulous therapists often market their services primarily to parents and guardians, preying on the hopes and fears of those who have the ability to place adolescents in treatment.

Moreover, conscientious therapists openly state that conversion therapy does not have any real chance of working unless it is freely chosen by the client. Teenage dependants are not in a position to make a free choice of this kind.

The more legitimate forms of conversion therapy rely on the theory that homosexuality arises as a result of other psychological causes. If these theories are accurate, then the benefits of treatment should be accrued by patients who are treated for the underlying condition, even if homosexuality is not directly addressed. If parents are concerned that their child's homosexuality might be evidence of problems within the dynamics of the family, they should seek family counselling to remedy those dynamics. If they fear that their child may be suffering the long-term effects of early childhood bullying or rejection by same-sex peers, they should seek help to heal those wounds.

Treatment which focuses on the overall psychological health of the child or of the family is not prohibited by law in any jurisdiction; neither is it likely ever to be. Additionally, such treatment avoids the risk of placing a child in a therapeutic situation where they may suffer harm as a result of unscrupulous or dishonest practices.

Melinda Selmys is the author of Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism. She is a homeschool mother with six children, writes for the National Catholic Register, and has published articles in numerous other venues. Her blog,, explores issues surrounding faith and sexuality.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Neolithic Medical Care

An article in the New York Times this week highlighted the life of a young man in northern Vietnam between 3,700 to 4,500 years ago. "M9" as archeologists have named him, was paralyzed from the waist down and would have had very limited upper body mobility. Yet he apparently lived into his early 30s.

How was survival possible in a subsistence Neolithic community? The answer, writes Lorna Tilley, of Australian National University, in the International Journal of Paleopathology was round-the-clock, high quality personal care. This would have included regular bathing, toileting, massaging, and turning to avoid pressure sores.

Ms Tilley and her co-author make some interesting observations about the ethics of care. In modern society, people with extreme disability often succumb to depression, sometimes resulting in suicide either directly, or indirectly by refusing care. In a Neolithic community depression would have been lethal.

Survival, therefore, meant that the young man lived in "a secure, emotionally-supportive, inclusive environment in which care was provided ungrudgingly, enabling M9 to grow to adulthood, to develop a role for himself within the group, to retain a sense of self-respect, and to interact with others in his community at whatever level was possible. In view of the prolonged and particularly demanding nature of the care provided, it seems justifiable to speculate that the carers' motivations included compassion, respect and affection."

As for M9 himself, the "bioarcheologists" suggest that he must have had a remarkable personality. "M9's prolonged survival with disability suggests an extraordinarily strong will to live; a robust psychological adaptation; a self-esteem capable of overcoming the complete loss of independence; and a personality capable of inspiring others to maintain high quality and costly care over time."

This is not the only example of a prehistoric ethic of care. A Neanderthal who lived in Iraq 45,000 years ago survived cranial trauma, amputation of his right arm, other injuries and osteomyelitis thanks to the care of his community. A skeleton dating back 10,000 years ago in Calabria exhibited signs of severe dwarfism. Since the young man would not have been able to keep up with other tribesmen in searching for food, his companions must have accommodated his handicaps.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Blessed Nativity Feast to All

Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders; And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Paki Clerics Disavow Killing of Healthcare Workers

Some of Pakistan's most influential Islamic clerics are calling for nationwide protests December 21 against the killings of healthcare workers who were attempting to administer polio vaccines.

The head of the Pakistan Ulema Council Tahir Ashrafi said some 24,000 mosques associated with his organization would preach against the killings of healthcare workers during Friday prayers.

Ashrafi said 'neither Pakistani customs nor Islam would endorse this, far from doing wrong these girls are martyrs for Islam because they were doing a service to humanity and Islam.'

He added that Pakistan's leading Islamic groups had endorsed the campaign.

'All big Islamic organizations have passed a 'fatwa' (Islamic ruling) in favor of the polio campaign,' Ashrafi said, 'Whoever says that this campaign is un-Islamic is saying something that is totally un-Islamic.'

Nine polio workers, mostly young women, have been killed in Pakistan this week prompting authorities to suspend the vaccination campaign in some areas of the country.

Islamic extremists claim the campaign is a front for U.S. spies and point to Shakil Afrifi, a Pakistani physician who helped U.S. intelligence establish a fake vaccine program in Abbotabad, the hideout of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Afridi's work helped ascertain the presence of bin Laden in Abbotabad leading to the U.S. Special Forces raid that killed the Al-Qaeda leader in 2011.

Ashrafi insisted that there is a big difference between Afridi and the healthcare workers killed in Pakistan this week.

'Whatever Shakil Afridi did was treason against his country and against his profession,' he said. 'But that certainly does not mean that you can kill innocent people to avenge that, or that you can say that we would much rather let our children become cripples.'

Maulana Asadullah Farooq of Lahore's Jamia Manzur Islamia, one of the biggest madrassahs, or Islamic theological schools, in Pakistan said he had also put out a call for the protest at Pakistani madrassahs.

'We are also passing a resolution condemning the barbaric and uncivilized attacks and those who carried out the attacks,' he said.

He added, 'the killers of these girls are not worthy of being called Muslims or human beings.'

Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio remains endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Ashrafi noted that the girls participating in the antipolio vaccination program were paid the equivalent of just $2 per day.

'They were there because of their essential goodness,' he said, 'think of what their families are going through.'

Source:  Radio Free Europe

St. Ambrose of Milan on the Nativity

"He was a baby, He was a child,

so that you might be a perfect man;

He was wrapped in swaddling clothes,

that you might be loosed from the snares of death;

He was in a manger, so that you might be in the altar;

He on earth, that you might be in the stars.

He had no other place in the inn,

that you might have many mansions in the Heavens.

He, it says, being rich, became poor for your sakes,

that through His poverty you might be rich.

Therefore, His poverty is my inheritance,

and the Lord's weakness is my virtue.

He chose to lack for Himself,

that He might abound for all."

-- Saint Ambrose of Milan

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Ascendancy of the Anglican Church in North America

Anglican Archbishop Robert Duncan 
meets with Pope Benedict XVI

Archbishop Duncan and the head of GAFCON met privately with Pope Benedict, but the outcome of that conversation has yet to be made public.

The Anglican Church in North America has achieved wide recognition in church circles. Archbishop Robert Duncan recently preached at the enthronement of Uganda’s new Anglican primate, the Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali.

The second Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) has been set for October 2013 in Athens and The Anglican Church in North American will be well represented.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz and Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori are petrified that the new Archbishop of Canterbury will recognize Archbishop Bob Duncan and the Anglican Church in North America as an emerging Anglican province. Hiltz and Schori insist that their jurisdictions are the only legitimate expressions of Anglicanism in North America, yet neither has been granted a private meeting with Pope Benedict.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Polio Vaccinators Gunned Down in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Dec 21: The government has not announced any comprehensive plan for the security of polio vaccinators, even though nine of them have been gunned down in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa this week.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has described the deaths as a result of the ‘failure of intelligence agencies’ to predict the attacks.

“Provision of security to health workers is not the duty of the federal government. I believe these attacks have exposed the failure of our intelligence agencies,” Mr Malik told Dawn on Friday.

The minister said the group involved in the killing of health workers was highly organised and knew the schedule of polio teams. “I don’t know what our intelligence agencies are doing,” he said.

