The $64,000 Question – Answered

So, feeling like you do about both Romney and Obama, who ARE you going to vote for?
That’s more or less what I was asked by a friend recently, and I promised I would be answering here.  There’s going to be a long and complicated explanation before I get to the answer, though, so get comfortable. 🙂
I get the feeling that my liberal friends expect I’m going to go with Romney for “pro-life reasons.”  Meanwhile my conservative Catholic friends seem convinced that I am an Obama supporter and am headed straight to hell.  Gosh, it’s so inconvenient of me to get all complicated and refuse to hop into one of the little boxes we all like to put each other in.
If I were going to self-identify as a member of a political party, I’d call myself a Democrat.  I’m more or less a bleeding heart liberal, if you want to know the truth.  When I take that “who should you vote for” survey that’s been making the rounds this political season, I’m told I should vote for the Green Party candidate, that I agree with about 95% of her positions.  Of course, as Sister Louise would have said, there’s always that 5%.  And what a 5% it is.
I like President Obama.  I think he’s a good man with good intentions.  Pretty much everything the haters say about him isn’t true.  In my opinion he’s been quite effective–it’s just that his detractors don’t approve of his achievements.  Like Obamacare, which I’m excited about, even though I’d prefer a completely government-run system like the ones in Europe. (There.  I said it.)
HOWEVER.  Obviously, if you know me or have read pretty much anything I’ve written including the title of this blog, you know that abortion is a huge issue for me.  And apparently it’s become a huge issue for our President as well, an issue on which he has come down firmly and stridently on the wrong side.  That was why I did not vote for him last time.  Even though I liked him more then than I do now, honestly, I just could not bring myself to push the button and thereby tacitly approve of his radically pro-choice position (and yes, I do believe he is more radical in this area than many other pro-choice politicians).
Now, I don’t think it is any way wrong or sinful to cast a vote for a pro-choice politician (if that is not your REASON for voting for him) in the presence of other proportionate reasons for your vote.  I don’t rule out ever voting for a pro-choice candidate in the future.  What is a proportionate reason is open to one’s prudential judgment, reached by informing one’s conscience about Church teachings, studying the issues, and ideally praying over the decision.  But there are other reasons that I won’t be voting for President Obama.
Frankly, his HHS mandate INFURIATED me, and a lot of other “progressive” Catholics.  So many stood with him on his health care plan BECAUSE of their Catholic faith, and then he basically spit on them.  I know that a lot of you will just think I secretly hate women and don’t want them to get birth control but this is seriously a religious freedom issue, whether you believe it or not.  Still, I don’t think in the end the mandate will pass constitutional muster, so it may not matter on a practical level, but it speaks to a part of the President’s character that I do not admire.
It’s the same part of his character, I believe, which has led him to quietly allow torture to continue; and to expand on his power to spy on, to imprison, to even execute Americans without trial or explanation.  And I’m not going to wear myself out providing the links for all this.  I’ve read and posted many over the past several weeks and can’t get anyone to even discuss them with me.  Republicans like this side of Obama and don’t want to draw attention to it, and Democrats don’t like it and don’t want to draw attention to it.  But someone needs to.  Ditto the drone warfare, which I knew nothing about until recently.  Part of what makes me call myself a Democrat is that we are supposed to be against these kinds of things.
So now let’s talk about Mr. Romney.  I said before that I didn’t think Romney believes in anything but Romney, and after watching three debates and following this race pretty closely, that opinion has not changed.  I just can’t think of any good reason to vote for him.  I have absolutely NO CONFIDENCE that he will make any meaningful changes in abortion policy.  I sincerely hope I am wrong, but let’s remember that his sister, his wife, and most recently a campaign surrogate have all more or less gone on the record saying he won’t make any changes and that this is just not a big issue for him.  Yes, I know what he says himself, but he says all kinds of things all the time, half of which contradict each other–he will say anything to win.  You can say–and I have actually read some comments from prominent pro-life sources that try to assert this–that his wishy-washy comments are just to get votes and he’ll hop on board the pro-life train as soon as he’s elected.  But how do I know that?  And don’t we want a president who is unapologetically pro-life no matter what, if that’s the only reason he’s getting our vote in the first place?  Let’s not forget, too, that Mr. Romney used to be one of those “pro-life for myself, pro-choice for others” politicians, and he has a great story to back up his reasons for his stance–the botched illegal abortion that killed a young relative of his.  I haven’t heard him mention her lately, have you?  Wouldn’t you like to know what changed his mind?
Like I said, I’m basically a Democrat at heart, so a Republican is going to have to provide something extra to make me want to vote for him.  Mr. Romney’s stance on abortion does not convince me.  And I know he says he will repeal the HHS mandate, but I don’t know if I believe it.  Plus as I’ve said I think it’s a moot point anyway, plus his repealing of it is tied to his repealing of Obamacare, which doesn’t exactly appeal to this uninsured American who will be spending more hard-earned money this month on medication than I can afford.  Oh, and that’s hard-earned but UNTAXED money because we are part of that lowly 47% who just won’t ever take responsibility for our own lives.  I suppose Mr. Romney would like us to just not claim our five dependents and reject Mr. Bush’s tax credits so that we can pay income tax in addition to the self-employment tax which we DO have to pay.
In 2008, I did not vote for President.  I went to the polls and voted in the local races, but I just skipped that part.
This year, that doesn’t feel quite right. I’ve read that not voting at all is cowardly or lazy.  I know I am not lazy and I hope I am not a coward.  But I read another article this year that said that in voting for a candidate you are effectually agreeing with their stances, that you are complicit in what they do.  And I just can’t bring myself to do that.  Maybe it would be different if I lived in a swing state.  But Mitt Romney takes Tennessee no matter what I do tomorrow.  That gives my vote a sort of purity–it’s just between me and my conscience.
I could pick a third party candidate, like the Libertarian, who is against the drone wars and the eroding of our freedoms, or the Green Party candidate with whom I appear to largely agree, but unfortunately my areas of disagreement with both of them are in significant areas.  So here is what I have decided to do.
I am going to write in “None of the Above.”  I want the record to reflect that this pro-life Democrat could not find a candidate that she could in good conscience vote for.  For me, that is the most honest vote, after tons of study of both secular and religious documents, much discussion and debate, and plenty of prayerful reflection.
I hope that you will respect my decision, as I plan to respect yours.

