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Archive for March, 2005

The phone call came this morning, a friend letting us know that Terri Schiavo had died.

She did not die during Holy Week, like many of us had expected, but clung to life tenaciously into what the Roman Church calls the Octave of Easter, and what the Byzantine Church calls Bright Week, a time of celebration when it is forbidden to fast, even on Friday. Terri Schiavo, who entered into the suffering of Christ during Holy Week, began her entry into His Resurrection during Bright Week.

So, while sharing in the grief of her family, we must also share in their hope, not only for Terri’s soul, but for the good that can come of her suffering, as the suffering of what in the Russian Church is called a Passion-Bearer, an innocent person unjustly slain. Perhaps one good effect may lie in prolifers finally waking up to the reality of what
this country has become, and waking up to the generally weak response of most of the politicians and religious leaders in whom they had put their trust.

Oddly, at the end it was not Catholic bishops or Evangelical leaders who came to Florida to plead her defense, but the Rev. Jesse Jackson, God bless him. Perhaps this will lead to the Rev. Jackson rethinking things and returning to the antiabortion stance he once held. And perhaps prolifers will question the package deal they have been sold by the Republican Right, which I have always suspected views us as useful idiots.

And perhaps more Americans will wake up to what has become a tyranny of the judiciary, this rule of black-robed ideologues with their mandates and fiats.

But one may be forgiven if one is sceptical about the odds of America waking up at all. If there is unrelieved grieving it should be for this nation, which seems intent on recreating the dystopian science fictions worlds I read about in the novels of my youth. The killing of Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo has certainly planted a dark seed toward that end.

May God have mercy on us all.

Daniel Nichols

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No, not us. Michael Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos.

Overview at NRO.

Read an excerpt from his book, Litigation as Spiritual Practice. No, that is not a joke. Not just any litigation–"right to die" litigation:

"Such a deep, dark, silent blue. I stared as far into her eyes as I
could, hoping to sense some glimmer of understanding, some hint of
awareness. The deeper I dove, the darker became the blue, until the
blue became the black of some bottomless lake. ‘Mrs. Browning, do you
want to die … do you want to die?’ I nearly shouted as I continued to
peer into her pools of strikingly beautiful but incognizant blue."

"While standing in the house with the realtor, I knew I would live
there, as improbable as the circumstances made it seem. Believing that
something will happen is not foresight. Rather, it is the actual
experience in the present of something that will occur in the future. … Most times this ‘knowing’ for me is sensed as a feeling. Sometimes I hear it, and sometimes I see it."

Well, we knew this kind of thing was coming, didn’t we?

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities,
against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world,
against spiritual wickedness in high places.

–Maclin Horton

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The Storms Are on the Ocean

About the Easter Vigil and a thunderstorm. Totally apolitical.

Maclin Horton

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In the Falling Dark

…but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.
           –Luke 23:53

At least as far back as the late ’60s, some people on both the left and the right have exhibited a thrill that doesn’t seem entirely unpleasurable at the idea that some kind of apocalypse is at hand, that their opponents have taken some kind of step which at once reveals the true depths of their evil and cements their grasp upon the country. I partook of it as a left-wing student when I heard people scare each other with talk of the secret concentration camps Nixon was preparing for us. It was the thrill of children scaring themselves with ghost stories, and I gradually learned to turn a skeptical eye on that sort of rhetoric and emotion. A tendency toward hysteria is a feature of the American character and therefore of American politics.

Nevertheless, the boy who cried wolf was eventually correct. I don’t think that the almost certainly impending death of Terri Schiavo means that the government is going to start rounding up Christians or implementing a program of euthanasia for the disabled. But I am concerned that we have taken a decisive step in that direction, a step big enough that historians might one day see it as a useful marker, like the burning of the Reichstag, of a decisive change.

We are witnessing the government-ordered starvation of an innocent person. Whatever else may be said about the Schiavo case, that fact cannot be wished or explained away. One of the many choruses agitating for this act has been saying for a week or two now that "this sort of thing happens every day." That’s what they said in arguing for legalized abortion, too. And perhaps it’s true. But people have always done bad things on the sly, and people have always, in difficult circumstances, done, with good intentions, things that are objectively wrong. When we decide that, in the name of consistency, honesty, and efficiency, we are going to declare right that which we formerly believed to be wrong, that permissible (if not compulsory) which was formerly forbidden, we are in a different moral world.

