The Sin of super PACS

When the goals of a society are to spread justice and advance the common good, the Catholic church recognizes that despite its importance, government legislation, by itself, will never accomplish these monumental tasks, “Legislation is necessary but it is not sufficient for setting up true relationships of justice and equality.  If beyond legal rules there is really no deeper feeling of respect for and service to others, then even equality before the law can serve as an alibi for flagrant discrimination, continued exploitation and actual contempt.” (O’Brien, and Shannon )  Too often, laws are passed or upheld by our government, under the cloak of promoting equality and fairness, when in fact, they do just the opposite.  In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court struck at the heart of campaign finance reform, ruling that corporations, unions, wealthy individuals and any ideological groups can disburse unlimited amounts of cash on political advertisements during the election cycle. (“Economist” )   In their defense of the ruling, the five assenting justices cited the First Amendment protection of free speech as applying to both citizens and associations of citizens. (“Economist” )  With this landmark decision, came the birth of super PACS, organizations that are barred from affiliating with any parties and candidates but are free to independently raise boundless sums of money to support one candidate and tarnish another.  Now, on the surface, this ruling seems to comply with the constitutional ideal of free speech and equality.  Indeed Justice Kennedy, who voted in favor of the ruling says “Under our law and tradition it seems stranger than fiction for our government to make political speech….a crime.” (“Economist” )  What the assenting justices refused to acknowledge is that despite its constitutionality, this ruling harms our democracy and makes America’s politicians even more unresponsive to the needs of its citizens.  The founders certainly did not intend America to become an oligarchy when they drafted the Constitution, but the Supreme Court sees no problem with interpreting it that way.  Octagesima Adveniens mentions equality acting as a guise for exploitation, discrimination, and contempt.  By defining political speech as the ability to raise unlimited funds to support a candidate or party, this ruling exploits, discriminates against, and holds in contempt the general electorate of our country.  So far in the 2012 election cycle, super PACS have proven that they are more than up to the challenge of denigrating our democracy.  Through the use of relentless negative ad campaigns, superPACS attempt to focus voter’s minds away from real issues and on to buzzwords and easy to digest bits of information.  They have no moral qualms about exploiting the minds of the American people.  Winning Our Future, the Pro-Gingrich super Pac, ran an ad down in Florida attacking Mitt Romney for being a progressive Republican.  It repeats the word “progressive” numerous times implying that Mitt is not conservative enough.  Over and over again it says that a Romney presidency would be no different from that of President Obama.  While all this meaningless badmouthing is going on, eerie “end of the world” music plays in the background.  These ads do not appeal to intelligence or any knowledge about the issues at hand, but rather only seek to dredge up vicious partisan emotion in their viewership through labeling and personal attacks.  An ad put out by the Pro-Romney super Pac, Restore Our Future, denounces Newt Gingrich for standing with Democrat Nancy Pelosi on global warming.  Are we supposed to assume that since Gingrich recognized global warming as a problem, that that somehow makes him less conservative?  These ads rely on collective ignorance, are overblown and are a blatant insult from the candidates who seek our vote.  Not only does the evolution of super PACS as a result of this ruling insult our intelligence; it also insults our wallets.  Winning Our future is largely funded by the family of Sheldon Adelson, a fabulously wealthy casino magnate.  Nearly all donations to Restore Our Future were of $25,000 or more, while private individuals donating directly to the campaign are restricted to $2,500. (“Economist” )  As a result, super Pacs actually end up raising more money than the campaigns themselves. (“Economist” )  According to the Centre for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog, 55 of the 75 donors to Romney’s super Pac also gave directly to his campaign.  While they donated $6.4m to the super Pac, they were restricted to just over $130,000 for the campaign. (“Economist” 34)  Newt Gingrich felt the full force of Romney’s super PAC’s superior resources in Florida and other Southern states, and in his desperation actually called on Mitt Romney to end the negative ads.  Largely due to this negative ad campaigning, Gingrich came in third in nearly every Southern state and only managed to win South Carolina and Georgia.  These numbers prove that the candidate with more money and more resources will, in the end, wind up being the nominee, and while Newt Gingrich languishes in debt, Mitt Romney emerges the winner.  But is this truly how the election process of a vibrant democracy should work?  In the Section Ideologies and Human Liberty from Octagesima Adveniens, Pope Paul VI writes

