October 2010

A Duplicitous Catholic Church

OK. Now that I have your attention, let me hasten to say that not everything in the Catholic Church is dishonest, deceitful or duplicitous. But then we have the Archdiocese of Denver and its actions toward an innocent preschooler. The child in this case has two mommies. Many children do, usually the result of divorce. In this case, the child's mothers are living together in a homosexual relationship.

The official statement of the Denver Archdiocese reads, in part, "Homosexual couples living together as a couple are in disaccord with Catholic teaching." The absurdity of using that statement to justify discrimination leaves one wondering where to begin a response. Whatever one might think about Archbishop Chaput and his ultra-conservative theology is quite beside the point. However, what is directly on point is that the Archbishop is applying Church teaching selectively, targeting only gay couples, and that, simply put, is an abuse of authority.

This is not the first time that the issue of homosexual parents has arisen in regard to a Catholic school in the United States. What is very troubling is that no one takes the authorities to task for decisions that are at least as immoral as the acts that they claim to condemn. I suppose the average Catholic would assume that an Archbishop knows what the teaching of the Catholic Church is. In the case of Archbishop Chaput, they would be wrong--or at least greatly misled.

I hope this does not sound simplistic, but the Catholic Church has a serious problem with sex--any kind of sex--outside of Church-sanctioned marriage. Ironically, that is where most sex actually takes place in the real world! But the teaching of the Catholic Church states that sexual activity is reserved for legitimately married couples--"couple" being understood as a man and a woman. That means that anyone engaging in pre-marital or extra-marital sex is sinning, as are those Catholics who are married outside the Church. This latter group includes those in a first marriage as well as though who are divorced and remarried civilly. In all these cases, a couple is "in disaccord with Catholic teaching." Let's not even begin to look at other teachings such as contraception. So this begs the question, why does not the Archdiocese of Denver also deny enrollment to children whose heterosexual parents are not married, or are married outside the Church?

I am not endorsing such a policy, although I am sure that some bishop, somewhere thinks it is a good idea. To stave off such nonsense, it is worth noting historically that marriage was only first declared a Sacrament by Pope Innocent III in 1208, affirmed by the Second Council of Lyons in 1278 and finally defined by the Council of Trent in 1563. It was not until Trent that the Church claimed jurisdiction over marriage and required couples to marry before a priest. For some 1500+ years, the Catholic Church was quite content for couples to marry civilly and be done with it. Admittedly, laws change. But this brief history calls into question the wisdom of the Church's approach to sex and marriage.

In spite of the fact that the Catholic Church has a major problem with sex outside of marriage, it has a particular problem with homosexuality. No one has, or ever will accuse Archbishop of Chaput of progressive thought. They would be hard-pressed just to make the case that he is even-handed, or to assign him that most treasured of intellectual gifts, integrity. Then again, maybe he really does believe that homosexuality is wrong. Otherwise, one is left to wonder if his attack on this innocent child is not simply a gross example of pandering to the conservative elements of the American culture wars.

To begin with, no child can be held accountable for the actions of its parents. There was a time when society used to look with accusation upon children who were born out of wedlock, even coining a terribly derogatory term to describe them--"bastard". That remained in force until legitimately-born adults claimed it as their own self-identity! In the same way, children are not responsible if their parents are homosexual. Such children can, however, be grateful that they are being raised in a loving home. And if the Scriptures are correct that "Out of the mouths of babes..." then these children have much to teach their archbishops. How ironic that the school in question is named "Sacred Heart of Jesus", a symbol of God's love for all people!

There may be something darker and more sinister going on here, however, than mere authoritarianism. While the Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is disordered, and homosexual acts are sinful, it does not actually condemn anyone for being gay. On the other hand its teaching leads gay Catholics to develop a kind of self-loathing, not unlike what many minority groups have experienced over centuries of oppression and abuse. Like minorities, homosexuals have come to realize that they cannot change who or what they are. Like race and ethnicity, homosexuality is a creation and a gift of God.

Of particular note in the Catholic Church are bishops who, over the last several years have been exposed as homosexuals. With that revelation comes the reality that there are even more gay bishops who are required to teach a discredited theology. What kind of self-loathing must they experience as they are pushed into closets of shadow and seclusion? When one considers the insensitivity of the Church to its own leaders, perhaps it is not surprising that discrimination embeds itself in places like Sacred Heart School. Perhaps, not unlike Jesus, it will be the suffering of a child that moves the Catholic Church to reject evil and discriminatory policies that oppress the innocent and bring ridicule upon the Church.

