All posts tagged: Life and Dignity Writing Fellow

The Devastating Fallout from Prenatal Testing

As we get older, we often tend to situate our lives in and around historical events, which serve as place markers and give us some frame of reference, especially when the events are personally salient. Because of my field and my personal experience, I see my life as demarcated in part by events in the history of disability in this country. For example, my son Tommy (who has Down syndrome) was born in 2007, the watershed year in which prenatal testing for chromosomal disabilities was recommended for all pregnant women by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and which also heralded unprecedented technological advances in prenatal screening and diagnosis. I was born 42 years earlier, in July of 1965. In December of that same year, a professor of education named Burton Blatt, well respected in the field of disability, asked his friend Fred Kaplan to accompany him on a tour inside four institutions for persons with cognitive disabilities in four eastern states. Kaplan agreed and went along with a camera hidden in his clothes. …

After Failing the Covington Catholic Test

Like many others, I failed the Covington Catholic test. I let myself be manipulated (apparently at the hands of anonymous internet bots operating with precise coordination to unleash maximum mayhem) by the original video and castigated these boys without pausing to think about whether there might be more to the story. I was all ready to pitch an op-ed calling out the March for Life’s cozying up the “Make America Great Again” crowd—when, much to my surprise, more videos were released that caused me to revisit what I thought I had just seen. These boys, though not 100% innocent, were far from the villains in the affair. The rush to publicly ruin their lives, and even threaten their school with violence, was absolutely sickening. But even in the face of direct evidence to the contrary, many simply could not let go of the original narrative and went looking for more evidence in support of it. They were partially successful. In response to a Native American’s claim that whites stole their land, a boy who attended the March …

Confessions of a Feminist Heretic

During the advent of my first pregnancy, in 2012, I was comfortably settled into my own unique brand of postmodern feminist Christianity. I remember lounging on the couch amidst waves of debilitating nausea, watching news coverage of the controversial Contraceptive Mandate, rolling my eyes in anger and disgust at those regressive Catholic priests in their prim white collars, telling women what to do with their bodies. Yet almost exactly two years later, I would be standing before such a priest at the Easter Vigil Mass, publicly confessing my desire to be received into the largest, oldest male-helmed institution in the world, the Roman Catholic Church. My sudden swerve into Catholicism prompted a dramatic worldview inversion on a number of issues related to feminism and sexuality, including the central feminist tenet that abortion is good for women. I can trace my paradigm shift on abortion to two underlying recognitions that dawned slowly during those two short years: a recognition of unborn personhood, and a recognition that the feminist ideal of autonomy sets a woman at war …

When the State Kills

Going through old albums can really pull you into a remembrance of things past. For instance, when I came across my old Metallica album, Ride the Lightning, it took me back to a time when we unironically used Polaroid cameras, watched time-travel movies on VHS in which 2015 was considered the very distant future, and—as indicated in the album’s title—the state still killed people with electric chairs. Ancient history, right? Except that we killed a man in Tennessee via electric chair just last month. Tennessee only allows those convicted of a capital crime before 1999 to choose the electric chair, but Edmund Zagorski elected to be killed in this way because of what we are now learning about death by lethal injection—the strong possibility that it causes “immense pain and suffering.” Perhaps he had also heard about the lethal injection of Jack Jones who was “coughing, convulsing, lurching, [and] jerking” during his botched execution. Indeed, just weeks after Zagorski, a second Tennessee death row inmate requested the electric chair. These are remarkable choices, especially because some botched executions by electric chair have resulted in the …

Hildegard of Bingen’s Vital Contribution to the Concept of Woman

When I was an undergraduate at an Evangelical university and beginning to think more deeply about gender, there were two basic paradigms on offer: egalitarianism and so-called complementarity. In those days—the early 2000’s—the pop-Christian livre de jour was a book called Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul by Jon Eldredge. This bestseller, ubiquitous in evangelical circles, provided a dizzying mash-up of fairy tale tropes, pop culture references, and bible verses, in order to unlock the hidden mysteries of the masculine heart. The basic premise of Eldredge’s book is that God creates men to be chivalrous Beasts with a hunger for adventure, a need to fight battles and rescue a Beauty. And a woman’s telos, conversely, is to be that Beauty who is rescued and swept up in the man’s heroic adventure. Eldredge presents men and women as two partial reflections of God: “There is a masculine heart, and a feminine heart, which in their own ways reflect or portray to the world God’s heart.”[1] These two “hearts” are not so much …