About the security measures for polio vaccinators, he said providing protection to the health workers was the responsibility of the provincial governments, especially after the passage of 18th Amendment. The interior ministry had issued guidelines for the security of polio workers to all provincial governments, he added.

“We don’t know what plan has been made for the security and safety of polio workers by the interior ministry,” President’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.

He, however, said that President Asif Ali Zardari had given strict directives to the interior minister to chalk out a comprehensive plan for the protection of health workers.

Source:  Pakistan Dawn

Chinese Generate Brain Cells From Urine

Writing in the journal Nature Methods, scientists from Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that they were able to reprogram the urine cells to become neural cells without passing through pluripotency. They did this with a clever technique which did not involve shuttling genes from genetically engineered viruses into the target cell. This seems to result in harmful mutations.

The report states that "eprogram epithelial-like cells from human urine into NPCs (hUiNPCs). These transgene-free hUiNPCs can self-renew and can differentiate into multiple functional neuronal subtypes and glial cells in vitro. Although functional in vivo analysis is still needed, we report that the cells survive and differentiate upon transplant into newborn rat brain.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Is Peter Singer Joining the Transhumanism Movement?

Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer has hopped onto the anti-ageing bandwagon. Writing in Project Syndicate, he says that he has been convinced by Aubrey de Grey, the world's most prominent advocate of anti-aging research. De Grey contends that since 90% of deaths in developed countries are ultimately due to ageing, ageing - not cancer or diabetes and cardiac disease - is the real enemy.

De Grey believes that even modest progress in this area over the coming decade could lead to a dramatic extension of the human lifespan. All we need to do is reach what he calls “longevity escape velocity” – that is, the point at which we can extend life sufficiently to allow time for further scientific progress to permit additional extensions, and thus further progress and greater longevity. Speaking recently at Princeton University, de Grey said: “We don’t know how old the first person who will live to 150 is today, but the first person to live to 1,000 is almost certainly less than 20 years younger.”

Singer has said, "De Grey might be mistaken, but if there is only a small chance that he is right, the huge pay-offs make anti-aging research a better bet than areas of medical research that are currently far better funded."

There are ethical questions here. Is it better to spend scarce research money on saving poor people with short life expectancies from dread diseases or on making rich people in developed countries healthier and longer-lived? As Singer points out, "If we discover how to slow aging, we might have a world in which the poor majority must face death at a time when members of the rich minority are only one-tenth of the way through their expected lifespans". However, de Grey seems to have persuaded him that extremely long life spans are imminent. As the science develops, its price will plummet and the poor will be able to share in the benefits of living longer, possibly as long as 1,000 years.

Greater longevity would bring social benefits. All over the world, populations are ageing and the proportion of younger, tax-paying workers is shrinking. If we have more years of youthful energy, this could help to alleviate the demographic problem.

Singer also poses an interesting ethical question about the future of a world where people can live hundreds of years:

"The population objection raises a deeper philosophical question. If our planet has a finite capacity to support human life, is it better to have fewer people living longer lives, or more people living shorter lives? One reason for thinking it better to have fewer people living longer lives is that only those who are born know what death deprives them of; those who do not exist cannot know what they are missing."

Related reading:  Max Moore's Transhumanism

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Marriage is Worth the Fight

Public opinion, the methods and messaging of LGBT activists, and social reality all converge on a simple fact: marriage is worth fighting for and we can win.

By Luis Tellez

Election Day was a drubbing for marriage in the United States. The ballot initiatives to protect marriage lost by over 4% in Maine, Minnesota, Washington State, and Maryland. Those who support same-sex “marriage” reportedly spent over $33 million, while those who defend marriage spent just over $10 million.

Many friends have said that same-sex marriage is inevitable. It is not. I have confidence that fence-sitters will enter the fray in support of traditional marriage. As we continue to debate this issue, three important forces can shift the outcome in favor of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Consider first, public opinion; second, the methods and the message of LGBT activists; and third, reality.

Public Opinion Gives Marriage a Fighting Chance

The American public offers differing levels of assent to same-sex marriage, depending on how the survey questions are worded. Psychologically, it matters how questions are asked. Consider these facts:

1. Data from the New Family Structures Study (NFSS) shows 24% of the young-adult population on the fence, saying they’re “not sure” when asked whether “it should be legal for gays and lesbians to marry in America.” There’s more support than antagonism, but not a majority on either side, given the nearly one-quarter who remain on the sidelines.

2. A national post-election survey conducted on Election Day by The Polling Company, Inc., showed that 60% of American voters agree that “marriage is between one man and one woman,” while only 34% disagree. Another poll two months earlier showed that 57% were in agreement.

3. After their Election Day victories, same-sex marriage advocates stated that they will continue to prioritize expanding the legal recognition of same-sex relationships as marriages through legislatures and the courts, not through public vote. This is a continuation of their past policy that avoided putting the issue up for a direct citizen vote (the ballot initiatives in Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota were initiated by supporters of traditional marriage; only Maine was their choice to repeal our side’s ballot measure of 2009). This indicates their lack of confidence in their ability to get enough votes.

4. Six New York state senators were ousted from office after they abandoned their constituents to vote in favor of same-sex marriage. Five of those senators lost their re-election bids this year, in large part due to their change of position on marriage; the sixth retired rather than face re-election.

5. “Third Day,” a Democratic organization’s own survey revealed that on a scale of 0 – 10, with 10 being the most in favor, 26% labeled themselves 9 – 10 in favor of same-sex marriage, compared to 30% who said they were 0 -1; 44% were somewhere in the middle. Only 32% said they would be glad if same-sex couples could marry; 37% said that would not be acceptable.

Despite large sums spent—as happened this November when gay activists spent a whopping $33 million—the notion that marriage is between a man and a woman continues to hold sway; and, no matter how hard activists try, it seems impossible to strip it away from the human heart of a very substantial portion of people. It is the reality of common sense deeply embedded in the human heart.

Methods and Message

Efforts by the LGBT movement to make school curricula more sympathetic to the gay agenda continue to raise concerns among parents. So much so that leaders of the LGBT movement have had to adjust. In the November 7 article in Slate, titled “How Marriage Finally Won at the Polls,” Nathaniel Frank explains how the coalition of LGBT activists working to pass gay marriage in Maine and Maryland revised their message strategy to counter the “Princess” ad prepared by Frank Schubert. Here is what Nathaniel Frank writes:

'Thalia Zepatos of Freedom To Marry, who oversees the coalition’s messaging research, describes another revelation from the data. Schubert’s misleading “princess” ads implied that schools could usurp the role of parents in teaching pro-gay values, but that was wrong. As Zepatos and her team pored over the research, they watched conversations in which voters spoke among themselves and kept circling back to the same insight: Parents are the parents, and they teach their kids values at home. The challenge, Zepatos and her colleagues determined, was to reassure voters about this conclusion. Parents knew they had the control, but the Schubert ads—which in the past have killed a pro-gay lead in the polls at the last minute—made them anxious about losing it.'

LGBT activists have had to go out of their way to reassure parents they are in charge of teaching values to their children, given the powerful evidence provided by Schubert, and experienced by many parents.

A 2011 Research Report issued by the Democratic think tank Third Way, and used to develop the 2012 campaign to win the state ballot initiatives, stated among its six key findings that: “It is crucial to include reaffirmation of religious liberty protections as a significant part of supporters’ message framework.” And as the public is aware, it is increasingly being proclaimed by politicians working to pass gay marriage that religious liberty protections are being provided.