“Is there need to stress the possible ambiguity of every social ideology?  Sometimes it leads to political or social activity to be simply the application of an abstract, purely theoretical idea; at other times it is thought which becomes a mere instrument at the service of activity as a simple means of a strategy.  In both cases is it not man that risks finding himself alienated?  The Christian faith is above and sometimes opposed to the ideologies, in that it recognizes God, who is transcendent and the Creator, and who, through all the levels of creation, calls on man as endowed with responsibility and freedom.” (O’Brien, and Shannon )

This quote sums up the affect that super PACS have on our election process.  By reducing the essence of campaigning to small sound bites and trivial phrases that focus on the “negative” aspects of the opposing candidate such as “He wants to make government bigger” or “Is he really conservative enough for us?” or “He’s a tax hiker”, candidates are able to deceive voters by taking the focus off real issues of substance and placing it on overblown and meaningless propaganda that comes out of negative ads.  The actual candidate’s ideology becomes so diluted and ambiguous, and instead these accusations, generalizations, and buzz phrases become the mantra by which politicians expect us to vote for them, or more fittingly, just not vote for the other guy.  When it comes to this type of political activity, the ends justify the means.  The strategy is more important, and the thought no longer counts.  Ultimately super PACS and the negative campaigning that results from their forays harms our democracy because it reduces the participatory role of the citizen in his or her government to that of a mere mindless fool.  The common man’s concerns for how a particular candidate will handle the issues that are important to him or her run subordinate to the politician’s thirst for power.  Paragraph 25 of Octogesima Adveniens lays out the way political activity would function in a real democracy,

Political activity should be the projection of a plan of society which is consistent in its concrete means and in its inspiration, and which spring from a complete conception of man’s vocation and of its differing social expressions.  It is not for the State or even for political parties, which would be closed unto themselves, to try to impose an ideology by means that would lead to a dictatorship over minds, the worst kind of all. (O’Brien, and Shannon )

Rather than encourage voters to think long and hard about the issues to determine which candidate they want to support, super PACS gain a disingenuous “dictatorship over minds”.  This will never be democracy.

Works Cited

“Unbound.” Economist. 28 Jan 2010: n. page. Web. 13 May. 2012. <www.economist.com/node/1539427>.

“The hands that prod, the wallets that feed.” Economist. 02 25 2012: n. page. Web. 13 May. 2012. <www.economist.com/node/21548244>.

“A PACket of money.” Economist. 22 Oct 2011: 34. Print.

O’Brien, David, and Thomas Shannon, comp. Catholic Social Thought: The Documentary Heritage. Expanded ed. MaryKnoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010. Print.

Intellectual Freedom

Last semester, I took a religion class entitled “Introduction to Basic Themes and Theology”.  On the one hand, I was angry that my college required me to take this class for a number of reasons.  One, I was a biology major and failed to see the connection between a religion class and the knowledge I would need for a future career in medicine.  Secondly, even though I had recently, in a long journey of self-reflection, decided to become a believer in God, I still harbored this very negative perception of religion and dreaded the idea of listening to a college professor expound the virtues of Christian theology.  On the other hand, I have always prided myself on having an open mind, always receptive to fresh perspectives and new ideas, and this was a chance to gain new perspective.  In a previous post, entitled “A Framework for Education”, I put forth a model for an educational system with the ultimate goal of creating a mutually supportive society.  Branching outwardly from this goal were four objectives I defined as skill sets, understandings, and abilities which our educational system will have to develop in its students in order so that this goal can be achieved.  One of those objectives was self-awareness.  I defined self-awareness as the ability to identify one’s passions and dreams and recognize how they have been influenced by cultural and political norms.  I went further on to say, “To be truly self-aware one must not only know what one passionate and convicted about, but also how outside influences have shaped those convictions.  Criticism of one’s self is essential to being truly objective and therefore not being subservient to the cultural and political environment in which you live.”