That impulse has been given as the justification for a lot of our moral "progress" in the past thirty years or so. "Oh, it happens all the time, best to bring it out into the open." Well, no, it isn’t best. Prudence is a virtue and we don’t need to adopt the Wahabbist program of purifying society by force of all wrongdoing. But the abortionist belongs in legal darkness, as does the euthanizer.

Daniel Nichols and I have a standing disagreement about whether the U.S. is and has been "in general and on balance a force for good in the world," I taking the affirmative and he the negative. I’m not ready to abandon my position yet, but there is an undeniable potential for our nation to become the blasphemous and obscene empire represented in the Bible by the timeless image of Babylon. And they have achieved a victory.

There are many, many Americans who are simply misinformed and uncomprehending as to what is really going on in the Schiavo case. There are also many–I’m not sure how many, and the answer to that question is very important–who are taking what I can only describe as demonic glee in Terri Schiavo’s execution, and I’m not one to use the word "demonic" casually. Will this be the hour in which the balance tips their way, or will the extraordinary passion aroused among religious people, and indeed those of no religious persuasion who simply understand that it is wrong to kill a disabled person, lead to a definitive repudiation of euthanasia?

Earlier this week I sent my children a link to Fr. Rob Johansen’s compilation of reasons why Terri’s condition should be re-evaluated. I prefaced it with the observation that there was no reason why this should be turning into a liberal-vs.-conservative fight. And we’re seeing unexpected people on both sides–conservatives saying "let her die," and liberals like Tom Harkin, God bless him, standing firm against the killing. The light is flickering but it isn’t out yet. In what other industrialized nation would this case even be controversial?

I really had not intended to post during the Triduum, but the confluence of these events with the Passion of Our Lord has been so haunting that I’ve found it hard to stop thinking about it. The juxtaposition is so obviously full of significance that it hardly needs comment. With that I’m signing off until Sunday.

See this post at Dawn Eden’s for a Chestertonian reflection on the Schiavo case; some good comments from readers as well.

Maclin Horton

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Who says…

…there is no culture of death . I guess I should warn you that the site is sickening–not in a physically gruesome way, but morally and humanly. (Tip of the hat to The Dawn Patrol.)

Maclin Horton

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Physical Reactions

I recently heard, on NPR, a professor from a Big Eastern University opining
about the Terri Schiavo case. Yes, he said, there are videos that seemingly show
Ms Schiavo interacting with her parents, smiling when they arrive, and crying
when they leave. The professor insisted that these were mere "physical
reactions", and stated with certainty that Ms Schiavo was, in fact, incapable of
such consciousness.

It occured to me that while the professor appeared to intelligently
articulate an opinion, in fact what I was hearing was really a mere physical
reaction, albeit one colored by ideology, and that he, like many modern
academics, was incapable of rational thought, not to mention moral
reasoning.

It’s like the adulterer caught in the act by his wife: "It’s not what you
think, honey". I mean what are you going to believe? The evidence of your  own
senses? Or the expert from the Big Eastern University?

Daniel Nichols

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Culture War, or Holland With Nukes?

Moral reasoning, or lack thereof, in the USA .

Maclin Horton

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The Russian Church has a name for those innocents who, while not martyred for their faith, nevertheless are unjustly killed: they are called Passion-Bearers, and their suffering is seen as a participation in the sufferings of Christ.

Terri Schiavo, by an eerie coincidence and barring judicial intervention, is scheduled to begin starving to death during Holy Week, when we commemorate the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Strangely, as recent news stories have convered the struggle of Ms. Schiavo’s family and friends to save her life, another news story reported that scientists are realizing that they may have long underestimated the ability of apparently unconscious patients to perceive external occurences. Formerly comatose patients reported being aware of conversations and events, when to all appearances they were oblivious to them.