But this is misleading. As Jane Robbins and Emmett McGroarty show in their Public Discourse article “Mandating Our Religious Freedom,” the current Progressive movement, of which LGBT activists are a core constituency, is clearly moving in the opposite direction. And in a more recent Public Discoursearticle “A War on Religion?” Bruce Hausknecht provides examples contrary to the message LGBT leaders are now using to win.

Reality: Distinguishing What Is Myth from What Is True

The Left now has the White House (for four more years), in addition to the universities, Hollywood, large portions of the media, and high-tech industry.

But can this reliance on the power of the elite institutions be sustained in the long run? Perhaps, if the majority of the people come to accept that to flourish one is to be allowed to do whatever one wants regarding sexual practices. I submit that the majority of people do not grasp that this is the message of the LGBT movement, and as they do grasp it, they will shift to the view that our sexuality has boundaries and is ordained toward something greater than whatever we want.

Don’t take it from me; take it from Dan Savage as quoted by Mark Oppenheimer’s New York Times article, “Married with Infidelities”:

'Savage believes monogamy is right for many couples. But he believes that our discourse about it, and about sexuality more generally, is dishonest. Some people need more than one partner, he writes, just as some people need flirting, others need to be whipped, others need lovers of both sexes. We can’t help our urges, and we should not lie to our partners about them. In some marriages, talking honestly about our needs will forestall or obviate affairs; in other marriages, the conversation may lead to an affair, but with permission. In both cases, honesty is the best policy.'

Social science research shows us, and a growing body of journalistic reporting reveals, that gay men are not interested in permanent monogamous relationships. Lesbians are more apt to be monogamous, but less apt to remain together long-term. One myth that LGBT activists push is that marriage is what most homosexual people want. Will the provision of marriage cause gay and lesbian Americans to enter lasting and stable relationships en masse? Unlikely. Another myth that the activists push is the “no differences” thesis: the claim that there are no differences in outcomes for children parented by heterosexual couples or homosexual couples.

The sonogram helped people see the unborn child in the womb and realize it is alive; it made a powerful case for life. Similarly, we have to expose the myths of the gay marriage movement. Several events of 2012 have brought us closer to that goal.

First, in a peer-reviewed research paper published in the prestigious journalSocial Science Research, titled “Same-sex parenting and children’s outcomes: A closer examination of the American psychological association’s brief on lesbian and gay parenting,” Professor Loren Marks of Louisiana State University’s School of Human Ecology reviews the 59 studies referenced in the 2005 American Psychological Association brief that supported the “no differences” thesis. Marks concludes:

'To restate, not one of the 59 studies referenced in the 2005 APA Brief compares a large, random, representative sample of lesbian or gay parents and their children with a large, random, representative sample of married parents and their children. The available data, which are drawn primarily from small convenience samples, are insufficient to support a strong generalizable claim either way. Such a statement would not be grounded in science.'

Second, Mark Regnerus’s New Family Structures Study (NFSS) uses the second-largest nationally representative sample (ever) to measure a host of outcomes in which the adult children of intact biological families fare better than any other combination, including children raised by a mother or a father who has been in a gay or a lesbian relationship. Its results also show something striking and unexpected: only two out of 15,000 young Americans screened for the survey reported spending their entire childhood with two lesbian parents; none reported the same with two gay fathers. Children, of course, don’t fare as well when there is a lack of stability in the home.

Third, scores of people who read the Regnerus study were inspired to reveal even more about the gay subculture; and, yes, by their accounts, the Regnerus study depicts reality far better than shows like Modern Family and The New Normal. Surprised? Most of these people will remain nameless, rather than submit themselves to unwanted hostility. But expect more of them to step up as witnesses to the lies that undergird the movement for same-sex marriage. See, for example, Robert Lopez’s Public Discourse essay “Growing Up With Two Moms: The Untold Children’s View.”

Fourth, legal cases are mounting against the discrimination, harassment, and loss of jobs for people who do not support same-sex marriage. A new growth industry is the pro bono legal associations to protect freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and more recently the newly created Freedom of Conscience Fund. It is very laudable that trained professionals are stepping up to defend civil liberties; one may hope this will continue to awaken the conscience of the public.

Ultimately, the future of marriage will not be decided by our likes or our dislikes. Human suffering will periodically remind us that losing a healthy marriage culture produces all kinds of practical costs and penalties. These are measured by those social pathologies that impose a great weight on our society, such as depression, addiction, violence, and illness, as well as missed educational and economic opportunities. However you slice it, the intact biological family continues to be the best “Department of Health, Education and Welfare” when it comes to raising the next generation. Marriage is worth fighting for, even if we lose. Because remember, LGBT activists will lose too as they bring us all down. And that is a sobering thought.

Luis Tellez is President of the Witherspoon Institute.

From here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Where is our National Spine?

By the Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie on Sunday, December 16, 2012

William Bullitt was born in Philadelphia to family of wealthy lawyers and railroad magnates. After graduating from Yale in 1912, he covered the First World War as a correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledgerand later joined the State Department.

In 1918 President Woodrow Wilson took Bullitt with him to attend the Paris Peace Conference. Bullitt and six other diplomats soon resigned protesting the terms of the Versailles Treaty. “This isn’t a treaty of peace,” wrote Bullitt. “I can see at least eleven wars in it.”

President Roosevelt appointed Bullitt as the American ambassador to France in 1936. Bullitt witnessed the storm clouds of war building across Europe. Four years later, when the French government left Paris on June 10, 1940, the streets were silent. The stores were shut. The French left Bullitt, an American, in charge of Paris.

As he attended a prayer service two days later at Cathedral of Notre Dame, Bullitt was seen weeping for the city that he loved. The Secretary of State urged him to leave Paris, but Bullitt believed it his duty to stay and take a stand. Paris was surrounded by the German army. When a Frenchmen fired on German truce officers on the outskirts of Paris, the Germans ordered an all-out air and artillery assault to destroy Paris the following morning.

Bullitt had only a few hours to save one of Europe’s greatest cities. Two and a half hours before Paris was to be destroyed, Bullitt persuaded the Germans to call off the attack His intervention spared the City of Lights. He took a stand and made a difference. One of the greatest things that you can ever do in your life is to stand and make a difference.

Sometimes evil lurks on the horizon, and we can see it slowly advancing. We saw it with Hitler and Stalin. We have watched it recently in Syria and see it in Russia, China, North Korea and Egypt. Other times, evil bursts out of nowhere without warning as it did on Friday when a psychologically deranged young man killed 26 people – most of them children. It was the second worst school massacre in US history. “Our hearts are broken today,” said President Obama. He spoke for all of us.

“Evil visited this community today,” said the governor of Connecticut. He was right. Innocent children had their lives cut short. This morning, I ask you, “Can we take a stand? Can we make a difference to prevent senseless violence?”

In response to a reporter’s question about whether this was an appropriate time to speak about gun control, President Obama said, “Today is not the day.” I admire many aspects of our President, but I think that he was categorically wrong. We keep postponing the conversation about gun control. To speak about it now is not to politicize the shootings or to take advantage of them for any reason, it is rather to say we must stop this madness. We must take a stand.