Now suffice it to say I would not be repeating all this, if I didn’t think it was absolutely critical to my next point.  In today’s world it is unbelievably easy…almost too easy to be turned off by religion.  You have the battle between evolutionism and creationism which many believe is a battle between Christian doctrine and scientific theory, you have the rise of Islamic fundamentalism across the globe, you have the battle between pro life and pro choice advocates on abortion, you have the widespread belief that religion infringes so drastically upon personal freedom, you have Pat Robertson attributing the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to a pact sworn to the Devil by the Haitian people, you have the Christian Right arguing for the introduction of Creationism into the public school curriculum, you have Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and North Africa, you have Boko Haram in Nigeria, you have theocratic societies in the Middle East who believe their religion tells them that women can’t drive cars and that Israel needs to be wiped off the face of the earth……ok I’m done…but trust me there’s more.

Now it’s so easy, almost too easy to say to myself”Oh religion is telling me to blindly believe in a God that I can’t see with my own two eyes, religion is telling me to fly planes into buildings and kill scores of people in the name of God, religion is trying to tell me that Jews are the scourge of this earth, religion is trying to tell me that even though I have suffered the horror of rape and never wanted this baby I can’t have an abortion, religion is trying to tell me that the earth was created in a thousand years when science proves to me it took much longer….and these are the many reasons why I hate religion”.

Now hearkening back to the importance of self-awareness, I pose a question, “Am I not being wholly and totally subservient to the cultural and political environment in which I live if I automatically denounce religion as irrational, controlling, and destructive after say watching the events of September 11, after reading that Boko Haram blew up another police station in Nigeria,  listening to Pat Robertson make the outrageous claim that the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for America’s abortion policy?”

What I have come to realize is that we are immersed in a culture of fear, doubt, and power.  There are too many people out there who all they want is power and influence over you.  They want influence over your thoughts and your ideologies.  They want to tell you who to hate and who to love.  They want to tell you how the world works and what is right and what is wrong.  They want to instill blind fear in you.  They all have an agenda and they want you blindly buy in to what they’re selling.  They rather lie than tell you the truth.  They want you to join in their cause whatever it may be, pitting one side against another.  They have no morals and no scruples.  They call Barrack Obama a socialist.  They fly planes into buildings in the name of Allah.  They refuse to compromise on anything.  They sit in our Congress.  They reside on our major news networks.  They are our presidential candidates  They use buzz words and phrases to get you to stand up and cheer.  They tell you what you want to hear.  They play to your prejudices.  They instill in you prejudices.  They tell you why to hate the other side.  They give you no room for clarity.  They give you no room for free thought.  They sit behind their bully pulpits whether it be on the radio or on television and spew hatred.  Hatred for the right, hatred for the left, hatred of religion, religious backed hatred.

Well I’m so tired of it.  I’m so tired of people who have nothing better to do but to take something so good, so fundamentally and inherently good and distort it for money, power, and influence.  I’m so tired of people who have nothing better to do but play politics and blame the other side instead of working together to solve problems.  I’m so tired of people who rather foster conflict than community.  And the only place where I find any explanation for these things, any logical explanation for why these things happen and how we could move away from this type of world and towards a more peaceful, just, intellectually free, and communal society….is Catholic Social thought.  Its not Republican.  Its not Democrat.  Its not extremist.  Its not socialist.  Its not Communist.  Its not atheist.  Its not agnostic.  Its not ideologically stifling.  Its not establishment.  Its not anti-establishment.  Its not anarchist.  Its not pro big government.  Its not anti big government……………Its just human.  The only thing that Catholic Social thought is subservient to is the cause to further human dignity and making the world a better environment for all human beings to flourish…..not the state, or the party, or the government, or the rich people, or the interest groups, or any backwards, hatred spreading ideology

