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

Pope Francis, Our Energy Addiction, and the Socially Disruptive Virtue of Temperance

“People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behavior, which at times appears self-destructive” (Laudato Si #55).

Pope Francis was lambasted in the American press for this claim. Rich Lowry at Politico said that Francis had gone “off the rails.” Shubhankar Chhokra, writing for National Review said, “If he’d like to help industrializing populations that benefit the most from air conditioning, he should find a different crusade,” especially because air conditioning has a number of beneficial uses including preserving artwork and even preventing heat related deaths. And Matthew Schmitz, a deputy editor at First Things, writing for the Washington Post, said, “Pope Francis wants to roll back progress.” There is a remarkable similarity between the response to Francis’ claim about air-conditioning and the equally vehement response to Jimmy Carter’s 1977 speech about energy policy in which he asked the American people “to put up with inconveniences and to make sacrifices.” For this exceedingly reasonable demand, Carter was also ridiculed by the press. Read More

Black Churches are Burning, the Faith Community Must Act

In the past month, several black churches have been burned to the ground, three as a result of suspected arson. People of faith should be deeply saddened and worried.

There have been attempts – by the media and by individuals – to downplay how disturbing these church burnings are. Some have dismissed these acts of arson as “vandalism,” rather than a deep indication of how racially divided our society continues to be. Some have focused most of their energies on the speculation that lightning may have caused one or more of the fires.

Here is a truth: some churches have been intentionally set on fire.  We live in a country with a history of people burning black churches – during the civil rights movement, after President Obama’s inauguration, and now.

Not all the churches have burned because of arson – but some of them have.  Not recognizing this – and focusing instead on lightning, for instance – shows the lengths that people will go to avoid the uncomfortable reality: we live in a society with deep racial inequality and injustice. The burning of black churches is a calculated act to destroy centers of black community. Even more than that, black churches have been historically used to resist systemic racism, and have been attacked for it in order to protect racist policies.

Here are three ways that individual persons and faith communities can respond:

1. Speak out.

Faith communities have largely been quiet on this topic.  Some churches have joined in fundraising efforts to rebuild the churches that have been burned.  Too many have said nothing. But the faith community should be leading the response.

To stay silent on this issue is to side with those who are actively trying to preserve racial injustice and unjust social structures. That many communities of faith have remained silent is deeply troubling.

2. Ask the hard questions.

Churches can and should be on the front lines of the movement for racial equality. As individual persons and faith communities, we should be asking hard questions: how have my actions (or the actions of this organization) contributed to racial inequality?  How have they ignored it?

When addressed honestly, these are difficult, uncomfortable questions, but they are worth asking.  Finding the answers to these questions and responding accordingly is a critical and pressing challenge of our time.

3. Examine your own practices.

Why is it that when I attend church, I’m so likely to see mostly people of my own race?  Churches are both products of and contributors to a racially unequal society.  I was recently in a meeting where a faith leader dismissed the need to examine racial inequality at their church because they had no “exclusionary policies.” Racial inequality persists in our society even in the absence of explicit “exclusionary policies,” and, in some cases, governments and private institutions are beginning to recognize and act on this. Our churches should be held to an even higher standard.

As voters, consumers, and citizens, each of us is playing a part in maintaining the status quo that marginalizes (and endangers) some members of our communities.

Good intentions are not enough. We must act to build a more merciful and more just world. May we let this be our call to action.

Jenny Heipp is a fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

Catholicism: A Story of Identity

There was a point in my life when I thought I wanted to be a Buddhist. Disillusioned with the strict dogma and old-fashioned views of Catholicism, I began to look elsewhere for my religious fulfillment. I had heard through multiple friends about the benefits of meditation, and once I started to meditate I began to learn more and more about the rich and beautiful Buddhist tradition and the spiritual foundations of meditation. After that, I was hooked. Where Buddhism seemed so hip, cool, worldly, and, I’m ashamed to say, exotic, Catholicism seemed so… conservative. Even downright Republican, and as a card-carrying liberal Democrat, God forbid someone ever assume that about me!

But the deeper I got into Buddhism, the more and more I felt like a fraud, a cultural appropriator who was there more for the novelty and uniqueness than any spiritual or emotional transformation. I mean seriously, the story of disillusioned Westerner turning to Eastern philosophy to fill “The Void” is such a tired cliché that it made me cringe to think I was becoming that person. Read More

How We Should Respond to Violence and Division

As the United States continues to experience senseless acts of violence and deepening societal divisions, I’m reminded as both a Catholic and a citizen that all of us have a responsibility to promote and protect the common good and the general welfare. Nothing reminds me more of such responsibilities than when I read the speeches that Robert F. Kennedy gave in 1968, in the direct aftermath of the shooting and killing of Martin Luther King, Jr. RFK’s timeless words of wisdom about the life and death of Dr. King can perhaps restore some measure of solidarity and unity to a deeply wounded nation. Read More