How long can we live in denial? How long can we shed our collective responsibility? How long can we allow our elected congressman, senators, governors and president to be more focused on re-election than protection, on securing campaign funds than securing our children’s safety, and on kowtowing to the National Rifle Association instead of doing the right thing?

Friday’s attack comes after a year of fatal shootings in movie theaters, shopping malls, street corners and city sidewalks across America. Since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 there have been over 40 school massacres in our country and hundreds of potentially similar acts that were stopped before they were carried out. Have we grown so accustomed to reading and watching violence that we expect it to be part of our daily life and even school life?

I for one am sickened by our country’s proclivity for weapons and violence. We feast on violent films, police shows and violent video games such as Assassin’s Creed, which shows you how to load assault weapons and kill, and we wonder why psychologically disturbed Americans mimic what they see and what we know to be wrong. The problem is complex. It involves an entertainment industry that grows rich on providing violent content. We are wrong to purchase, and we are wrong to watch it. It involves how we fail to care for the fragile and psychologically disturbed, to identify people who could be dangerous and reach out to help them.

There are complexities involved in protecting people’s freedom while insuring that they cannot harm others. We have to do a better job. I believe that we must also develop stronger gun laws. The killer in Newtown fired over a100 rounds of ammunition in a few minutes. No one should be allowed access to guns that can do such damage. His mother was also culpable for owning and not securing weapons of such force and taking her son often to a shooting range.

Our Founding Fathers never dreamed of assault weapons and this kind of firepower we now have when they called for the right to bear arms in the Constitution. You and I can go out and buy a semi-automatic weapon today quicker and easier than renewing our driver’s license. American politicians are silent and impotent on this issue. They are in the pocket of the NRA. I am told that starting halfway across Pennsylvania our commonwealth becomes ultra conservative with hunters who won’t support any gun control. Do we lack the spine to stand up to them and make a difference?

Each year 100,000 Americans are shot by a bullet, and 30,000 of them die. We grieve that more than 50,000 Americans died in Vietnam, but every two years more Americans die from gun violence. It is senseless. Our nation is pouring billions of dollars into protecting our citizenry from terrorism, yet our own citizens are terrorizing us with guns.

Thirty years ago, I worked as a police reporter. I had an office at the newspaper and one at the police department. On my office wall at the police department was a poster with a red, white and blue revolver. It read, “Last year, handguns killed six persons in England, two in Scotland, five in France, 11 in Germany, 14 in Australia, and 23,431 in the United States. God bless the United States.”

One day, I attended a gun show as a reporter and slid my reporters pad into my pocket. “Looking for an automatic weapon, buddy,” asked one gun dealer. “This is a semi-automatic weapon, but a guy over there sells a kit that can make this into go automatic.” Another dealer tried to sell me a device that would allow me to launch a grenade from a rifle. No citizen should have these things – not one.

Gun dealers are a danger to our society, and I deeply regret not having done more as a priest to speak out and do more to prevent violence. Hillary and I are meeting on Tuesday with local clergy who have committed to address this issue. We want your ideas about how we can make a difference. Tell us how we can work together to make a difference.

What if we could start a movement with churches to promote gun control? What if we took a stand? Could we make a difference? Like Ambassador Bullitt intervening to spare the City of Light, could we do the right thing? We launched The Bible Challenge in 2011. Today, over 2,000 churches in 30 countries are participating. Could we do something similar for gun control?

Our church in particular and Episcopalians in general are great with outreach. We serve the poor, and we brighten futures. Working to change society and pass legislation, however, is slow, unglamorous work. It doesn’t bear quick fruit or make us feel good overnight. We may wait for years to see any result. Waging war on guns is an action that we must do together. Can we take a stand? Can we make a difference?

I was at a party several years ago with Governor Rendall, and we spoke about how politicians and churches could work together to reduce violence. He agreed. I gave him my card. He promised to have someone contact me. I never heard a word. Like most politicians I think he lacks the courage to stand up to the National Rifle Association.

The NRA is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in America. I believe that the NRA is a force for evil. Jesus knew that evil is often masked as something good. When the NRA lobbied to stop the government from banning “cop killer bullets,” I knew that they were immoral. Every NRA supporter must bear collective responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans each year.

While it may not cheer you to hear a sermon like this before Christmas and I don’t relish doing it, we must use our pulpits to speak out. Jesus must be shocked by our inability to speak and act. The Prince of Peace is meaningless in a world that has succumbed to violence. Who wants to join a church that doesn’t fight for things that are right? Can we take a stand? Can we make a difference?

The prophet Zephaniah writes, “I will remove disaster from you…. I will deal with your oppressors…. I will save the lame, and gather the outcast and I will change their shame into praise.” These words ring hallow unless we work for safety and call our politicians to accountability, demand that they reach across the aisle and do what is best for our nation.

Without being prophetic, the Church is impotent. For too long we have majored in minor issues while being silent on the big topics of our day – topics like the proliferation of weapons, the possibility of nuclear destruction, human trafficking, HIV/AIDS that kills 1,800,000 people each year and the gross inequality of wages where an athlete, entertainer or executive can earn $25,000,000 a year while a worker cannot feed his family. Is there no accountability, no shame, no guilt and no moral compass left in America? Can we take a stand? Can we make a difference?

If the crowds were to ask John the Baptist today, “What should we do?” John would say, “If you have a politician who won’t support gun control, vote him out of office. If you have church leaders who fail to do what is right, don’t follow them. If you know someone who thinks that individuals should be able to own assault weapons, tell them they are immoral. Jesus would never pack a weapon. If you know someone who is mentally unstable and dangerous, warn others and insure that they get help. Can we take a stand? Can we make a difference?

Jesus condemned violence at all times. He chastised a follower lifting a sword to strike an oppressor and immediately healed the injured party. Jesus died rather than fight his oppressors. That is our ultimate role model.

The media does not help. The press refuses to print positive stories about the Church. The Philadelphia Inquirer no longer has a religion reporter, but scores of sports reporters. What does that say about our culture?

Years ago, James Forbes, one of America’s greatest preachers preached at the consecration of an Episcopal bishop. He said that when he was a child his mother took him to attend a bishop’s consecration that was held in a big athletic center because there were too many people to fit into the cathedral. During the service, the man who was being made a bishop knelt down alone. The bishops stood around him in a circle and placed their hands on him. Forbes could not see what they were doing. He leapt to his feet and shouted, “Mama, mama, what are they doing?” She said, “Son, they are taking out his spine.”

Do you have a spine? Does the Church have backbone? Can we take a stand? Can we make a difference? My friends, on this Third Sunday of Advent which we call “Stir Up Sunday” because the Church calls our faith to stir us up, the Church doesn’t need anymore spineless politicians. We don’t need any more church leaders or Christians without a backbone. What we need are people who have the courage to take a stand and to make a difference. The Prince of Peace is coming. Smooth out the valleys. Straighten out the crooked roads. Prepare his way.

Will you stand up and make the world safer? Only if you say, “Yes,” and mean it in your heart and do something about it, can we utter the words of the prophet Isaiah and trust in them when he says, “Comfort, O comfort, my people” and know that comfort will come to us and to our nation. Amen.

