Millennial Catholics and the Fight against Extremism

Young, motivated believers find themselves in a precarious position, balancing between the extreme tendencies of any faith and the secular millennial world of material idolization, substance abuse, and mutual sexual objectification. Examining how different people and groups become radicalized provides a lens into this special position, how orthodox Catholicism in particular, but any faithful traditionally-rooted religious tradition, can testify to a more loving, more peaceful, and more fulfilling life. In other words, although our religions are different, millennial Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, and other traditionally-rooted religious groups are in a unique position to simultaneously combat the excesses of Western secular life and the violent religious and ideological radicalization rising across the West and Middle East.

Secular depictions of radicalization are often confused and find the roots of violent discontent solely in racism, sexism, or xenophobia. These issues are undoubtedly factors, but are not the complete picture. If we want to combat radicalism and propose healthy alternatives to contemporary cultural discontent, we must understand why people turn to violence. A recent New York Times piece addresses the xenophobia supposedly experienced by three British teenagers who fled to join ISIS: “A lot of young Muslims…feel that Islamophobia is a very prevalent thing…And then a group comes to them and says, like, ‘This is where you come,’ this is where they will be complete. ‘It’s a home for you.’ That appeals to them.” Feelings of alienation cut across religious, political, and racial lines, so that some ex-neo-Nazis report feeling their culture under attack. As another Times article notes of Swedish ex-radical Robert Orell, “The immigrants who had bullied him at his school were now, in his view, bullying his culture as liberal politicians stood by.” Clearly, a feeling of persecution or “otherness” motivates a retreat into religious or ideological seclusion, often culminating in a desire to do violence to one’s persecutors. Read More

In Defense of the Human Rights of Emigration and Asylum

When the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed ashore near a Turkish resort, the world was horrified.  The image sparked a debate worldwide about countries’ immigration policies and led to a swelling demand to accept Syrian refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War.  The sentiment is clear: Alan should have been allowed to go somewhere safe, in a safe vessel – not in the vain hope of reaching Greece and, eventually, Canada, in a flimsy, inflatable raft that capsized five minutes after leaving shore.

Alan’s body reflected the gruesome reality of the global refugee crisis.  The number of displaced persons is at the highest level ever recorded by the United Nations, a staggering 59.5 million as of June 2015. To cope with the growing number of families fleeing to Europe, the international community has called for a reform in asylum practices.  Pope Francis called on European families to accept Syrian refugees into their homes.  His words, consistent with his pastoral approach of acceptance and kindness, were a loving implementation of a longstanding social and pastoral tradition of the Church. Read More

5 Ways to Be Good Stewards of Our Money

“Everything has been entrusted to our protection,” says Pope Francis. I believe this includes our finances.

We’ve all heard of money-related horror stories. Personally, my dad lost several thousand dollars dabbling in mining stocks. I have friends who lost their house during the financial crisis. Many of us feel the crushing load of student loan debt.

“Do not bury your talents! Set your stakes on great ideals,” says Pope Francis. But money remains a leading cause of stress and often puts a serious strain on relationships. It can prevent us from living our lives to the fullest.

If we are able to take control of our finances and make prudent financial decisions, we can more easily set our hearts on things that matter most to us –our family, our health, our highest aspirations. Read More

Hookup Culture as Rape Culture: A Shared Complicity

Thanks largely to the efforts of survivors-turned-activists Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, the founders of End Rape on Campus, sexual assault on campus has moved to the center of public and political debate. Under the Obama Administration, there has been a push to use federal law to hold schools accountable to address the high levels of rape on campus (See, for example, the 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter” from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights). The resulting efforts from universities represent important steps to respond to victimized students, hold perpetrators accountable, and promote campus safety. Read More

Before Noon: Life and Death in a Throwaway Culture

7:15 in the morning, leaving in a hurry for work, I recite a prayer before exiting my house because there’s no certainty that I’ll return. I say good morning to neighbors while walking, thinking of my agenda for the day.

Down the road, I see Carlos, sitting on his porch. He’s wearing a yellow swimsuit today. He approaches and greets me, as always, with a smile.

“Good morning,” he says, “I hope you’re well!”

And I respond in kind.

I stop for a second, to look at him, because he seems thoughtful this morning, worried maybe. Alongside him sit his two skinny dogs.