UPDATE:  In 2016, my conclusions are different, and I will be explaining them in a future post.

Who Are the Uninsured?

So the other day I was looking at this sort of small boil thing on my leg (I know, I know, TMI but necessary to the story).  “Do you think this could be a staph infection?” I asked Teddy, figuring he would be the expert since things like that tend to lurk in locker rooms.  “Could be,” he answered.  “Well, if I start to see some necrotizing flesh I guess I will go see a doctor,” I said, and I was only kidding a little bit.
I went with John to his doctor yesterday.  There was no more putting it off.  He hadn’t seen a doctor for any sort of follow up since being diagnosed with diabetes in February.  They called him over the phone to let him know.  They didn’t tell him how to check his blood sugar, or what he should be eating, or anything.  And now he was out of his medicine.  He’d been out of five or so other medications for several months, but knowing so little about diabetes we didn’t know what would happen if he stopped taking that one.  So off we went.
We left $150 poorer, with a lab bill to follow, with a handful or prescriptions that will cost us over $500 every month IF we fill them all every month, and that’s after prescription club card discounts.
The last time I wanted to see the doctor, earlier this year, because my leg was swollen and I was worried about a blood clot, I went to the emergency room.  Yes, I am one of those people.  Why?  Because when I called the doctor’s office where I go when I am sick (which is thankfully never) they said I hadn’t been there in over three years, so I would be a new patient, and they would have to charge me for a check up first, and they wouldn’t be able to see me right away.  And I would have had to pay the whole bill right then.  This also happened to me the last time I got sick enough to need a doctor.  That time (I had walking pneumonia) I ended up at the Walgreens walk-in clinic (I recommend them, by the way.). See, healthy uninsured people don’t get annual physicals.  So they don’t have a relationship with a doctor.  When they get sick, they wait a few days.  Tough it out.  See if it won’t get better on its own.
Emily has student insurance because Spring Hill requires it.  She graduates in May and will enter the ranks of the uninsured unless she finds a job that provides insurance.  Luckily for her she is astonishingly healthy–no antibiotics or doctor visits for illness since the age of two.  The other kids are on TennCare but I’m pretty sure Jake gets kicked to the curb at 19–bad news, since he does take medications that it fully covers.  Teddy will have coverage in college, I suppose, and even if we lose TennCare for the little ones as we have fewer dependents, there is a program called CoverKids for them.
I could write several columns about the failures of TennCare but I won’t because despite all of them I am grateful that my kids have had insurance of any sort.  There were years when they didn’t, when I sucked it up and asked for a bill at the doctor’s office while staring at the sign stating that all accounts needed to be paid in full at the time of service, when we waited a day or two longer than other people might to see the doctor, hoping things would improve on their own, when we paid $100 for eyedrops for a corneal abrasion and used them on pinkeye outbreaks for years in order to get our money’s worth.
So how did we end up here?  Where did we go wrong?  Aren’t those uninsured people, those people who think they are entitled to healthcare, people who don’t work, or who are deadbeats, or who just don’t bother to purchase insurance?
Well no, they are people just like us, which is why I am writing about this very personal topic.  Because I think people ought to know that.
I’m not going to go through the last twenty-plus years and tell the whole sorry saga of our health insurance blues, because it would take too long and probably be boring.  I’ll just hit the high (the low?) points.
Growing up, I never thought about health insurance, and I’m sure you didn’t either.  I went straight from my father’s plan to my husband’s–I got married less than three months after I graduated from college.  I remember how fun it was reading about the plans and deciding which one we should pick.  That was right at the beginning of HMOs, and the Federal Government (where John worked then) offered Kaiser Permanente, which was free but kind of sucked, actually.  But it was a lot better than nothing.
The only problem was that when we moved to Knoxville, Cobra notwithstanding, we were screwed, because there was no Kaiser here.  So with a baby on the way, we entered the ranks of the uninsured.  I got a job at UT that had great benefits, but not for pre-existing conditions!  So Emily was an out-of-pocket purchase, paid off over many long years, as were two of our other babies.
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I was also writing for the Tennessee Register then, and I wrote a long article about the burgeoning health care crisis in this country–something I had never heard of at that time.  All the experts I interviewed said it was only going to get worse.  When I was seeking a position with the East Tennessee Catholic, I showed that article to the then-editor, and he wanted to know what it had to do with Catholicism.  Ah, hindsight.
That was my last full-time job, so I never was offered insurance again.  John was, at his first post-law-school position, but the family plan was so expensive that we couldn’t afford it, plus I was pregnant already and it wouldn’t cover that pre-existing condition–that didn’t stop TennCare from kicking me off though–because I was OFFERED insurance, even though we DIDN’T get it and it wouldn’t have covered me if we had!
Several years later, after John began practicing law on his own (that means no group coverage, people), he found a nice insurance agent who said he could get us affordable private-pay coverage.  He came out to the house and we picked a plan.  A few weeks later, we got the bad news:  because of his pre-existing health conditions, and the medications he was already taking, John had been declared officially uninsurable.
That’s right, folks:  that’s how insurance companies hold their costs down.  They weed out the people who need the coverage most.
After awhile, we did the math.  Paying monthly premiums, the deductible, and the co-pays for people who rarely if ever got sick made it impossible for us to afford the care and medications for the one person in the house who needed it.  We had to drop that insurance and it’s only become less affordable since.
In the ensuing years, there have been times (pregnancies, extended illnesses, excessive medical bills) that we’ve been able to qualify for TennCare in one form or another.  I was able to get my gall bladder removed during one of those times, happily.  In between, John only goes to the doctor for medication refills and we look for patient assistance programs and samples to cover the costs of his medications, or else he goes without “less important” medications.
Something has to be done about the state of health care in this country.  My European friends laugh at our resistance to “socialized medicine.”  They can’t understand why we wouldn’t want what they have.  The Affordable Health Care Act is not perfect, but it’s a start.  I trust the pro-life Democrats’ assurances that they are satisfied with the concessions that were made to them before they voted for the bill.  I may yet read the whole thing (900+ pages) to see what all it includes for myself.   My feelings about the HHS mandate are already on the record but I am still hopeful that it will be overturned or modified.
Reform has to come, one way or another, sooner or later.  It’s coming too late for some people.