Sex and Sainthood

On October 17th Pope Benedict XVI named six new saints. Wait a minute. Doesn't everyone go to heaven?

I suppose it depends on whom you ask. For many years now, an ancient belief of the Christian faith has been on the rise. Theologians call it Universal Salvation and in the early Church this was the dominant belief. I spent many years preaching, "everyone goes to heaven without exception or prejudice". I will reserve further explanation and examination of that subject for another time. For now, let me say that there is a problem with the six newly named saints.

Fundamentally, a saint is a person who has died and now lives with God in the fullness of the kingdom. So everyone who is in heaven is a saint, and since I believe that everyone goes to heaven, you might be wondering what possible problem I could have wtih the Pope naming new saints, or what objection I could have to these six in particular.

On the surface, I have neither a problem with nor an objection to these new saints. Many millions of people are living with God in heaven and, as I said, they are all saints. Very few, however, are declared such by the Church. That is just a practical reality. Still, no problem. When people are canonized by the Church, it is because their lives serve as an example for the rest of us to emulate. On that level the six new saints are no exception.

Among them is Canada's first male saint, a 19th century brother, and the first native born Australian, a nun. There is certainly cause for Canadians and Australians to express pride that their own are among those venerated in the Catholic world. The other four are Giulia Salzano and Camilla Battista da Varano (both Italian nuns), Stanislaw Soltys, a Polish priest and the Spanish nun, Candida Maria de Jesus Cipitria y Barriola. Without question, all of them serve as models of Christian virtue and commitment.

But did you notice? All six were either clergy or religious. This presumes they were also celibate. Here is my question: What is the Vatican's problem with sexuality? Wow! Now that I think of it, maybe that is too loaded a question. After all, these are the same people who insist on an all-male, celibate clergy. And come to think of it, Benedict is just following in the footsteps of John Paul II who, while setting out to name more saints than any Pope in history, clearly favored those of clerical, religious, or at least celibate background.

From the beginning of our Sacred Scriptures in the Book of Genesis, we are told of the goodness of God's creation. The first chapter, containing the beautifully poetic creation myth, ends with this statement: "God looked at everything that he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed--the sixth day". God had just created the first humans and sanctioned their sexual activity. Throughout the Scriptures there continues a successive celebration of love making, most notably the erotic Song of Songs. Then came Rome.

I realize that canonization is a long, drawn-out affair. In part, this is to guard against the Church formally proclaiming an unfit person to be a saint. However, the Roman Catholic Church has a penchant for naming saints who were either celibate throughout their lives or who gave up sexual activity long before their deaths. This represents an unhealthy bias. Is it really possible that among the many millions of good, Christian people who have died, there is not one to emulate who was sexually active at the time of death?

These six new saints and their commitment to celibacy are part of our history, but they are not the whole story. As Catholics we will now venerate them and seek their intercession in our personal lives. Perhaps we should also seek their intercession for the institutional Church. Since most of us enter the world through the act of sexual intercourse, and since it is a part of God's "good" creation, shouldn't the Church celebrate sexuality in its canonization process? At the very least, it is as valuable as celibacy.

Catholic Authoritarianism--Unchecked!

George Orwell made two mistakes in his classic novel, "1984". First, the date. Published in 1949 as a cautionary tale to what he perceived as the growing and dangerous totalitarianism of the state, Orwell, missed the target date by about 25 years. This is 2010, not 1984. Second, Orwell focused on the powers of the state, when arguably, the real threat comes from Church authority. Clearly, the civil authorities engage in abusive power and intrusion of privacy. In the United States, the government even suspends the Constitution at will. But it is the Church that engages in the most insidious attempts at mind control. And in the end, it is the control of the mind that allows power to go unchallenged and unchecked.

In 1976, the late Cardinal John Dearden of Detroit, hosted a gathering of Catholics to address concerns about the Church and urge reform. Known as "Call to Action" it quickly spread to other Catholic dioceses and gathered a significant following of laity and clergy, all of whom wanted to see the reforms of the Second Vatican Council fully implemented throughout the United States, and ultimately, the whole Catholic world. Among the demands of Call to Action was more lay participation in the decision making of the Church--clearly part of the vision of the Second Vatican Council.