Carlos is a young man, maybe eighteen years old. I can’t tell you his age for sure, but I know that he has no mother and father. He lives with his aunt and three female cousins who also lost their mother and father. Their small familial circle is the poorest in the community. Moreover, they all suffer some degree of mental impairment—Carlos included. He doesn’t know how to read or write. At his age, he cannot find work. He runs errands for the family and occasionally takes odd jobs that might earn him a few cents here and there—money he uses to help feed his cousins. Carlos and his family sit at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. They are the poorest, the most destitute, the most excluded, marginalized, and forgotten. Still, Carlos greets his neighbors with a smile and his cousins with a hug. Read More

Building a Whole Life Culture: The Culture of Death Includes Poverty, Hunger, Oppression, Exploitation, and Abortion

Recently, the Center for Medical Progress has shed an interrogating light on the “culture of death” by exposing Planned Parenthood for what may very well be the sale of fetal tissue and body parts for research and other scientific purposes. There isn’t much I can add to the myriad of Catholic voices that have spoken on the issue. I believe, no matter what stance you take on the legality of their actions, the behavior in the videos is heinous and disturbing. Not just the ones of Planned Parenthood executives’ flippant attitudes when negotiating over compensation for these tissues and parts, but also the ones that document doctors sifting through aborted fetuses and picking out body parts from a large glass dish. I believe this is one situation that epitomizes what Pope Francis means when he talks about the throwaway culture in his encyclical Laudato Si.

While these videos were making the rounds, I read an article that reported an African-American senator from Ohio (Democrat Bill Patmon) had called out the #BlackLivesMatter movement for not protesting outside of Planned Parenthood because a high number of mothers who came in for abortions at Planned Parenthood in his district were African-American. His point is valid. Abortion takes away a life – since black lives matter, these black lives in the womb also matter. However, the Senator’s stance doesn’t address the bigger issue at hand. The question that sits with me is, “What in our society leads women in these circumstances to believe it’s necessary or desirable to terminate a pregnancy?”

I believe that “the culture of death” viciously permeates all aspects of our culture. Saint John Paul II used this term throughout his encyclical Evangelium Vitae in reference to a culture that values efficiency and the subjugation of the vulnerable of society through structures of sin created by the powerful (12). He uses this idea to focus on the plight of aborted children and euthanized elders, but it applies to other structures of sin that deprive human beings of a right to live happy and healthy and holy and free, such as poverty, hunger, and political oppression. Pope Francis also touches on this idea in Laudato Si by advocating a holistic understanding of ecology that not only protects the environment, but also unborn children, the poor, and the marginalized of our world. Francis writes, “Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society” (91).

We must understand that the culture of death is a pervasive aspect of our society. The culture of death is found in a society that believes poor people who work multiple jobs need to “stop being lazy” and just work harder. The culture of death is found in a society where organizations believe that the best way to stop or prevent someone from perpetrating violence is inevitably through more violence. The culture of death is found in a society where black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men. It is a gross misunderstanding of the “culture of death” to focus our efforts solely on defunding an organization like Planned Parenthood, while completely ignoring the judicial, economic, and social systems that also perpetuate this culture.

We must ensure that every action that disrespects human life, such as abortion, racism, poverty, and euthanasia, is addressed. It’s been great to see so many peers take a stance on social media and create awareness about abortion and Planned Parenthood. I stand with them, and I hope we can right this injustice. However, I’m writing to challenge everyone who is adamant on this issue not to stop there. Be just as vocal about poverty, total war, capital punishment, education issues, and the unequal distribution of wealth in this country and around the world. Post videos about the arrest and death of Sandra Bland, the recent murder of Sam Dubose, Foxconn Technology Group, Nike, human trafficking of children in the United States, and other situations where the culture of death manifests itself in the world. We will not bring about a “culture of life” if we do not work to change the underlying structures that lead to a culture of death.

Jeff Wallace is a campus minister at Merrimack College and regular contributor to God in All Things.

Why Bernard Nathanson Inspires Me

“Is there a doctor who you look to as a role model? Someone in whose footsteps you could see yourself following?” I remember my friend asking me this question on a hot, dry night in southern Africa, where we were studying abroad together. I probed the depths of my mind and could come up with precious few names to provide as an answer—indeed the thought had rarely even crossed my mind. I had recently read a semi-autobiographical book by Dr. James Orbinski, who worked for Medcins Sans Frontiers, in some of the most horrific conflicts of the late 20th century. Reading the gripping tales of his life as a doctor in the most difficult settings, I remember the specific feeling that “this is medicine, this is what I want to do!” I offered Dr. Orbinski as my role model. It was an honest answer, but still had the convenience of proximity rather than deep thought or prayer. Yet there was another doctor, creeping in the back of my mind that I considered, but withheld. He was not a role model, it didn’t seem at the time, yet his curious life had gripped me from the first time I heard of its telling. That doctor was Bernard Nathanson. Read More