What's a Catholic Voter to Do Part Three

A couple of people posted on my last entry that the reaction to what I had written showed the power of my words.  It was nice to think of it that way.  But the fact that the reaction was the exact OPPOSITE of what I was looking for when I wrote the original column doesn’t make me feel powerful–it makes me feel impotent against the rising tide of politically-inspired ill will–even hatred–among Christians with opposing political views.  Here’s the last installment of my story.
As if having the hierarchy oh-so-gently suggesting that I what I had written was not authentically Catholic was not enough, soon the newspaper was inundated with letters to the editor, some of which did not just attack my arguments, but went after me personally.  I was obviously just a liberal looking for any excuse to vote for John Kerry, said one.  (Come on–was anyone THAT enthusiastic about voting for John Kerry?)  The truth is that I have AGONIZED during every election season from 2000 on over what vote to cast.  That fellow Catholics would presume to judge me in print–essentially proving my original point, although that was cold comfort–was painful.  If my files weren’t ashes now I would share more of the comments with you.
By the time the letters appeared in the paper, I was on bedrest awaiting the imminent arrival of Baby #5.  I couldn’t leave my bed to vote in the election–how hysterical is that?  As one of the few–but much appreciated–supporters wrote in, how many of my detractors were pro-life enough to have given birth to five children?
Yes, there were supporters.  That was perhaps the one positive result of the experience at the time–I heard from (not often in writing though!) several people who I never would have guessed felt the same way I did–people who thanked me for speaking out and encouraged me in my belief that I hadn’t done anything wrong–people who admitted they were afraid to let the rest of the Catholic community know how they felt for fear of judgment.  Some of them literally WHISPERED their thanks in my ear!
THAT’s what I was writing about.  THAT is what I wanted to speak out against, what I naively thought my words might change.