Here are several passages from the 1971 encyclical Octagesima Adveniens which relate to this issue:

Ideologies and Human Liberty

26. Therefore the Christian who wishes to live his faith in a political activity which he thinks of as service cannot without contradicting himself adhere to ideological systems which radically or substantially go against his faith and his concept of man. He cannot adhere to the Marxist ideology, to its atheistic materialism, to its dialectic of violence and to the way it absorbs individual freedom in the collectivity, at the same time denying all transcendence to man and his personal and collective history; nor can be adhere to the liberal ideology which believes it exalts individual freedom by with drawing it from every limitation, by stimulating it through exclusive seeking of interest and power, and by considering social solidarities as more or less automatic consequences of individual initiatives, not as an aim and a major criterion of the value of the social organization.

27. Is there need to stress the possible ambiguity of every social ideology? Sometimes it leads political or social activity to be simply the application of an abstract, purely theoretical idea; at other times it is thought which becomes a mere instrument at the service of activity as a simple means of a strategy.

In both cases is it not man that risks finding himself alienated? The Christian faith is above and is sometimes opposed to the ideologies, in that it recognizes God, who is transcendent and the Creator, and who, through all the levels of creation, calls on man as endowed with responsibility and freedom.

28. There would also be the danger of giving adherence to an ideology which does not rest on a true and organic doctrine, to take refuge in it as a final and sufficient explanation of everything, and thus to build a new idol, accepting, at times without being aware of doing so, its totalitarian and coercive character. And people imagine they find in it a justification for their activity, even violent activity, and an adequate response to a generous desire to serve. The desire remains but it allows itself to be consumed by an ideology which, even if it suggests certain paths to man’s liberation, ends up by making him a slave.

When I read this, I think of the current race for the Republican nomination.  I think of the United States Congress, its 9% approval rating and its lack of bipartisan ability due to ideological enslavement.  I think of everything that is wrong with our political system.  Another quote from the same document, “

25. Political activity – need one remark that we are dealing primarily with an activity, not an ideology? – should be the projection of a plan of society which is consistent in its concrete means and in its inspiration, and which springs from a complete conception of man’s vocation and of its differing social expressions. It is not for the State or even for political parties, which would be closed unto themselves, to try to impose an ideology by means that would lead to a dictatorship over minds, the worst kind of all. It is for cultural and religious groupings, in the freedom of acceptance which they presume, to develop in the social body, disinterestedly and in their own ways, those ultimate convictions on the nature, origin and end of man and society. .

Let me ask you.  What is the nature of political activity in this country?  Just look at our current race for the Republican nomination.  Is this race mostly an attempt to gain “dictatorship over minds”or is it “the projection of a plan of society which is consistent in its concrete means and in its inspiration, and which springs from a complete conception of man’s vocation and of its differing social expressions?

You tell me….

Separation of Church and State….What does it mean to us?

Express freedom of religion is enshrined in the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  In order to safeguard this freedom they also decreed the absolute separation of church and state.  Consequently, our government is not supposed to regulate or endorse religion.  Now I have absolutely no qualms about government refusing to regulate the religion of its citizens.  History has not favored the nations, societies, and kingdoms that have imposed a state religion on their citizens.  But in recognizing that our government and the way we do politics and the way our society reports the news, in a certain respect, has lost its moral compass and sense of responsibility why can’t Catholic social teaching be a more prevailing influence in our society?  Indeed the as the Second Vatican Council exclaimed, “social, political, and economic problems are the special concern of the laity.”  But it seems as if we would have a better sense of direction and morality in dealing with these problems if we as the laity took, more seriously religious teachings and values in the course of our everyday lives without, of course, America becoming a religiously intolerant society.

 

Please if you do the poll, feel free to leave a comment explaining your choice

Contraception, Abortion, and the Catholic Church

One must look at the underlying reasoning for the why the Catholic Church opposes contraception and abortion to really try to understand and appreciate their side of the argument without jumping to conclusions.  Because, often in today’s world we are too quick to jump to conclusions and therefore never get clarity on a subject.  Therefore we only see darkness in a tunnel where in fact there is light at the end.  So I ask you to hear me out and not jump to conclusions halfway through reading this post.