From here.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Soul Without Light

Alice C. Linsley

Twenty-year old Adam Lanza was a soul in utter darkness. When he was very young he was as innocent as the children he murdered. Perhaps the light began to diminish when he stole something for the first time. Did his mother look the other way? It diminished further when he lied and nobody corrected him. It dimmed again when he began to believe his own lies. It became very dim when he cursed the Good and embraced the Evil. It was completely extinguished when he killed his mother at their home and then opened fire on 5 and 6 year old children before killing himself.

The FBI is interviewing Lanza’s relatives in an attempt to discover a motive for the massacre. We would like to think that there was a rational reason for this rampage, some excuse other than darkness and evil.

On Saturday night, grief-stricken residents gathered at a Catholic church in Newton, Connecticut in memory of those killed. A priest of the parish had been the first to inform some of the parents about their loss. One of the girls was to have been an angel in the upcoming Christmas pageant.

Twenty-six candles flickered in the sanctuary as hundreds of mourners filled the church. During the service, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy said, "Many of us today and in the coming days will rely on what we have been taught and what we believe, that there is faith for a reason."

Indeed the true Faith brings light into the soul. Misplaced faith, on the other hand, only brings more darkness.

Governor Malloy said, "Evil visited this community today." He is right.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Russia Rejects UN's "Evolving" Morals

By Stefano Gennarini, J.D.

GENEVA, December 14 (C-FAM) A UN committee of legal experts reprimanded the Russian Federation last month for allowing the Ryazan province of Russia to enforce a law that bans the promotion of homosexuality among minors as part of a national effort to protect children from early sexualization, and related adverse health consequences.

In 2009 Irina Fedotova, a lesbian activist, lodged a complaint against Russia with the UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the 1966 International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). She was detained and fined for standing outside a secondary school with posters that read “Homosexuality is normal” and “I’m proud of my homosexuality – ask me about it.” Russian secondary schools are attended by children as young as 10 and as old as 17.

The UN committee decided that Ms. Fedotova had “not made any public actions aimed at involving minors in any particular sexual activity or at advocating any particular sexual orientation” and that she was merely “giving expression to her sexual identity and seeking understanding for it.”

The decision of the committee, known as “views” because it is neither binding nor enforceable, was divulged on November 30, and comes at a time when the Russian Federation is being widely criticized for bans on the promotion of homosexuality among minors enacted by several provinces and municipalities of the country. Similar legislation is being contemplated at the federal level.

The Constitution of the Russian Federation, according to Russia’s Constitutional Court, allows bans on the promotion of homosexuality among minors to preserve their health and morals.

The 1966 treaty on civil and political rights under which the complaint was brought similarly lists the preservation of public health and morals as one of three grounds on which state parties may limit free speech. The Human Rights Committee, formed by that treaty, disagrees with the Russian Constitutional Court on whether homosexuality is a sufficient moral and health concern to curtail free speech.

Despite differences between UN member states on homosexuality, and the absence of any mention of homosexuality in the treaty it is charged with monitoring, the committee bases its rationale on the “evolving” nature of moral standards.

Citing its own interpretation of the 1966 treaty published in a non-binding document last year, known as General Comment 34, the committee maintains that limitations on speech “for the purpose of protecting morals must be based on principles not deriving exclusively from a single tradition” and that in order to avoid being discriminatory they must be based on “objective criteria.” The committee found Ryazan’s ban on the promotion of homosexuality among children defective on both counts.

Russia argued that the law did not affect Ms. Fedotova’s private conduct in any way, and that the purpose of the law was to protect minors from “derangements of their spiritual, mental, physical and social development.” But the experts said that even if Ms. Fedotova’s purpose was to engage children on the subject of homosexuality this would not justify curtailing her speech.

Laws banning the promotion of homosexuality among minors are routinely enforced by Russian authorities, as two celebrity divas have discovered. Madonna faced a lawsuit after she voiced support for homosexual rights during a recent tour. Reuters reported this week that Lady Gaga has been threatened with similar action because she did the same at a concert in St. Petersburg on Sunday.

From here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Max Moore's Transhumanism

"If immortality should not be a goal, indefinitely long lifespan can be. If, one day we find ourselves drained, if we can think of nothing more to do and our current activities seem pointless, we will have the option of ending our lives. Alternatively, we might change ourselves so radically that, although someone continues to live, it’s unclear that it’s us. But we cannot know in advance when we will reach that point. To throw away what may be a vastly long stretch of joyful living on the basis that forever must bring boredom and stagnation would be a terrible error."--Max Moore, from The Myth of Stagnation

America's leading transhumanists gathered this month in San Francisco. Speakers at Humanity+ included gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, designer and theorist Natasha Vita-More, futurist Jamais Cascio, science fiction author David Brin, philosopher and proactionary principle advocate Max More, artificial general intelligence researcher Ben Goertzel.

The theme of this year's conference was "Writing the Future". Its focus was communicating transhumanist ideas -- advances in robotics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, human enhancement, brain-computer integration, regenerative medicine, and radical life extension - so that the public is prepared for the future.

Here are a few highlights culled from live-blogging posts at the conference by Kris Notaro of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies:

James Hughes, Executive Director of the IEET: People are a bit afraid of living forever, so we need to encourage people to accept the awesome future of living long lives.

David Orban: hackers are very important to help implement the system of a society for the human, not for the State or a corporation.

Max More: mind uploading is mainly a philosophical idea but it is possible. The best option for immortality is cryopreservation.

George Dvorsky: With moral and intellectual enhancement on the horizon, people are referring to it as "the rapture of the nerds".

Ben Goertzel: The future will bring mind reading. If there is no filter and you can have access to another's emotions and information you can feel what they feel, then learn what it was like for them to experience it.

David Dalrymple: "uploading": means transferring a mind from a biological implementation to a digital one. This is difficult in humans at the moment; let's try with the nematode worm C. elegans.

David Pearce: the coming evolutionary transition could have three stages. In the first biological humans will rewrite their genetic source code and bootstrap their way to super-intelligence. In the second, cybernetic brain implants will allow us to fuse our minds with artificial intelligence and to "upload" ourselves onto less perishable substrates. In digital nirvana, the distinction between biological and non-biological machines will effectively disappear. In the third there will be an ultra-rapid "Intelligence Explosion" and an era of non-biological super-intelligence. Post-human super-intelligence may or may not be human-friendly.

Randal Koene: Substrate independent minds (SIN) assume that the brain is a physical system that can be uploaded and manipulated on a computer.

Quote of the Week - Esther de Waal

"I like to take the word reorientation and remind myself that it implies the turning towards the rising sun or towards the new light."--Esther de Waal, Lost in Wonder

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Balochistan Children Near Starvation

Children huddle in the flood-battered village of Usta Mohammad tehsil where little sustained effort has been made to provide supplies and there is no fresh water. — Photo by Fahim Siddiqi
Read the report here.

Savulescu and Harris on Enhancing Morality

Julian Savulescu (Oxford) and John Harris (Manchester University) debate whether technology should be used to enhance morality at the UK Institute of Art and Ideas. They assume that humans have the psychology of our hunter-gatherer ancestors and this makes us unfit for modern life.

Besides having bought into the whole Non-Essentialist evolutionary argument, they appear to be ignorant of how sophisticated our ancestors were.

Related reading: Theories of Change and ConstancyDawkins: Humans Have Outgrown Natural Selection; The Science Guy Reveals His Ignorance; The Evolution of Darwinian Evolution; Biblical Anthropologists Discuss Darwin

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Canada and Same Sex Partnerships

Would recognizing same-sex relationships as marriages be much of a game-changer? What impact, if any, would it have on the public conception of marriage or the state of a nation’s marriage culture?

