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Embryonic stem cells declared probably defunct — on Oprah

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Rebecca Taylor of Mary Meets Dolly seems to have posted the story first. (I fell behind on my blog reading, so I am just coming across it now.) Dr. Mehmet Oz, who is both an eminent heart surgeon and Columbia Medical School professor and a pop health celebrity and Oprah darling, told Michael J. Fox to forget about embryonic stem cells.

Dr. Oz said, "I think the stem cell debate is dead.... The problem with embryonic stem cells is that ... it's very hard to control them, and they can become cancer.... In the last year we've made ten years of advancement" on induced pluripotent stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells have turned out to be wild horses. They are too flexible. Induced pluripotent stem cells are recently developed technology that uses a patient's own body cells. They do not cause an immune response in the patient and they do not require the killing of anyone, embryo or adult.

It turns out, in the stem cell debate, that you can have your cake and eat it too: you can have pluripotent stem cells, and you can have them ethically.

Animals and Catholics series will continue soon, I promise.


Extreme traditional Catholics and extreme patriarchy

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My sister Mile Hi Mama gets a hat tip for pointing out a blog called Taliban Rising. This blog is about heretical, patriarchal ideas being promoted by certain radical members of the traditionalist Catholic movement ("Rad Trads"). As blogger Jeanette points out, these ideas delve into the realm of the distinctly non-Catholic (i.e., heretical) philosophy of religious naturalism. (Before reading further, please be aware, if you are not already, that Leave the lights on is written by a woman.)

In her post "Weaving the Mental Burqa," Jeanette (who writes with more clarity and spirit than I can manage here) quotes a few Rad Trad intellectual leaders, including Dr. Peter Chojnowski and the infamous Bishop Richard Williamson. Bishop Williamson's outrageous comments do not need to be refuted; they fairly refute themselves. Dr. Chojnowski, on the other hand, writes with a style reeking of erudition and opaque scholarship, and I consider his work to be a fair target.

He publishes a blog in which he reprints some of the articles he has written. In the introduction to his recently posted article "Our Lady as Woman and Warrior," he decries "the various writers on the internet who insist on distorting everything I have to say about women." I hope he does not consider this quote from that article to be a distortion:

"On account of the fact that the 'lady,' in all of her various aspects and roles, is commonly accepted to be the model of what all woman, on the natural level, ought to be. Just as the masculine ideal is one of being a 'master'...." (emphasis added)
It certainly sounds like much of this writer's philosophy is based on religious naturalism.

I do not mean to say, as some feminists do, that men and women are exactly the same (clearly they are not), nor that mothers and fathers do not have duties particular to their respective roles in the family (clearly they do). But as Jeanette points out, God's plan for men and women is not ordered primarily toward their sex, but rather toward Christ. Our duties arise not from our gender, but from our specific roles in the service of God.

To quote Dr. Gyula Mago, in the article "Feminism as Antichurch" in the Angelus, "[Woman] is subject to man, but not because he is the end for which she exists." The Angelus is a traditionalist publication; this quote is indicative of the fact that the naturalist heresy is not completely pervasive in the traditionalist movement, only in a small number of Rad Trads.

Contrast this statement with the following from Dr. Chojnowski's article "Flesh of my Flesh":
"It will be my contention that women have their being as women actualized only through their relationship with men. Women need men in order to be truly women. Men, however, do not need women in order to be truly men. ... Every convent has its father confessor and the Eucharistic Bridegroom." (emphasis original)

Though Chojnowski states this is based on Thomistic philosophy, I think St. Thomas Aquinas would shudder to think of his clearly reasoned philosphy invoked for such confused, pop-psych drivel. There are two errors in this quote. The first is the statement that "women have their being actualized by men." Nowhere in Catholic theology does one find this sentiment. The second error is the assertion that the presence of priests in convents somehow "proves" the first. It proves nothing of the sort; what it proves is that women, like men, need Christ. The priest is there to bring Christ in the sacraments to the nuns of the convent, not to "actualize their being," whatever that means.

My experience suggests that women have as much of a civilizing influence on men as men have a stabilizing influence on women. Even these observations are only broad generalities, as individual men and women vary widely in temperament.

Dr. Chojnowski can continue writing to encourage men to find women to actualize into being. (I imagine he does not intend women, being mentally inferior and subordinate to men, to read what he writes. I also imagine he has not ever had a real conversation with an actual woman.) As for me and my blog, we will serve the Lord, not the male sex.