credit: http://www.religionlink.com/tip_060717.php

What's a Catholic Voter to Do Part Two

This is Part 2 of a story which begins here.  It chronicles the unforeseen results of my having had the temerity to publish a column on voting in the local Catholic press just before the 2004 elections.
I felt good about what I had written.   I thought I had expressed myself well.  I sat back and naively expected peace and goodwill to ensue.
That isn’t what happened.
I was working in my kitchen one morning when the phone rang.  This was way before iPhones so the identity of the caller came as a complete shock.  It was the Chancellor of my Diocese calling to tell me that the Bishop!! wanted me to know that he could not support everything I had written.
I am not going to try to recount that whole conversation.  It was eight long years ago after all.  But some parts I remember quite clearly.  As I stood in my pantry staring at the shelves, the Chancellor told me that Pope John Paul’s condemnation of the Iraq war was merely his “prudential judgment.”  He said that the Pope had not declared it an infallible, ex cathedra teaching.   I think he might have been a bit surprised that I was able to fire back the names of the TWO (yes, only two) such pronouncements on which all theologians agree.

U.S. President George W. Bush greets Pope John Paul II during their meeting at the Vatican June 4, 2004. http://www.tribuneindia.com/2004/20040606/wd1.jpg

What I remember very clearly is the impression I was left with–that I had just been ARGUED with by a Church official about whether there might be a “Catholic” way to vote in the coming election.  And I remember wondering, if it all comes down to prudential judgment, shouldn’t I, as a Catholic, give more weight to the judgment of the Holy Father than to that of any elected secular official?
Before it got better, it got a lot worse.  Shortly thereafter I got another call.  This time it was the Bishop himself on the other end of the line!  I got the sense that he knew the first call hadn’t gone well and that he felt bad about it.  His call had more of a pastoral tone. I  honestly cannot remember WHAT he said, but I could tell he wanted me to feel better about the whole thing.  I recall that he stated that he would be publishing something himself later to clarify the issues involved.
In those days my husband was an active Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus, and I saw the Bishop frequently at KOC events.  He had always been friendly and kind and complimentary about my column in the past.  So I felt bad.  Very bad.
See, I consider myself to be orthodox, more so than most people I know.  I take the teachings of the Church very seriously.  I am not a “cafeteria Catholic.”  And before I wrote that column I made sure to read the relevant parts of the Catechism and the Gospel of Life and the document the Bishops put out every election year.  I had my husband read it over too.  I wanted to make ABSOLUTELY sure that it reflected Church teaching.
To have someone in the hierarchy suggest differently was DEEPLY painful. (I am sorry for all the capital letters.  It’s how I am feeling as I write this.)  It’s still painful.  I don’t feel completely comfortable publishing this, and probably would not if either of the people involved were still in the Diocese of Knoxville.
Was I wrong?  And if I was wrong, was I going to have to believe that the Church could back certain voting choices?  If so, would I have to follow those directions to remain a faithful Catholic?  Or was I going to have to become a dissenter in order to follow my own conscience?
I didn’t like any of those options.  I was in spiritual agony.  I was also about eight months pregnant.  Not a good combination.
I went back and reread what I had written.  I read the documents again.  I still couldn’t find anything wrong with what I had said.  Nor could other people I trusted.  Could this mean that it was the “prudential judgments” of the Bishop and the Chancellor that were  in error?  That was a scary thought.
In the end, though, that’s what I’ve come to believe.  I stand today by what I wrote eight years ago.
But there’s more to the story.  Stay tuned.

What's a Catholic Voter to Do?

This is an edited version of a column I wrote in the fall of 2004.  At the time I was extremely disturbed by the vitriol surrounding the Presidential campaign, particularly that directed by Catholics toward other Catholics, presuming to assert that there was only one way for a good Catholic to vote.  I did not remember people being so hateful about politics in the past.  (Of course, things are much worse today, with Catholics routinely being assured by their brethren that they are headed straight to hell if they vote for a  pro-choice candidate.)  So I wrote this in the hopes of calming folks down a little bit, at least folks who read the East Tennessee Catholic.  