There has been no shortage of speculation on these questions. But the limited American experience with same-sex marriage to date gives us few concrete answers. So it makes sense to consider the Canadian experience since the first Canadian court established same-sex marriage a decade ago. There are, of course, important cultural and institutional differences between the US and Canada and, as is the case in any polity, much depends upon the actions of local political and cultural actors. That is to say, it is not necessarily safe to assume that Canadian experiences will be replicated here. But they should be considered; the Canadian experience is the best available evidence of the short-term impact of same-sex marriage in a democratic society very much like America.

Anyone interested in assessing the impact of same-sex marriage on public life should investigate the outcomes in three spheres: first, human rights (including impacts on freedom of speech, parental rights in public education, and the autonomy of religious institutions); second, further developments in what sorts of relationships political society will be willing to recognize as a marriage (e.g., polygamy); and third, the social practice of marriage.

The Impact on Human Rights

The formal effect of the judicial decisions (and subsequent legislation) establishing same-sex civil marriage in Canada was simply that persons of the same-sex could now have the government recognize their relationships as marriages. But the legal and cultural effect was much broader. What transpired was the adoption of a new orthodoxy: that same-sex relationships are, in every way, the equivalent of traditional marriage, and that same-sex marriage must therefore be treated identically to traditional marriage in law and public life.

A corollary is that anyone who rejects the new orthodoxy must be acting on the basis of bigotry and animus toward gays and lesbians. Any statement of disagreement with same-sex civil marriage is thus considered a straightforward manifestation of hatred toward a minority sexual group. Any reasoned explanation (for example, those that were offered in legal arguments that same-sex marriage is incompatible with a conception of marriage that responds to the needs of the children of the marriage for stability, fidelity, and permanence—what is sometimes called the conjugal conception of marriage), is dismissed right away as mere pretext.

When one understands opposition to same-sex marriage as a manifestation of sheer bigotry and hatred, it becomes very hard to tolerate continued dissent. Thus it was in Canada that the terms of participation in public life changed very quickly. Civil marriage commissioners were the first to feel the hard edge of the new orthodoxy; several provinces refused to allow commissioners a right of conscience to refuse to preside over same-sex weddings, and demanded their resignations. At the same time, religious organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, were fined for refusing to rent their facilities for post-wedding celebrations.

The Right to Freedom of Expression

The new orthodoxy’s impact has not been limited to the relatively small number of persons at risk of being coerced into supporting or celebrating a same-sex marriage. The change has widely affected persons—including clergy—who wish to make public arguments about human sexuality.

Much speech that was permitted before same-sex marriage now carries risks. Many of those who have persisted in voicing their dissent have been subjected to investigations by human rights commissions and (in some cases) proceedings before human rights tribunals. Those who are poor, poorly educated, and without institutional affiliation have been particularly easy targets—anti-discrimination laws are not always applied evenly. Some have been ordered to pay fines, make apologies, and undertake never to speak publicly on such matters again. Targets have included individuals writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, and ministers of small congregations of Christians. A Catholic bishop faced two complaints—both eventually withdrawn—prompted by comments he made in a pastoral letter about marriage.

Reviewing courts have begun to rein in the commissions and tribunals (particularly since some ill-advised proceedings against Mark Steyn andMaclean’s magazine in 2009), and restore a more capacious view of freedom of speech. And in response to the public outcry following the Steyn/Maclean’saffair, the Parliament of Canada recently revoked the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s statutory jurisdiction to pursue “hate speech.”

But the financial cost of fighting the human rights machine remains enormous—Maclean’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, none of which is recoverable from the commissions, tribunals, or complainants. And these cases can take up to a decade to resolve. An ordinary person with few resources who has drawn the attention of a human rights commission has no hope of appealing to the courts for relief; such a person can only accept the admonition of the commission, pay a (comparatively) small fine, and then observe the directive to remain forever silent. As long as these tools remain at the disposal of the commissions—for whom the new orthodoxy gives no theoretical basis to tolerate dissent—to engage in public discussion about same-sex marriage is to court ruin.

Similar pressure can be—and is—brought to bear on dissenters by professional governing bodies (such as bar associations, teachers’ colleges, and the like) that have statutory power to discipline members for conduct unbecoming of the profession. Expressions of disagreement with the reasonableness of institutionalizing same-sex marriage are understood by these bodies to be acts of illegal discrimination, which are matters for professional censure.

Teachers are particularly at risk for disciplinary action, for even if they only make public statements criticizing same-sex marriage outside the classroom, they are still deemed to create a hostile environment for gay and lesbian students. Other workplaces and voluntary associations have adopted similar policies as a result of their having internalized this new orthodoxy that disagreement with same-sex marriage is illegal discrimination that must not be tolerated.

Parental Rights in Public Education

Institutionalizing same-sex marriage has subtly but pervasively changed parental rights in public education. The debate over how to cast same-sex marriage in the classroom is much like the debate over the place of sex education in schools, and of governmental pretensions to exercise primary authority over children. But sex education has always been a discrete matter, in the sense that by its nature it cannot permeate the entirety of the curriculum. Same-sex marriage is on a different footing.

Since one of the tenets of the new orthodoxy is that same-sex relationships deserve the same respect that we give marriage, its proponents have been remarkably successful in demanding that same-sex marriage be depicted positively in the classroom. Curriculum reforms in jurisdictions such as British Columbia now prevent parents from exercising their long-held veto power over contentious educational practices.

The new curricula are permeated by positive references to same-sex marriage, not just in one discipline but in all. Faced with this strategy of diffusion, the only parental defense is to remove one’s children from the public school system entirely. Courts have been unsympathetic to parental objections: if parents are clinging to outdated bigotries, then children must bear the burden of “cognitive dissonance”—they must absorb conflicting things from home and school while school tries to win out.

The reforms, of course, were not sold to the public as a matter of enforcing the new orthodoxy. Instead, the stated rationale was to prevent bullying; that is, to promote the acceptance of gay and lesbian youth and the children of same-sex households.

It is a laudable goal to encourage acceptance of persons. But whatever can be said for the objective, the means chosen to achieve it is a gross violation of the family. It is nothing less than the deliberate indoctrination of children (over the objections of their parents) into a conception of marriage that is fundamentally hostile to what the parents understand to be in their children’s best interests. It frustrates the ability of parents to lead their children to an understanding of marriage that will be conducive to their flourishing as adults. At a very early age, it teaches children that the underlying rationale of marriage is nothing other than the satisfaction of changeable adult desires for companionship.

Religious Institutions’ Right to Autonomy

At first glance, clergy and houses of worship appeared largely immune from coercion to condone or perform same-sex marriages. Indeed, this was the grand bargain of the same-sex marriage legislation—clergy would retain the right not to perform marriages that would violate their religious beliefs. Houses of worship could not be conscripted against the wishes of religious bodies.

It should have been clear from the outset just how narrow this protection is. It only prevents clergy from being coerced into performing marriage ceremonies. It does not, as we have seen, shield sermons or pastoral letters from the scrutiny of human rights commissions. It leaves congregations vulnerable to legal challenges if they refuse to rent their auxiliary facilities to same-sex couples for their ceremony receptions, or to any other organization that will use the facility to promote a view of sexuality wholly at odds with their own.