I remember when Archbishop Mahony of Los Angeles appointed the first woman Chancellor. Sister Cecilia Louise Moore was extremely competent and an excellent choice, and there was some symbolic value to appointing a female chancellor. However, at its core her appointment was slightly above a public relations stunt. After all, she had no real power. That resides with the Moderator of the Curia, and needless to say that position is only filled by a priest--handpicked by the Archbishop.

Now comes an organization, the American Catholic Council, seeking to advance the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, supposedly the official teaching of the Church, being harassed and castigated by the current Archbishop of Detroit, Allen Vigneron. One must stop to wonder if he is at all familiar with the teachings of the Council, himself. One cannot assume that he is, simply because he also is the Archbishop. He has publicly decried the American Catholic Council, asked them to cancel their conference and warned all Catholics, laity and clergy, not to attend. He has demanded that no Catholic institution in the Archdiocese host any part of the conference. This is mind control run amok, but without a George Orwell to alert us to its dangers.

As we have seen over and over, the Catholic Church continues to be run by an old boys club. Yes, it is a tired cliché, but then again, the club itself is getting tired. The tragedy is that the powers that be, namely the Pope and other authorities in Rome, keep appointing as bishops only those apples that fall directly beneath the tree. How can we possibly anticipate that there will be growth and renewal in the Spirit of Vatican II, when each new crop of bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals is consumed with its own importance and the men driven by their own lust for power and control?

For the record, I do not overstate the case. From the parish level up, the voice of the laity is only advisory, not deliberative or decisive. While some few may exert influence, most pastors and bishops are free to ignore the advice of their councils. As for extending the Sacrament of Orders to include more, and some would argue more competent, persons, the Vatican has set up stumbling blocks for both women and married men. While people may disagree about the wisdom of admitting women to the priesthood, there is simply no sound theological, that is to say, doctrinal position against it. At best, the ordination of women is a disciplinary issue and, like married clergy, could be changed tomorrow if the Pope were a little more open to the movement of the Spirit.

Speaking of the movement of the Spirit, the American Catholic Council is convening its conference in Detroit on Pentecost, 2011. Historically, there has always been a certain tension between the free movement of the Spirit in the Church and the structured authority of the hierarchy. This tension is valuable, serving as a sort of checks and balances. Lately, it seems the balance has been lost as the Spirit is continually ignored. This might be a good time to remind Archbishop Vigneron that the Holy Spirit has been gifted by God to the entire church, not just to the clergy, and certainly not just to the Pope and bishops. Ultimately, it is the faith of the people, not the power of the bishops, that determines truth.

Welcome, Catholics, to Detroit--but only if you do not live here.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell Ruling

Somebody must be reading these blogs, because several people have asked me to write about the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Then, today came the ruling from U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips, ordering the military to cease enforcing the 17-year-old ban on openly gay troops. At this writing it is not known if the Department of Justice will appeal. As always, in cases like this, Judge Phillips will draw both supporters and detractors, and they will come from the predictable quarters.

What is most tragic about this ruling is that it had to made at all. Politics has often been described as the art of compromise. In the case of the DADT policy, it would be more accurate to describe it as a remarkable demonstration of political cowardice. Instituted under the Clinton Administration, DADT was compromise on an issue that needed leadership, not cowardice. At that time, there were already mountains of evidence from psychologists that people do not choose to be gay or straight. Sexual orientation is a matter of birth.

I realize that not everyone agrees. Just witness the irrational rant of Boyd K. Packer, the second highest ranking official in the Mormon Church and his claim that same sex unions are morally wrong and against God's law and nature. I imagine God is just as surprised as I am that Packer seems to know more than God himself about God's own laws! But then again, Packer probably believes the earth is flat! Perhaps his worm's eye view of reality is to blame, but until he can see the world as it truly is, he should keep quiet. He is the perfect example of how ignorance, fanaticism and prejudice are forever busy and need feeding.

Yes, I know that there are other religious groups besides Mormons that object to homosexuality and consider it unnatural. These include some Muslims and some Jews, and also some Christian churches. Even the Catholic Church is on the list and embraces a now-discredited approach. It views homosexual acts as sinful and refuses to accept the morality of same sex unions. But at least the Catholic Church does not condemn a person just for being gay. Neither does it support discrimination against gays and lesbians.