The first time I was eligible to vote for President, when I was 21, I was away at college and did not get my absentee ballot in time.  My parents and grandparents were all Democrats, and therefore so was I:  no decision-making would have been necessary.
I was similarly complacent the first time I was able to cast a vote, although in the opposite direction, for George H.W. Bush.  He was against abortion, the most horrible evil in the world.  How could other issues matter?
Four years later other issues seemed more important than I had thought.  In the most recent elections choosing a candidate has become agony.  I am unwilling to equate “pro-life” with anti-abortion, so I see no “pro-life” candidate.  Anyone who wages pre-emptive wars that kill up to 20,000 innocent civilians is not pro-life.  John Kerry’s assertion that life begins at conception while he blithely votes to give women unlimited power to end it doesn’t sit well with me either.  What’s a Catholic voter to do?
Thoughtful Catholics will come down on both sides, and if they have informed and followed their consciences, they are not sinning.  But no candidate is in line with all of the Church’s moral teachings.
Although the Church gives us guidance in this matter, it does not endorse candidates.  Many of you read Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s statement that when a Catholic does not share a candidate’s pro-choice stance but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered “remote material cooperation” [in evil] which is “permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”  The cardinal [later Pope Benedict] does not define the proportionate reasons, leaving us to define them ourselves.
The U.S  bishops published Faithful Citizenship:  A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility, which states:  “The 2004 elections . . . pose significant challenges for our Church . . . the Church cannot be a chaplain for any one party or cheerleader for any candidate.  Our cause in the protection of the weak and vulnerable and defense of human life and dignity . . . As Catholics [we are called] to recommit ourselves to carry the values of the Gospel and Church teaching into the public square . . . Faithful citizenship calls us to seek ‘a place at the table’ of life for all God’s children in the elections of 2004 and beyond . . . A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good.
Finally, our Holy Father [Saint Pope John Paul the Great] quoted the following statement of the Second Vatican Council in The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), a must-read for anyone who dares consider himself an authority on life issues:  “Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator.”
The Pope adds: “The underlying causes of attacks on life have to be eliminated, especially by ensuring proper support for families and motherhood. A family policy must be the basis and driving force of all social policies. For this reason there need to be set in place social and political initiatives capable of guaranteeing conditions of true freedom of choice in matters of parenthood. It is also necessary to rethink labour, urban, residential and social service policies so as to harmonize working schedules with time available for the family, so that it becomes effectively possible to take care of children and the elderly.”
With the help of these experts, I have the following reflections to offer.  One way to choose your candidate is to decide which issues are crucial to you and vote for the candidate who shares your perspective.  If you judge abortion the ultimate issue, you could vote for the candidate who opposes it. Or you might vote based upon the amount of change you expect the candidate to be able to effect in various areas of importance.  For example, if you voted for President Bush because he was pro-life the last time around, look at his record:  how many lives has he saved?  How much power does the President have to effect change in this area?  Some voted for Bush in 2000 so he could choose Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade.  But he has yet to appoint a single justice.  And who can guarantee his choices would vote against abortion?  Look at the records of Sandra Day O’Connor and David Souter, both appointed by conservatives.
What can a President affect in the way of life issues?  He can start a war, a war our Holy Father opposed.  And what about other life issues the pope enumerates in The Gospel of Life?  Some “conservative” social policies may lead to more abortions, when women choose abortion because of a lack of money, homes, or childcare.  There are many voter guides available online to further help you in the discernment process.
Because the Church doesn’t tell us for whom to vote, we must inform our consciences before making this important choice.
Have you fully informed yourself on the Church’s position on all life issues by reading The Gospel of Life?  Have you prayerfully considered the the teachings of our bishops?  Have you acquainted yourselves with the positions and records of both candidates?  If so, your conscience has been properly formed, and you have nothing with which to reproach yourself.  And if in charity you assume that your fellow Catholics who may have chosen a different candidate have done the same, you have nothing with which to reproach them either.
My column did not have the effect I had hoped or expected.  More on that in my next post.
Part II
Part III

The Exception that Proves the Rule

Original source: http://www.france24.com/en/20120820-furor-over-republicans-legitimate-rape-comment

In the wake of Todd Akin’s stupid (really, I could think of a fancier word but I think that one covers it) remarks about rape and abortion, and then VP-hopeful Paul Ryan’s follow-up distancing himself from Akin and downplaying his own oft-stated convictions regarding abortion in exceptional cases, pregnancy and rape are everywhere in the news this week.
I think I have something to contribute, though, and I would like to solicit contributions from you as well, if you have something to add in the comments.
I understand, I believe, the pro-choice position on abortion, as much as I disagree with it: that a woman should have the right to decide what to do with her own body, including whether to become or to stay pregnant. And I think most pro-choice people understand the pro-life position: that abortion is wrong because the unborn is a person whose right to life cannot be trumped by its mother’s rights.
But I CANNOT understand the reasoning behind allowing exceptions for rape and incest. I challenge anyone reading this who holds those beliefs to explain them below.
Pro-lifers and even many people in the muddy middle on abortion often find themselves frustrated by radical pro-choicers who refuse to allow for any limitations on abortion: waiting periods, parental notification, banning procedures most people find repugnant, like partial-birth abortions. But abortion rights activists realize that they have to argue against these limitations because to admit limitations is also to admit that there is something unsavory about abortion, somethings serious, something that makes people uncomfortable. When President Clinton opined that abortion should be “Safe, legal, and rare,” some were uncomfortable with his language because why should it be rare if there is nothing morally wrong about it?
On the flip side, allowing exceptions for incest and rape does much more damage to a pro-life argument. After all, WHY are we against abortion? Because we believe that the unborn child is a human being from the moment of conception and therefore entitled to the protections that human dignity demands from that moment forward. With that as our premise, how can we offer an exception based on how that human person was conceived?
We can’t, not logically. But most Americans have not been trained to think critically. They are uncomfortable with abortion on some level. They are also uncomfortable with allowing suffering of any kind. They look for compromises and find them in limiting abortions to certain trimesters, and to allowing exceptions in certain circumstances.
But offering exceptions based on mode of conception is sexist, honestly. It’s saying, “Well, you poor innocent woman, you shouldn’t have to be further victimized by carrying this baby because it wasn’t your fault.  But as for the rest of you sluts, you play, you pay.”