Human consciousness is a mystery, and no one can know how much Terri Schiavo perceives. What is certain is that she is a baptized Christian soul who is being unjustly thrust into the suffering of Christ. As such, as a participant in the Passion of Christ, her suffering is salvific. And whether conscious, semi-conscious or unconscious, she is about to share in the agonizing cry from the Cross in a more literal way than most of us ever will: "I thirst". We must pray and work that her life be spared. If her death cannot be stopped it may be seen as a defeat for those who struggle to defend human life. But spiritually, it will not be a defeat, anymore than the Cross was a defeat. Terri Schiavo the Passion-Bearer bears the power of that Cross; in her suffering may lie the seeds of our eventual victory.

Daniel Nichols

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Right-to-lifers in the blogosphere are vigorously debating this statement from The New Pantagruel encouraging civil disobedience in the matter.

Prescinding from the abstract moral questions regarding civil disobedience, from the purely practical point of view I would expect–I hope I would be wrong, but I would expect–that the result of any kind of forceful civil disobedience would be the demonization and marginalization of the movement against euthanasia.

The pro-life movement hoped in vain that civil disobedience campaigns such as Operation Rescue would eventually be recognized as being similar to those of the civil rights movement–humble citizens fighting for the rights of the weak against entrenched power. They were right in principle. But the all-important difference is the attitude of the media, for which OR was a welcome opportunity to show the world that pro-lifers were a bunch of wackos. One movement’s humble citizen becomes another’s demented ignoramus. All mass movements have their wackos–I can assure you that from personal experience that the anti-Vietnam-war movement had more than its share of dishonest, deranged, and potentially or even actually violent people. But in general it was treated sympathetically by the press.

Here is a New Oxford book review I wrote a few years ago which dealt with the role played by the media in the civil rights movement and toys with the idea of what would have happened if that movement had been treated by the press as the anti-abortion movement has been.

However, there’s been a new development that might cause things to work out differently: the blogosphere. The iron grip of the mainstream media on the control of a story has been broken. "Gay pride" parades for instance, which have long been sanitized by the big media, now sometimes have their seamier side displayed on the Internet.So it might be possible for a c.d. movement disliked by the big media to get some kind of public relations foothold now that would have been impossible ten years ago.

Maclin Horton

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By all accounts, Taliban-style Islam did not set well with the Afghani
people. Afghani Islam is rooted in the Sufi tradition, with an accepting
attitude toward folk devotion, dancing and the human attributes of faith.
Suicidal "martyrdom" is foreign to the Afghan mind, and there was widespread, if
quiet, resistance to the puritanical tendencies of the Taliban.

I mention this because there is a tendency among Western commentators to
identify the modern Islamist movement with Islam itself. In fact it is,
historically, perhaps the harshest and most inhuman expression of that Faith. It
is as if the Taborites, or other violent puritanical Christian sects, had become
a dominant force in Christianity.

Islam has at times, been the bearer of advanced culture, with a fairly
tolerant attitude toward the other "People of the Book", Jews and Christians.
Indeed, Orthodox Christians at times preferred the "Turban" to the "Tiara"; ie,
Islamic to western Catholic rule, as the Muslims tended to interfere less with
their internal  affairs. Of course, one can find plenty of examples of even
these more humane forms of Islam behaving in oppressive ways, just as one can
find plenty of examples of otherwise humane kinds of Christian rulers behaving
sinfully, but the fact is most  historic expressions of Islam make the
Wahhabists and Jihadis look pretty narrow and brutal.

In fact, it seems that the human soul cannot long endure that which
militates against human nature. The descendents of the New England Puritans
became Unitarians, and who could have guessed a generation ago that Marxism
would collapse of its own weight?

This of course does not negate the short-term danger of Wahhabist
militancy, but it may give us a different perspective over the long run.

On the other hand, as in the case of the struggle against Marxism, perhaps
the greater danger historically will be consumerist capitalism, which is
seductive, rather than hostile, to fallen human nature.

The children of darkness seem to intuit this; Howard Stern has suggested,
with all seriousness, that the way to defeat Islamist militants is to fund huge
shipments of pornography to the Middle East, and for the American government to
build strip clubs in Islamic countries.

And we wonder why they hate us?

Daniel Nichols

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