It is instructive that the most vociferous opponents of DADT, same sex marriage or any other homosexual issue are religious people who seek to impose their limited vision and religious agenda on all of society. However, unencumbered by truth or reality, they continue to use arguments that can no longer be sustained. A major truth behind homosexuality is that it is not an article of faith, regardless of what any religion might claim. The sciences, in particular psychology and zoology, have demonstrated that homosexuality is a natural sexual orientation, not a chosen way of life.

It seems to require reflection far beyond the ken of many religious people, but homosexuality is just as part and parcel of God's creation as is heterosexuality. The fact that it is less common, does not make it less real--or even less divine. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. If Christians truly believe that we are all created in God's image, then they must accept that homosexuality is part of God's plan, even it we do not fully comprehend what that plan is. A more enlightened approach might eliminate the severe suffering currently inflicted on gays and lesbians who are forced into secrecy or who feel forced to live false, and ultimately, unfulfilled lives.

Homosexuality may be the last, great prejudice. It certainly is the great current prejudice. Unfortunately, most prejudices are never truly eradicated. They subside only to await the resurgence of ignorant voices. There is no other way to explain the comments of people like Packer. Sadly, his voice is part of a growing pack of fringe politicians and other groups.

What I find of note in today's ruling is that one jurist, at least, possesses the courage that is sorely lacking among our political leaders. This issue should have been resolved in legislation, not in the courts. After all, one of the responsibilities of constitutional government is to secure the rights of minorities. Democracy is fine as far as it goes, but by definition democracy never threatens the rights of the majority. Constitutional government, on the other hand, has the task of ensuring that the majority does not infringe upon or deny the rights of the minority. In theory, minorities have no greater ally than the constitution--it is the only guarantee that their voices will be heard and their rights preserved. This is especially true today when extremism and ignorance are defining characteristics of many a modern politician.

In the absence of political leadership anchored to the Constitution we, as a people, are indebted to the wisdom and courage of Judges like Virginia Phillips.

(For further treatment on same sex marriages, I refer readers to Same Sex Marriage: A Theological Reflection)

The War in Afghanistan--10 years later

President Obama, among others, is fond of saying that the war in Afghanistan was a war of necessity, while the war in Iraq was a war of choice. Those designations have been used, in part, to emphasize the extraordinary miscalculations of the Bush Administration between 2001 and 2009. A significant part of the problem was the way the two wars were prosecuted, coupled with the fact that the majority of our resources were directed to the war in Iraq--the one of so-called choice.

People are divided, and probably always will be, over the issue of these wars and their perceived necessities. Those who supported President Bush feel the hairs on their neck rise in indignation whenever someone suggests that the war in Iraq was about oil. Still, an honest exchange demands that we at least acknowledge what clever pundits have said for years: If Iraq produced bananas instead of oil, we would never have gone there.

The truth to that rather colloquial wisdom can be seen in the way the Bush Administration neglected Afghanistan in its pursuit of Iraq. After all, if one were to grant the claim that Afghanistan was/is a war of necessity, then why was it not the primary focus of military operations? It appears that capturing Saddam Hussein, a personal ambition of Bush, was more important that capturing Osama Bin Laden, a national need of the country and much of the world. Yet, it seems to me that distinguishing these two wars between necessity and choice, does not address the whole truth.

One reason this distinction has been drawn is that Al Qaeda, the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks, was based in Afghanistan. Although not everyone will agree, one can legitimately argue that sending the U.S. military to route Al Qaeda and capture Osama Bin Laden was a justified response. Due to the ineptitude of the Bush Administration, and the unjustified war in Iraq, that is not the situation we find ourselves in today.

It is not my intent here to argue over the justifications of this or any war. I would suggest that those interested in the truth about just wars follow this link to the Just War Doctrine. My purpose here is of a different nature. My purpose is to question why the United States is still in Afghanistan, beginning its 10th year of military operations.

The question is not wholly a political or military one. If we look at the reasons for entering Afghanistan in the first place, then Al Qaeda has been routed. Osama Bin Laden has not only not been captured, but he fled Afghanistan long ago. George W. Bush ran for office expressly opposed to nation building. And yet, that political argument should dominate the discussion today, for it is the only possible reason that the U.S. is still waging this war. Somehow, the war morphed from dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda into dismantling and defeating the Taliban.