The Politics of Email

The quotation “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company” has been repeated so often that its original source is long forgotten.  And nowadays the wisdom of this advice goes unheeded, especially, I find, when email is involved.

Please don’t get me wrong:  I enjoy civil discussion on those topics, but that is hard to come by.  Tempers grow heated and no one’s views are changed.  Many of us would do well to remember that according to Emily Post (and who should know better than she?):  “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”  So we avoid politics and religion in conversation in order to avoid making other feel uncomfortable.  I, for one, feel intensely uncomfortable when (in polite company, which doesn’t necessarily mean  your nearest and dearest friends and family, though perhaps it should) political ideas with which I disagree are loudly voiced in my presence.  I don’t want to get into an argument, so I usually try to stay quiet, unless my opinion is directly requested.
But what constitutes “polite company” online?  When is it okay to write about politics and religion and when is it not?
Emily Post is no longer with us, but I have my own ideas on this topic, so here goes:
Rather obviously, if you have a blog, write what you want.  People can choose to read or not, and to join in the conversation or not.  People should feel free to disagree with anything written on a blog, and to comment thereupon, as long as they do so politely (which of course should apply to anyone anytime they disagree with anyone ANYWHERE!).
On Facebook, I consider a person’s Wall to be their personal space.  Therefore, they should be able to post anything they wish there.  Again, you have the ability to hide certain posts or even unfriend them if you find them offensive.  While I post religious and political items on my Wall, I try not to post things that are inflammatory.  I realize some of my Facebook friends may be offended by my very opinions, but I try not to express them in an offensive way.
If I post something on my Wall, I should expect that others may comment on it.  When friends of mine post things I disagree with, I almost always just stay away. (Of course this depends on the person and on how reasonable and calm I perceive that they are.)  If I am not going to change their minds, I don’t wish to alienate them or start a fight.  One exception is when they have posted something demonstrably false, and then I may post the Snopes link, although even that seems to irritate some people.  Or sometimes people WANT a discussion, and then I will weigh in.  And I actually love when people comment on my political and religious posts, because I have a lot of friends who disagree with me, but who know how to have a civil discussion, and since I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that in real life, I think it’s great!  Maybe I will learn something from them, and maybe, just maybe, I may make them think a little too!
Now that I’ve been all reasonable, it’s time for the rant.  I DO NOT LIKE IT when people send me political or religious or both combined (which is the worst) emails, especially when I am reasonably certain that they know I am not in full agreement with the sentiments expressed therein (or if they don’t know me well enough to know!). Since I would think by now BECAUSE of what I say on my blog and what I choose to post on my Wall most of my friends should have a fair idea of where I stand on most political and religious issues of importance,  these emails taste of proselytization.
Yes, sending me an email like that (and how many of them are provably false anyway?) is tantamount to knocking on my door and asking if I’ve been saved, or seeking my vote for your political candidate.  Except that those people are strangers, not my friends.
My husband says I am overreacting, and maybe I am. (Feel free to tell me in the comments!)  But when a Catholic friend sends me an email implying that I should vote a certain way in November, I feel that I am being told I am not Catholic enough.  (Am I “Catholic enough”?  That will be a subject of another post!)  That a “real Catholic” can only have one viewpoint.  That if they just give me enough information I am bound to think the same way they think. (Whom did I vote for in the last election?  For whom will I vote this time around?  Take a wild guess and you will probably all be wrong.  More on that in another post.)
Unlike a Facebook post on your own Wall, I interpret an email in my inbox as an opening remark in a conversation.  And if you want to start that conversation by sending me something that isn’t true, or that makes me feel like you are trying to send me some kind of message, or that misinterprets facts (and I do investigate any allegations or assertions that arrive in my inbox), chances are you are going to receive a return email from me with my response to what you have asked that I read or watch.  So if that’s not a conversation you wish to have, please think before you hit send.