Religious LOLcats and more

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While searching for an image to use for a logo for my series on animal welfare, I came across some, ah, rejected entries. Here are some religion-themed LOLcats:



If you're not familiar with LOLcats, you should know that "Ceiling Cat" is LOLcat-speak for God.


And as a bonus defying further description, here's a dog who apparently did not get excommunicated:


My animal background


You, dear reader, may already know my background on things religious: I was raised Catholic, have never left the faith, have a decent layperson's understanding of the Catechism, and teach Confirmation candidates at my parish. For the new series "Animals and Catholics," here is my background on the topic of animals:

I belong to a club known as "animal lovers." We are the ones who other people call with questions about the baby bird in their yard, or wondering if their dogs can stay with us while they are on vacation. We are the ones who stop our cars when we see an ailing creature by the side of the road. We are the ones with the phone numbers to our veterinarian, an emergency animal hospital, and animal control all stored in our cell phones. We are the ones who buy those expensive "fancy" pet foods and debate the relative merits thereof.

My degree is a bachelor of science in zoology. I spent a couple of years as an animal control officer, which gave me a perspective on the impact of animals on public health. (More on that later int he series.) I have also worked as a professional aquarium biologist (read: I scuba-dived into giant fish tanks to scrub algae). And except for a small part of my college years, I have never been without a pet of some sort. I have had various freshwater fish, assorted birds large and small, cats, a snake, a lizard (briefly), and hermit crabs. A dog is certainly in my future, though there are no immediate plans.


Animal welfare and the Catholic Church

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One area of Catholic theology that seems underdeveloped is a clear explanation of our moral obligations towards animals.

Certainly, it is not inappropriate for this subject to be underdeveloped. The Church's thinkers have explored theology according to a heirarchy of importance. The nature of Christ and his sacrifice came first, as the various Christological heresies (Arianism, Monophysitism, etc.) were rejected. Then the nature of the Trinity was explored. Next came the rejection of the various Protestant heresies and explanations of many of the sacraments. In modern times, the sacrament of marriage and the issues surrounding the beginning of life have been explored by John Paul the Great in his Theology of the Body.

This very crude overview leaves out a great deal, but it makes the point that the field of theology has started with the most important things and proceeded to subjects of lesser and lesser importance.

Humanity's moral obligations toward animals, and the nature of the relationship between God and animals — in short, a theology of animals — is near the bottom of the ladder of importance. I believe that the need to develop this area is becoming more pressing because of the increasing prominence of several heresies regarding animals — for example, the vegan heresy that animals are the moral equivalents of human beings — and an increasing general cultural concern for the welfare of animals.

I want to explore the Church's present teachings on animals. Over the next few weeks, I plan to make a series of posts on the theology available to us lay people so far. I am eager for comments on this series! Please "leave a light on" for this and other posts in this series.

"Animals and Catholics" image adapted from "dog & cat" by Yukari. (CC) Some rights reserved.


The human dignity of anencephalic babies

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Anencephaly is a birth defect in which the brain fails to form properly. An anencephalic baby is commonly described as having "no brain," although in fact the more primitive parts of the brain are generally present. Of those who are not killed before birth, many anencephalic infants are stillborn, but others live for a short time after birth, and a very few can survive a matter of months.

Some in the medical community view anencephalic babies with a sort of vampirish greed. As early as 1988, a journal article on anencephaly and organ donation noted that "as neonatal transplant science advances, the already acute shortage of small organs will likely grow worse unless new sources of organs are identified" (emphasis added). It being the case that small organs do not grow on trees, the new sources that need to be "identified" can be nothing other than live babies less "valuable" than the ones needing transplants.

One of these potential "sources" is named Faith Hope. Today she is 53 days old and breathes without any intervention. Her single mother Myah, blogging about her baby, reports being encouraged by doctors to kill Faith before she was born and being told that her baby would die shortly after birth. To be fair, most anencephalic live births do die shortly after, but Faith is not unique in her survival, either. Though she does not discuss it much on the blog, apparently Myah is feeling some pressure to offer her baby up for organ harvesting. In her post "Spare Parts," she writes with heart-wrenching irony,

It would be such a noble thing for me to do... after all, what other purpose could my baby's life possibly serve? She is harboring valuable baby organs, and let's face it... she's as good as dead anyway. Her organs could be used to save a baby who actually has a brain.

Myah might be encouraged by the opinion published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the dignity of anencephalic infants. The Church explicitly rejects the opinion "that anencephalic children, 'because of their apparent lack of cognitive function, and in view of the probable brevity of their lives', lack human rights 'or at least have lives of less meaning or purpose than others'."