The Crisis of Catholic Moral Theology

Screams and applause and “Hail to the Chief” greeted President Obama as he walked onstage to deliver the 2009 commencement address at Notre Dame, the weekend during which I formally received my doctorate in Catholic moral theology. On the other side of campus, protestors were rallying against the President’s legislative record on prenatal children—consistently the worst of any successful presidential candidate in history. I was present at the main commencement, because unlike the protestors I approved of Notre Dame’s decision to invite the president and confer on him an honorary doctorate. Obama was not the first president so honored with a record fundamentally at odds with Catholic moral teaching, and for me the opportunity to open a dialogue on abortion was simply too important. Still, given the scale of abortion’s injustice, I understood the protestors’ concerns. And I was distraught to see how, thanks in part to polarizing media coverage, U.S. Catholic culture was being riven by the debate. I went from Notre Dame to Fordham, where, as a young idealistic assistant professor, I was …

Does Darwinian Evolution Naturally Petrify the Image of God?

Hello, human being, hummus from the soil. You are lowly, yet magnificent. You have been pulled up from the earth and breathed into life by YHWH. You are made in his image. Your wiry limbs and curious eyes somehow make visible the hidden things of God. Come, name the other creatures, those body-beings who are like you, but also not like you. You are the Namer; they are the Named. You come out of Eden, where there is a four-branched river that waters the land, and also several trees. Human being, you come from Eden, yet you do not come from Eden. You come from Africa, from your mitochondrial mother. You are homo sapiens, of the genus homo. You are a bipedal hominid, a big-brained ape, with perhaps a trace of Neanderthal DNA. You are made by God, in the image of God, and you have also been made by nature, through the engine of change, over the span of two thousand millennia. How can this be? * The principle of unassailable human dignity is …

An Open Secret: White Privilege’s Targeting of Vulnerable Populations with Abortion

The prenatal child, of course, is the paradigmatic vulnerable person. But abortion disproportionately impacts many other kinds of vulnerable populations as well. Poor and low income women account for 3 in every 4 abortions in the United States. Given the economic pressures especially on single mothers, it is not difficult to understand why. If one cannot afford to take time off of work or pay for child care—especially if one have another mouth to feed (50% of abortions are procured by women who already have children)—it can seem like abortion is the only option. It is an open secret that the broader culture seems to perniciously think the solution to poverty is to make abortion as accessible as possible for the economically vulnerable—rather than help the economically vulnerable choose something other than abortion. Indeed, we are told quite often in the public debate over these matters that when women are denied abortions they are at risk for poverty or for becoming even more economically vulnerable. Politically-biased studies are released right around the anniversary of Roe v. …

What Does It Really Mean to Speak of the Right to Life?

Despite a court order to return them, hundreds of undocumented immigrant children still find themselves separated from their parents and living in US detention facilities. The psychological and even physical effects of such traumatic and unexpected separation are not difficult to imagine. Some children have been victims of sexual abuse—and at least one has died shortly after being in US custody. These children clearly find themselves in this terrible situation through no fault of their own. The Trump administration specifically choose to inflict this harm on them as a means of deterring both illegal immigration and asylum claims. They were used as pawns in a political war over immigration policy. This deterrence was designed to impact both the choices of possible future immigrants, but also the parents who were already here—many of whom were claiming asylum from extremely violent situations back home. Indeed, sometimes the children leave because they themselves have been marked for death. It is also worth nothing that this violence has deep ties to US American consumer practices and foreign policies—particularly our current lust for drugs and our neo-colonial practices during …

The Specter of a Sweeping Rewrite of Catholic Sexual Teachings

Last week, Pope Francis approved a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the death penalty. While the previous iteration already declared licit use of capital punishment to be “practically non-existent,” the new wording strengthens this stance, pronouncing the death penalty “inadmissible.” This change has prompted a flurry of speculation, from various media outlets, anticipating a sweeping rewrite of those Catholic teachings that most offend contemporary sensibilities—namely, Catholic sexual morality. Francis Debernardo, writing for The Advocate, cites the catechism revision as proof that the Vatican has “evolved,” and that any Church teaching can thus be altered following “decades of theological debate and discussion.” Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher begrudgingly agrees with Debernardo, calling the Pope’s Catechism edit a “big win” for LGBT Catholics who want to change Church teaching: “I wish [Debernardo] were wrong. I don’t think he is.” The revised section appeals to the principle of human dignity in its condemnation of capital punishment, and Debernardo argues that LBGT advocates can invoke this same principle to usher a new sexual …