Remember I love comments and opinions but be respectful and thoughtful cause I know this is a heated issue.

What does the fact that our culture even needs contraception say about our moral standards, that we are actively determined to artificially prevent life from being born into this world?  I think of it this way.  There are solutions that solve problems and then there are solutions that, on the surface, appear to solve a problem but really all they do is allow the problem to fester while getting rid of an unwanted consequence of that problem.  Contraception negates the consequence of unwanted pregnancy but it allows the underlying problem to fester and perpetuate.  That underlying problem is the moral state of our society and that is what the Catholic Church is concerned about and why it opposes the use of contraception for birth control.  Now, let me clarify what I mean by “moral state” by posing a series of questions, “What do we, as human beings value more?  Is it life?  Is it love?  Is it our fellow human being?…..Or is it pleasure?  Is it our own self-satisfaction?”  Because these are the fundamental questions at the center of this argument.  The people’s belief in the right to individual choice has become such an integral aspect of the way we think in this twenty-first century and it is no different on the issues of contraception and abortion.  But when do we ever stop to think of the common good?  When do we ever stop for a moment of self-reflection and stop worrying about individual choice long enough to think about how our choices affect others?  Because the fact is the freedom and happiness we get from loving each other is more fulfilling and more meaningful than the freedom we perceive as getting from being able to make individual choices based only on what we want without any concern for others.  Humans live in an interconnected community, but we so often like to think of ourselves as living in individual spheres of influence where our choices have no cumulative effect on the rest of society.  That’s why poverty exists.  That’s why there is inequality in society.  That’s why one percent of people control 25% of wealth in this country.  That’s why the Occupy movement began.  That’s why we had the 2009 financial collapse.  Well that is a patently false notion.  The right to free choice does not preclude responsibility to others.  In the papal encyclical, issued in 2009, entitled Caritas in Veritate:On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth, Pope Benedict XVI says this,

“An overemphasis on rights leads to a disregard for duties.  Duties set a limit on rights because they point to the anthropological and ethical framework of which rights are a part, in this way ensuring that they do not become license.  Duties thereby reinforce rights and call for their defence and promotion as a task to be undertaken in the service of the common good.”

Rights are not just there for the taking.  They come with the responsibility to act within an ethical framework.  Now what does this mean regarding contraception?  Well  Pope Benedict  XVI explains,

“The Church, in her concern for man’s authentic development, urges him to have full respect for human values in the exercise of his sexuality.  It can not be reduced merely to pleasure or entertainment, nor can sex education be reduced to technical instruction aimed solely at protecting the interested parties from possible disease or the “risk” of procreation.  This would be to impoverish and disregard the deeper meaning of sexuality, a meaning which needs to be acknowledged and responsibly appropriated not only by the individuals but also by the community.  It is irresponsible to view sexuality merely as a source of pleasure, and likewise to regulate it through strategies of mandatory birth control.  In either case materialistic ideas and policies are at work, and individuals are ultimately subjected to various forms of violence.

When we accept contraception as a necessity and a right in our lives, we are perpetuating a cycle, in which through the exercise of our sexuality we let it be known that pleasure is our first priority and our respect for human values is always secondary to that pleasure.  It’s an even more serious issue but none too different with abortion.  The individual pleasure gotten from sex is more important than the procreation to the point where procreation is viewed as a risk rather than a gift?  When did we become so materialistic?  When did we become so self absorbed that we deem it justifiable to kill a fetus, a developing life with a future in this world, for the sake of preserving carnal pleasure?  Where does it stop?  How many times?  How many times are we permitted to unilaterally end a life?