What Mothers Do

I’ve got five kids and I’ve been a mother for over 21 years.  I find that my “mothering urges” sort of spread themselves over whatever children happen to be around me.  When my kids have friends over, I’m all “sweetheart” and “honey” at them.  I feed them.  I feel sorry for them if they are upset.  I try to talk to them if they will let me.  If little ones fall down or have hurt feelings I hug and bandage.  If I’m out in public and hear someone being mean to their child I follow them around to make sure it’s not serious.  When I hear tiny babies crying in Target I silently beg their mothers to feed them already!
I’m not tooting my own horn–I mean, I thought that was just how mothers mostly are.  I bet most of you mothers reading are like that.
What would you think of a mother who would provide her own child with illegal drugs?  Who would hide behind her prominent family while selling pain pills to other young teenagers?  Who would not call 911 to assist a teenager who was slowly dying in the home of drug-dealing acquaintances?

Laurie Pelot Gooch

Laurie Gooch is the mother of Henry Granju‘s girlfriend.  I’ve written plenty about Henry almost since I first began blogging, but if you don’t know his story you can start here.  Ms. Gooch is also the daughter of a prominent Knoxville politician, and one cannot help but speculate that her family connections have thus far shielded her from prosecution for her activities.  She was finally arrested and charged, thanks to a KPD investigation fueled by information provided by Henry’s mother.  But now apparently she has been allowed to plea to lesser charges and may serve no jail time at all.
I don’t know Laurie Gooch’s whole life story.  I don’t know what has happened to make her the person she is today.  Perhaps she has redeeming qualities of which I am unaware.  But I know enough to know where she belongs right now:  behind bars.  Not only is she a danger to the teenagers of Knoxville, including her own child, but letting her plea her way out of this doesn’t do much to end the scourge of prescription drug abuse that is killing our teenagers and ripping families apart every day.
Please help by sharing this post or any of Henry’s mama’s posts on this topic.  You can go here to sign a petition that will go to the sentencing judge.  You can go here to find out how to write him a letter asking that he refuse to grant her judicial diversion.
If you are a mom (and even if you aren’t) let’s do what mothers do, or what they are supposed to do.  Let’s take action to protect all the vulnerable children–teenagers are still children–in our midst from those who would prey upon them.

Our First, Most Cherished Liberty

Yesterday, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published an eloquent statement on what it means to be both Catholic and American, and the importance of religious freedom.  Since the Bishops don’t give me a personal call when they make statements, or send a copy to my inbox, I learned about this the same way many people have or will:  from a link to an article excerpting the statement on my Facebook wall, in my case from the Diocese of Knoxville website.
This short article gave the impression that the most important part of the statement was its call for Catholic Americans to resist unjust laws.  This was a bit alarming so I decided a look at the original source was in order.
The second place I heard about the statement was on Twitter, via a link to an an editorial on Commonweal.  Had I read only that (and judging from the comments thereafter, most readers did) I would have been left with an impression of the statement as a partisan diatribe against President Obama.
No doubt other people, seeing other links which present quotations from the statement with their own personal slant, will come away with other impressions–and they will be the impressions that the media want them to have.
I don’t want–or need–anyone telling me what I need to think about anything.  I can think for myself and you can too.  Didn’t I just write about the importance of seeking out original sources?
Here’s a link to the actual statement.  It’s a bit long but it’s well-written and interesting.  I read it aloud to my husband last night.  If you are Catholic, it’s your duty to read it.  If you are not, and you would like to understand why Catholics are making such a big deal over the HHS mandate, you should read it too.  Perhaps you will come away from it realizing that it really IS about religious freedom, not birth control, per se.
Besides the direct knowledge and understanding of the issue that I gained from reading the document in full, I received something more personal, my own mandate, if you will: 
Catechesis on religious liberty is not the work of priests alone. The Catholic Church in America is blessed with an immense number of writers, producers, artists, publishers, filmmakers, and bloggers employing all the means of communications—both old and new media—to expound and teach the faith. They too have a critical role in this great struggle for religious liberty. We call upon them to use their skills and talents in defense of our first freedom.
Would you look at that?  Right there my church recognized the importance of blogging to catechesis today.  The Bishops recognized the talent of Catholic bloggers and called upon them to use it!  I got a little chill reading that, seriously, because one of my goals with this eclectic little blog, even with its minuscule reach, is to educate about the parts of my faith of which I have a good understanding.  Now that I feel that it’s not just my goal, but also a request from the Church, I will try even harder.
 