Meanwhile, a secular ethical report on anencephalic babies as organ donors (PDF) asked, "Are anencephalic infants being considered as potential organ sources because they are dead, because they will die imminently and inevitably, or because their brains have not yet developed, and never will develop, to a stage at which they can be considered 'human persons'?"

The question really comes down to who has the best claim to the right of having the anencephalic child's organs: the child herself, or the potential transplantee? As with all organ transplants, clearly the answer is that the person born with the organs has first rights to them. A life cannot be ended, regardless of any external valuations of the quality of that life, in order to claim organs. Just as killing an embryo for its stem cells is wrong, so is killing a baby with a brain defect for its organs.

Further reading:


Victimae paschali laudes


Death and life have fought a huge battle,
The Prince of Life was dead, but lives and reigns.

(Full translation)

Victimae paschali laudes
immolent Christiani
Agnus redemit oves:
Christus innocens Patri
Reconciliavit peccatores.
Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando,
Dux vitae mortuus, regnat vivus.
Dic nobis Maria, quid vidisti in via?
Sepulcrum Christi viventis,
Et gloriam vidi resurgentis:
Angelicos testes, sudarium et vestes.
Surrexit Christus spes mea:
Praecedet vos in Galilaeam.
Credendum est magis soli
Mariae veraci
Quam Judaeorum
Turbae fallaci.
Scimus Christum surrexisse
a mortuis vere:
Tu nobis, victor Rex, miserere.
Amen. Alleluia.


Good Friday rerun: Why we practice penance

Here's a rerun from this blog, published for Lent 2008. For Good Friday, you might enjoy my reflections on why we practice penance. Have a blessed Easter weekend.


Praying robots

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Keyboard PrayerWhen I was young, our priest had a sermon he recycled every year. The key point of that sermon was that we should be attentive when we pray. After all, if one programmed a robot to recite prayers, it would be meaningless.

Seems pretty straightforward to me. God is not some machine who can be fooled by machine repetitions. He's a person who listens to our personal messages.

It is not, apparently, straightforward to everyone. According to Marketplace, a show broadcast on National Public Radio, there's a website (not named) that will pray for you for the low, low price of $4.95 a month. For that sum, the text of your prayer (all denominations and faiths welcome) will be run through a voice synthesizer three times per day.

Yeah. God will really be moved by that.


April Fool's Day and wishful thinking

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Yes, my last post was an April Fool's joke. Christopher Hitchens did not convert to Christianity in a moment of clarity (does he have any?) and the Answers in Genesis crowd did not adopt an allegorical interpretation of Scripture. It was all wishful thinking on my part. Actually, if I had my wish, Hitchens would have become Catholic, not Evangelical, but I liked the line about him accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. (There is precedent for the conversion of prominent atheists, though...)


If you'll believe this...


The following post, dated April 1, 2009, is an April Fool's Day joke and contains no truth whatsoever.

This morning there were not one, but two incredible stories making their rounds of the blogs. They seem unrelated as far as I can tell, but they are eerily similar.

First, notorious anti-theist Christopher Hitchens, author of the book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, has released a remarkable statement declaring that he has rethought his ideal of secularism after discovering the "sinner's prayer" of Evangelical Christianity. In the statement, he says,

"I said the sinner's prayer with the intention of proving that it is a meaningless appeal to an imaginary being, no more real than the Tooth Fairy.... [but] Christ illuminated my soul and showed me what my own intellect could not grasp: that the spiritual world, though undescribable by science, nevertheless can and indeed does exist.... I have humbly accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. May God forgive me for my persecution of Him."

The second story is a press release appearing on the website of the anti-evolution Christian organization Answers in Genesis. In it, AiG CEO Ken Ham (not to be confused with AIG CEO Edward Liddy) explains,
"Answers in Genesis has always been dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on the Book of Genesis, which we assumed was the most-attacked book of the Bible due to the scientific popularity of the 'theory' of evolution. In regard to scientific observation, AiG has always taught that 'facts' don’t speak for themselves, but must be interpreted. Our think tank has had the revolutionary idea of applying that belief not only to scientific theories that we don't understand, but also to the Bible itself. We have discovered, to our awe and amazement, that the Book of Genesis can be interpreted in an allegorical way, such that it does not contradict the 'theory' of evolution, yet still proclaims the glory of God's creation. While we are not endorsing evolution, which is after all still just a theory, we are no longer opposing it as long as God gets all the credit."
I am not even sure what to make of all this. I will be posting more about these two incredible stories later in the week, after I have time to let it sink in.