I personally despise everything that the Taliban stands for and if they were attempting to run my country or even run for political power, I would oppose them in every justifiable way. But they are not! The Taliban control some 90% of their own country and, for the most part, are supported by the people--at least those in the rural areas that they dominate. So what is the real truth here, 9+ years later?

The United States is engaged in the worst possible example of nation-building. On this issue we find ourselves in contradiction with stated U.S. policy. We are also in direct contradiction of essential Catholic teaching. Embedded within the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church is that all peoples have a right to self-determination, period. People have a right to choose their own government, even if we disapprove of their choice. They are not answerable to the United States of America for that choice!

Democracy in most of its current forms represents a highly evolved form of government. It is certainly a pertinent example of self-determination. At its core is the right to vote, and that means the right to choose. Sadly, most Americans do not want to admit that we are indoctrinated in the principles of our democracy, and that we are unable to understand how any people could choose another form of government. Worse, that indoctrination frequently prevents us from accepting the choices other people make.

The result is that the history of U.S. foreign relations is rife with interference in the internal affairs of other nations. Sometimes it has led America to side with dictators and despots, including Saddam Hussein, while they run roughshod over the civil rights and liberties of their own people. Sometimes we have been directly involved in the overthrow of legitimately elected governments. Arguably, the most notorious example is the democratically-elected Allende government in Chile, and America's subsequent support for the dictator Pinochet.

When the people of Nicaragua voted the Sandinistas into power, the Reagan Administration violated U.S. law, supporting the Contras in their violent attacks against both political and civilian targets. Why these actions still do not shock the conscience of the American people is mystifying. One might argue strongly that the plight of the oppressed is intensified by this kind of American interference.

The political issues aside, the deepest truth remains that all people have a right to self-determination. If they decide that they can no longer abide the despotic and arbitrary actions of a government, such as the Taliban, it is their right to rise up and seek new leadership. But it is also their right to choose the Taliban.

This might be a good time to end this blog. It might also be a good time for the U.S. to exit Afghanistan!

Abortion - Part 5 (conclusion!)--The Morning After Pill

In the previous blogs on abortion, I have presented the supporting evidence from science and the argumentation from theology that enable us to use day 14 of embryological development as the time of individuation or ensoulment. These arguments are both rooted in the process of twinning. I have also noted that on extreme occasions, twinning can take place after day 14, but is no longer possible after day 21.

There is a practical concern here that also must be addressed. Most women do not know they are pregnant until after 21 days. So while I have already made the argument in support of stem cell research, how does this information impact the abortion debate? After all, if most women do not know they are pregnant until after 21 days, and by this time we clearly have an individuated human person, are we not in the same place regarding abortion as we are today?

We would be, were it not for the development of the morning after pill. This pill offers us some hope in eliminating the need for abortion in the first place. At this point in the discussion, we need to address the objections both to the morning after pill and to inter-uterine devices. Up until now they have often been referred to as abortifacients. The argument of the Catholic Church, among others, has been that since these options do not prevent the sperm from fertilizing the egg, they do not prevent conception, but actually induce an abortion by preventing the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall. It is actually a little more complex than that, and by linking the scientific concept of individuation to the theological belief in ensoulment (God directly creating the human soul), the abortifacient argument collapses.

I would like to begin by taking a more careful look at the morning after pill. The use of inter-uterine devices applies to the third part of this examination, when the fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall. However, they also demand more of the woman. Most women would find using a pill preferable to inserting a device. So what exactly does the morning after pill do?

The hormone in the pill has a threefold effect: 1) It prevents ovulation. If the ovaries do not release eggs, then no fertilization or conception can take place; 2) If ovulation has already taken place, the hormone thickens the cervical mucus, thus blocking the sperm and keeping it from joining with the egg; 3) In case an egg has been fertilized, the hormone thins the lining of the uterus, thus making it unlikely that a fertilized egg would be able to implant in the womb. It is at this point that the inter-uterine device and the morning after pill have the same effect. The point is that all of the above processes take place within the first six days, since that is when implantation occurs. Six days are significantly shy of the 14 days required for individuation or ensoulment.

In the case of the morning after pill, it must be taken within five days to still be effective. Obviously, the earlier it is taken, the better. Clearly, the use of the morning after pill does not cause an abortion, and so can no longer be referred to as an abortifacient. More to the point, if the morning after pill is made more readily available to women the world over, we may be able to limit, if not fully eliminate, the need for abortion in the first place.