Neither does it prevent provincial and municipal governments from withholding benefits to religious congregations because of their marriage doctrine. For example, Bill 13, the same Ontario statute that compels Catholic schools to host “Gay-Straight Alliance” clubs (and to use that particular name), also prohibits public schools from renting their facilities to organizations that will not agree to a code of conduct premised on the new orthodoxy. Given that many small Christian congregations rent school auditoriums to conduct their worship services, it is easy to appreciate their vulnerability.

Changes to the Public Conception of Marriage

It has been argued that if same-sex marriage is institutionalized, new marital categories may be accepted, like polygamy. Once one abandons a conjugal conception of marriage, and replaces it with a conception of marriage that has adult companionship as its focus, there is no principled basis for resisting the extension of marriage licenses to polygamist and polyamorist unions.

In other words, if marriage is about satisfying adult desires for companionship, and if the desires of some adults extend to more novel arrangements, how can we deny them? I will not here evaluate this claim, but simply report how this scenario has played out in Canada.

One prominent polygamist community in British Columbia was greatly emboldened by the creation of same-sex marriage, and publicly proclaimed that there was now no principled basis for the state’s continued criminalization of polygamy. Of all the Canadian courts, only a trial court in British Columbia has addressed whether prohibiting polygamy is constitutional, and provided an advisory opinion to the province’s government. The criminal prohibition of polygamy was upheld, but on a narrow basis that defined polygamy as multiple, concurrent civil marriages. The court did not address the phenomenon of multiple common-law marriages. So, thus far, the dominant forms of polygamy and polyamory practiced in Canada have not gained legal status, but neither have they faced practical impediments.

The lesson is this: a society that institutionalizes same-sex marriage needn’t necessarily institutionalize polygamy. But the example from British Columbia suggests that the only way to do so is to ignore principle. The polygamy case’s reasoning gave no convincing explanation why it would be discriminatory not to extend the marriage franchise to gays and lesbians, but not discriminatory to draw the line at polygamists and polyamorists. In fact, the judgment looks like it rests on animus toward polygamists and polyamorists, which is not a stable juridical foundation.

The Impact on the Practice of Marriage

As for the practice of marriage, it is too soon to say much. The 2011 census data establish that, first, marriage is in decline in Canada, as it is in much of the West; second, same-sex marriage is a statistically minor phenomenon; and third, there are very few same-sex couples (married or not) with children in the home.

There are approximately 21,000 married same-sex couples in Canada, out of 6.29 million married couples. Same-sex couples (married and unmarried) constitute 0.8% of all couples in Canada; 9.4% of the 64,575 same-sex couples (including common-law and married) have children in the home, and 80% of these are lesbian couples. By contrast, 47.2% of heterosexual couples have children in the home. Canada stopped tracking divorce after 2008, and has never provided data on same-sex divorce.

What we can gather from these data is that same-sex marriage has not, contrary to arguments that it would, powered a resurgent marriage culture in Canada. Nor are there any census data (one way or the other) for empirical arguments tying the institutionalization of same-sex marriage to marriage stability.

Without empirical data on divorce rates (which are not forthcoming in Canada), we are left with conceptual arguments that must be evaluated on their merits. Here, the Canadian experience cannot provide much information. We are left with the question, does the institutionalization of same-sex marriage rest on a conception of marriage that places a premium on stability, as does the conjugal conception? If it does not, then we can reasonably believe same-sex marriage will speed up cultural acceptance of a conception of marriage—the adult companionate model—that has done much social damage over the past fifty years.

Bradley W. Miller is an associate professor of law at the University of Western Ontario and a Visiting Fellow in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. This article has been reproduced with permission from Public Discourse

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Memory Eternal! Patriarch Ignatius IV

Patriarch Ignatius IV

Patriarch Ignatius fell asleep in the Lord on December 5th at St. George Orthodox Hospital in Beirut Lebanon after having suffered a stroke earlier this week.

His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV (Hazim) of Antioch and All the East was born in 1920 in the village of Muharda, near the city of Hama Syria. In 1936, he moved to Beirut, where he became an altar server. Years later, upon taking monastic vows, he became a hierodeacon. 

In 1945 he graduated from the American University of Beirut, and from 1949 to 1953 studied at the Saint Sergius Theological Institute in Paris. On his return to Lebanon, the young theologian with a master's degree was ordained hieromonk. 

In 1942, he became one of the founders of the influential Orthodox Youth Movement in Lebanon and Syria, which has done much to renew youthful participation in Church life. In 1953, His Beatitude became one of the organizers of Syndesmos the worldwide Brotherhood of Orthodox Youth. 

In 1961 he was ordained Bishop of Palmyra and Patriarchal Vicar, and in the following year, he was sent to the monastery of Balamand as superior and as dean of the Theological Seminary founded, which in 1988 was transformed into an Orthodox University, the first in the Middle East. He has published a series of theological books and numerous articles. His Beatitude was an honorary doctor of Sorbonne and Saint-Petersburg (1981) and Minsk (2003) Theological Academies. In 1970, the future Patriarch was appointed Metropolitan of Latakia (Laodicea). 

On 2 July 1979, he was elected Primate of the Church of Antioch and enthroned on 8 July of the same year.

Single Women and President Obama

President Obama won 65 percent of the single women's vote by promising to look after them.

This past year America has seen a trumped up “War on Women” that claimed women’s freedom depends on “reproductive rights”. At the height of the Presidential election, the Obama camp courted the female vote with an exhortation to “vote like your lady parts depend on it” (in an e-card on the Obama campaign Tumbler that was quickly removed, but not before conservative media drew attention to it) and compared voting for President Obama to losing one’s virginity(an Obama for America online ad featuring HBO’s Girls producer, 26 year old Lena Dunham). Then there was the Life of Julia campaign, an ad which showed how a woman could depend on an Obama-style government to provide for her needs throughout her entire life.

“There’s no way they’ll win on that,” skeptics thought, “this election is about the economy and jobs, and women are smarter than to allow themselves to be reduced to their private parts and government aid.” The skeptics were wrong. The buzz and data post the re-election of President Obama tells us that it was the women voters whose support for the President put him back in the Oval Office.

Nationally, the President won 55 percent of the women’s vote, but that vote was boosted by a large sub-demographic: unmarried women, who accounted for nearly a quarter of everyone who voted. Governor Mitt Romney won the married women's vote by 53 percent to Obama’s 46 percent, but Obama won 64 percent of the single women’s vote, according to election day polling by the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund (WVWVAF). These women include those who are divorced, separated and never married. Many of them have a child or children.

As it turns out, the election was about economics for these women too—they just saw the economic issues differently than married women. Single women, who don’t have their husband’s income and support to fall back on, tend to favor more government support in their lives -- support like no cost birth control, a benefit wrapped into the Affordable Care Act which President Obama enacted and Governor Romney vowed to roll back due to the religious liberty threat it poses.

According to analysts, the marriage gap in female voting is not new. But the size of the single woman demographic is new. According to the US Census there are 102 million unmarried individuals in America, and unmarried women are the majority of that group with 89 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women. Additionally, for the first time in Census history, marriage rates are below 50 percent with only48 percent of households married. The average age of marriage is at record highs at 26 for women and 28 for men.