  Now, then one might bring up the question of whether abortion is justified in the case of rape.  I remain steadfast in saying that abortion remains unjustified even in such terrible circumstances and here’s why.  Rape is an act of blatant disregard for human life and human dignity.  It is meant to cause pain and suffering.  It is a horrific act born out of pure selfishness and insatiable desire for power and influence.  And I realize that it is the impulse of the mother to say she doesn’t want a child conceived from rape.  But just consider this.  When the mother makes that decision to abort, is she not showing that same disregard for human life and human dignity that her attacker showed for her?  Now I know people are going to jump all over me and say “How can you compare a rapist to a mother who wants to abort?”  Now I am not saying that the motivations for both are the same and clearly the motivations of a rapist are born out of such an evil and distorted mindset that it is impossible and absurd to compare them in that respect.  But I ask you to look at the end results of both actions.  One life is scarred and damaged forever and one is ended.  Two lives are ruined and one is not even given a chance.  Where is the morality in that?  Where is the morality in arbitrarily deciding that because I suffered another life must suffer as well.  Violence begets violence.  Abortion is a form of violence and it just continues a cycle of violence that began with the rape.  That’s my point here.  Contraception and abortion are just more cogs in a cycle that promote immorality over morality, that promote the sanctity of personal choice over the sanctity of life.

Now I know people will say, “Who are you to decide what is moral and immoral?”  I will answer that it is not me who is making the decision.  Consider this.  Every human beings have moral feelings termed a conscience.  But no matter how much of a moral relativist you may claim to be, you moral sense does not end with your conscience.  We also have moral standards by which we evaluate others that Timothy Keller in his book, The Reason for God, terms” moral obligation” and defines as “the belief that some things ought not to be done regardless of how a person feels about them within himself or herself, regardless of what the rest of the community and cultures says, and regardless of whether it is in his or her self-interest or not.” (Keller 147).  Now let me give you a scenario.  If you are going to be a moral relativist and say that it is the mother’s free choice to abort her baby and no one can make that decision for her, than you have no ground on which you can stand and say, “I oppose female genital mutilation”  “I oppose the practice of not allowing women to drive cars in Saudi Arabia.”  I oppose the practice that every time women leave their homes in Saudi Arabia they must be accompanied by a male family member.”, to just name a few cross cultural practices.  Why can’t you?  Because even though you know in your heart, even though you know at a basic, moral level that these practices are inherently wrong because they strip the human being of all dignity and respect and freedom you are still willing to defend your own cultural practice which does the exact same thing.  Think about it.  You are setting a double standard when you are saying, “I am a moral relativist.”  Nobody is a true moral relativist, because morality is transcendent.  Morality transcends cultures.  Universal moral standards do exist whether you admit or not because feeling a sense of moral obligation is part of being human.  And the reason we often don’t want to admit it is because it’s, in our own selfish interest not to or because we have this perverse view of freedom like in the case of abortion.  I said before that with freedom comes responsibility and that responsibility is to our fellow human being.  The freedom to abort a fetus is much different from the freedom of allowing women to leave their houses without a male accompaniment or drive a car.  The latter is a freedom that properly respects the human being and recognizes her inalienable rights and dignity.  The former takes away our most basic right……the right to life.

Is not the first right of the human person whether he or she is a fetus, a fertilized egg, one year old, ten years old, or 60 years old…….is not that first right the right to his or her life?  Life is not a privilege that someone can bestow upon you or take away from you.  Life is a gift, first and foremost, and it is what we do with that life that matters in this world.

Now a lot of people ask the question, “Well where do you draw the line?  Where does life begin?”  People like to make this question seem like such a hard question to answer.  And I’m not speaking from the mouthpiece of the Catholic Church here.  I’m speaking from common sense.  I’m speaking from fact.  It begins at conception.  It begins when the sperm fertilizes the egg.  Why?  Because barring a  medical tragedy, that fertilized egg will mature into a human being.  To try to have this “debate” is like saying that the development from a fertilized egg to a fetus to a born child  is any different from a 1 year old developing into a 3 year old developing into a ten year old.  There is life at every stage.  The biological condition of life at each stage may be different but they are all life nonetheless.