Straight from the Horse's Mouth

I think the Internet’s pretty awesome, really I do. It’s great to be able to settle dinnertime arguments and answer children’s millions of questions with a click of an iPhone button. It’s way convenient not have to travel down to the library to check out a book or look in the encyclopedia when I want to learn something new. And it’s great to be able to go into greater depth on the issues I care about without having to rely on only the nightly news or the daily paper.
Do you sense a “but” coming? You are right, and it’s a big one.
BUT a lot of what you read on the Internet is–NEWS FLASH–not true. Or it’s incomplete. Or slanted. Or out of context.
My freshman year at Georgetown my history professor introduced us to an idea I had never considered before. He said that you can’t take the accuracy of historical accounts for granted. He said you have to consider who wrote the account and when, and what personal or cultural biases might have influenced what he chose to include, what he left out, what conclusions he drew. For our final paper, we had to pick a controversial historical figure and read several sources for information, picking from different eras. We were to discuss why each authority presented what he did, and then reach our own conclusion about our subject.
I had grown up thinking–most of us did, I imagine–that if I read or watched the news each day I pretty much knew what was going on in the world. If Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings said it, you felt like you could trust them. Remember little Virginia O’Hanlon, who asked the editor of The New York Sun about the existence of Santa Claus, because her papa told her: “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so”?
Distrust of the mainstream media started before the Internet, of course, but has accelerated since. Now everyone can be an expert, and no one has to give up any cherished opinion because, after all, one can fine website after website to support any position or point of view. Far from educating us, it’s actually entrenching us further in willful ignorance.
I am that obnoxious person who will actually write you back to refute the email you just sent me saying that President Obama canceled the National Day of Prayer or that President Bush has the lowest I.Q. of any president in the last 50 years. I’ll send you the link from snopes.com to prove it. I’ll post it in the comments if you put it on Facebook and I might just blog about it too. That’s because truth is important and in the days of instant information overload, it’s in short supply.
Essentially, most of us are intellectually lazy.  And also we are accustomed to thinking that if we read a published account, especially if it’s on a mainstream website like AOL, it’s true.  Few of us realize how the very issues of importance are decided upon for us by the media.  We read what they want us to read, how they want to present it, and they are no longer driven by a quest for truth but rather by a quest for page views.  Any time I read something that is stirring up a lot of comments and controversy, I am immediately suspicious of it and start to delve further.
A good example is a story that made the rounds a few months ago that Pope Benedict said that “Gay marriage is a threat to humanity’s future.”  Long story short, that’s not what he said.  Creative reuse of one or two comments he made in a long speech created the impression that not only did he say that, but it was all he said or cared about.  But even in these deceptive stores, they include hyperlinks that can lead to the truth if you try hard enough.  Eventually I was able to find out when and to whom the remarks were made, and then I went to the Vatican website and read the whole speech myself.  That way I did not have to rely on AOL to tell me what to think.  I could think for myself.
(Side note to my Catholic readers: Do I seriously need to tell you that Huffpost News isn’t the best source for the facts about Catholicism?  Might I suggest the USCCB website, or the Catechism, or the Vatican website, or at the very least that you read the original source material for yourself before allowing your view of your own faith to be influenced by the media, which is at best ignorant and at worst hostile about religion?)
Same thing with the recent talk about how 98% of Catholic women use birth control.  That figure comes from a study, supposedly.  Much back-clicking finally yielded that study itself, so that I could see that the much-bandied statistic is inaccurate.
Or there was the whole Kirk Cameron-is-a-bigot “scandal,” which looks a bit different if you actually watch the interview in which his remarks were made or read the entire transcript, as I took the time to do.
Or there’s the perception that people with children need to keep them under perpetual lockdown because of all those people stealing kids out there? (As I told my mother yesterday, “If it happened all the time it wouldn’t be news.”)
Or there’s the email I received yesterday containing allegations that President Obama is a Muslim, or a Marxist, or both.
I cannot say this often enough:  consider your source.  Consider your source.  CONSIDER YOUR SOURCE!  What bias does it have?  Can it speak authoritatively to the topic?  What advantage does it gain by portraying the “facts” in a certain light?  Wherever possible, read the speech yourself (the whole speech).  Watch the video yourself (the whole thing).  Check a reputable, fact-checking site.  The Internet helps lies to spread like wildfire, but don’t forget that it also provides the tools you need to refute them.
There are always going to be stories that cannot be confirmed this way–ones in which, for example, eyewitnesses give conflicting accounts.  Or maybe you don’t have time to read the entire Affordable Care Act (although I am seriously considering making the attempt).  In such cases you should read several sources.  Factcheck.org is a good choice if you want to avoid bias.  I find it helpful to read sources with opposing viewpoints so I see both sides of the story before forming an opinion.
Does this sound exhausting?  Sometimes it is.  Sometimes I see an inaccuracy or misrepresentation on Facebook that I know is going to take more than a quick trip to Snopes to investigate but I still do it.  You can make it easier for me and other truth-seekers if you do the same, BEFORE you post that interesting article that supports what you were thinking already.  You can check Snopes, or look at Factcheck.org.  You can take a few minutes to click back to that article’s original source and read it and THINK FOR YOURSELF.  And if you are too intellectually lazy to do those things, you can choose not to forward or repost.