Along with the rise of singletons, America has witnessed a rise in out of wedlock childbearing. According to the CDC, 41 percent of births occur outside of marriage. And more than half of all births to women under the age of 30 are to women who are not married. In short, the traditional American path to marriage and parenting is not so traditional anymore.

It’s important to pause here to acknowledge that a great deal of social science marshals evidence that the best environment to raise a child is in a committed,man-woman marriage. Social science has also found marriage is very often the best path to stability and prosperity—both fiscal and emotional. This path deserves social and political support, therefore, not simply because it is traditional but because it is a key to happiness and the American Dream of a better and fuller life.

The question for conservatives, in the light of their political defeat, is how seriously they take the issue of marriage and the path to it. It is time to reflect seriously on their political platform and messaging and to ask how America arrived at the point where an election could be influenced, perhaps decisively, by encouraging sex without babies, and babies without marriage -- all with government support.

Hindsight is 20/20, and perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the message of contraception and abortion as absolutes for women’s health and freedom won out in this election. After all, for the past 40 years a majority of women have bought some version of the feminist message that equality for women will only be found when women became more like men.

Contraception has allowed women to “have sex like men” -- that is, without concerning themselves about pregnancy. They can be child-proofed bycontraception as the first “protector” and abortion as the “back-up.” When the “protection” fails because of human or method error (as it often does given that54 percent of women seeking abortion were using contraception around the time they became pregnant), abortion is often expected.

Many women, though constrained by their biological clock, still want marriage and children, but social pressures no longer predominantly demand that a man wed a woman who is bearing their child. So, when a woman decides to give life to her child, it is, as the mantra goes, “her body, her choice” -- and often largely hers to raise.

This “sexual freedom” was supposed to empower women and make them less dependent upon men. Well, women are less dependent upon men now. But it appears their dependency has shifted to the government. And can we really blame them for wanting—in some cases needing—some sort of support?

The conservative message that lost this election was not one that doesn’t care for those in need of support. No, the conservative message that lost was one that failed to adequately communicate how it wants to help all Americans get the support they and their families need to live happily and securely. This must include encouragement to have children within a stable marriage. After all, no one really wants to, or should have to go through the trials and joys of life alone.

A ray of hope here is that desire for marriage remains high among young Americans. According to a 2009 report conducted by the non-partisan research firm Child Trends, 83 percent of young adults ages 20 to 24 responded that it was important or very important to them to be married at some point in their life. More than three-fourths of those young adults answered that love, fidelity, and making a lifelong commitment are all “very important” components of a successful relationship. And in a 2010 survey, conducted by the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, 82 percent of respondents, ages 18 to 32, answered that they intended to marry and remain married for life.

Since at least the 1970s, social scientists have asked high school teens about their own prospects for marriage; anywhere from 77 to 88 percent of teens respond that they expect to marry someday. In fact, in a 2006 study by the Monitoring the Future project at the University of Michigan, 91 percent of high school students said that having a good marriage was either “important” or “extremely important” to them, with only 2 percent reporting it was “not important”.

But how do we help young Americans realise these desires and appreciate also the support gained through the partnership of marriage?

“It is not enough to promise health, wealth, and happiness—benefits the social science evidence shows that married couples on average enjoy—to young couples considering marriage,” say researchers David and Amber Lapp of the Institute for American Values. This is especially so since the government is attempting to provide many of those benefits.

But we fool ourselves if we believe that, in a country the size of America, we’re really in a partnership with the government or that government regulations are really able to be tailored to every individual’s needs. Instead, we must communicate to young Americans that marriage offers committed support, in good times and in bad, and reduced their need of government support -- which inevitably will fail them.

Marriage isn’t always easy and there won’t always be happiness, but we should help women, and men, see that it does not mean simply becoming dependent on another person (rather than the Department of Health and Human Services) but working with another person to achieve their unique needs and desires. And most importantly, that marriage offers the fierce commitment, acceptance and love that all individuals crave.

Meg McDonnell is the communications director for the Chiaroscuro Foundation and a coordinator at Women Speak for Themselves

Quote of the Week - Henry Drummond

"Christianity is the religion of cities. It moves among real things. Its sphere is the street, the market-place, the working life of the world."--Henry Drummond, in The City Without a Church

That is true. It is also the religion of wilderness caves and monasteries.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I bid your prayers for His Beatitude Ignatius IV

His Beatitude Ignatius IV, Patriarch of Antioch and all The East, was taken to St. George Hospital in Beirut yesterday after suffering a stroke. He is currently in critical condition at St. George Hospital.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Female Circumcision

Michael Cook

It's hard to think of a more reviled practice than female genital mutilation. It is a crime in many countries - and the United Nations human rights committee has just passed a resolution calling upon the General Assembly to condemn it. This could take place as early as this month.

A spokesman for Amnesty International summed up the outrage: "FGM is an indictment of us all that a girl or young woman can be held down and mutilated is a violation of her human rights and, shockingly, an estimated 3 million girls are at risk each year."

However, believe it or not, there are another side to this story. Here is a health adviser to the vice-president of Sierra Leone, Fuambai S. Ahmadu, speaking to an anthropology conference in San Francisco last month: "How can Western public health officials, global health institutions and feminist organizations maintain a straight face in condemning African female genital surgeries as FGM and yet turn a blind eye, even issue guidelines for the performance of very similar and sometimes more invasive female genital surgeries on Western women under the guise of cosmetic surgery?"

Dr Ahmadu's perspective is not a popular one, to say the least. But a group of which she is a member, The Public Policy Advisory Network on Female Genital Surgeries in Africa, has issued a vigorous rebuttal of allegations of sexism, oppressive patriarchy, torture and mutilation which dominate in the Western media. It has been published in the current issue of a leading bioethics journal, the Hastings Center Report.

The authors' aim is to "move the coverage of the topic from an over-heated, ideologically charged, and one-sided story about 'mutilation,' morbidity, and patriarchal oppression to a real, evidence-based policy debate governed by the standards of critical reason and fact checking."

The claims and counter-claims are too long to list. But the authors - about 15 of them, mostly from Western countries - make the following points about female genital mutilation (or "female genital surgery", as they call it):

Medical research has found that a high percentage of women who have had genital surgery have rich sexual lives.

Medical complications are uncommon.

Those who value female genital surgery view it as aesthetic enhancement, not mutilation.

In almost all societies where female genital surgery is performed, male genital surgery also takes place. Women are not singled out.

The link between patriarchy and female genital surgery is unfounded. The practice is not customary in the world's most sexually restrictive societies.

Women manage and control female genital surgery in Africa and groups that fight against female genital surgery weaken the power of women.

Criticism of an influential 2006 WHO study in The Lancet about "deadly consequences" has been ignored. The evidence does not support sensational media claims.

Provocatively, the authors argue that women and girls who have undergone genital mutilation should not be stigmatized or taught to expect sexual dysfunction. This might cause "psychological mutilation", potentially compromising the development of a normal and healthy psychosexual life.

Female genital mutilation is too hot a potato to take sides. But as Nawal M. Nour, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, writes in a sympathetic response to the advisory group's observations, "Speaking as both an African woman and an obstetrician-gynecologist, I hope that this practice ends during my lifetime. However, the impetus to abandon female genital cutting must come from within each community; a ban on it cannot be imposed by outsiders".

From here.