I stated in part 2 of this series: "Nobody can possibly think that abortion is a good thing, even if some believe it is occasionally necessary." If our ultimate goal is, in fact, the elimination of abortion, should we not establish a policy that makes the morning after pill available to all women? Those who oppose this policy while simultaneously claiming to oppose abortion are, at least in part, responsible for abortion's continued demand.

The purpose of this series was to create a new foundation and context for the abortion debate, and to change the language in order that both sides would actually communicate with each other in pursuit of a common resolution to this issue. I hope I have succeeded.

Abortion - Part 4--Stem Cell Research

As I continue my series of blogs on abortion, I realize that some people may be startled by the title. I chose this not so much to be provocative, though all my friends know I don't shy away from that designation. I actually chose the title because it is my hope that if enough people read the blogs and discuss the material, then maybe we can have an impact on the debate over abortion. With the use of both modern scientific studies and theological reflection, I have already offered support for altering the foundational terminology used in the abortion debate, specifically changing the language from human life to human person.

I noted in the second part of this series that rights append to an individual human person, not to human life in general. However, prior to day 14 we have human life that has not yet been individuated. We do not have a human person. Simply put, that means interrupting the embryological development prior to day 14 is not equivalent to taking the life of a human being and should not be construed as tantamount to abortion. Of particular note is the observation (also in part 2) that viability is not required for individuation or personhood. Far from silencing the anti-abortion lobby, I believe their voice and argument are augmented by this distinction, but their case cannot be made until day 14.

Today, I would like to examine the implication of this argument for embryonic stem cell research. No one questions the overall goals of scientists who pursue such studies. While the outcome of all investigative science is uncertain, the use of embryonic stem cells holds out significant hope for medical breakthrough on a whole host of diseases. This is due in part to the fact that embryonic stem cells are unspecialized and, through a process known as cell division, can renew themselves even after long periods of inactivity. Also, precisely because they are unspecialized, they can be coaxed to develop into a number of different cells--a process known as differentiation. For example, a stem cell could be made to develop into a brain cell or a red blood cell.

It is true that scientists can also avail themselves of adult stem cell research that does not result in the destruction of an embryo. Clearly, scientists should not ignore of this area of study. However, adult stem cells do not possess all the same capacities of embryonic stem cells. Although adult stem cells are thought to be undifferentiated, when removed from the body, their ability to divide is limited. This makes it difficult for scientists to generate large quantities of cells, thereby limiting their research. Both embryonic and adult stem cells offer hope for medical treatment and possible cures, and both should be part of the research process.

The primary opposition to embryonic stem cell research is that it necessitates the destruction of the embryo. I acknowledge that reality. However, what emerges from the discussion in this series of blogs, is that the real issue should be when the stem cells are removed and the embryo destroyed. In order to have stem cells with the highest potential research value, scientists seek to acquire them between 5 and 7 days following fertilization. This is long before individuation and the creation of the human soul. That being the case, stem cell research cannot be equated with abortion. This mutes any moral objection, since a human being is not sacrificed in the pursuit of scientific research.

If one grants the argumentation so far regarding individuation and ensoulment, it is still possible that one more objection might be made raised against embryonic stem cell research. That objection would arise from a modified contraceptive perspective. Since the contraceptive issue is even more intimately connected with the primary subject of the next blog, I will reserve my argument until then.

Abortion - Part 3

My last blog examined the science behind twinning and the principle of individuation. In sum, a fertilized egg can split into identical twins until day 14 (in very rare circumstances, day 21). Even though the absolute cut off date for twinning is the 21st day, I restricted the discussion to day 14, because it is the more normal cut off time. As a matter of practical reality, either date will serve the same purpose since most women do not know they are pregnant until after 21 days. Still, after the cut off date twinning is no longer possible and we now have individuation--an individually constituted human person. Because of the scientific information regarding individuation, I have suggested, as a matter of precision, using the term human person instead of human life in the abortion discussion. We now turn our attention to the theological issue involved in abortion.

For people of faith, at least the Christian faith, God directly creates each individual human soul. The question is when, and the somewhat easy answer so far has been at the moment of conception. This claim, however, does not square with the biological information. It has long been a contention of mine that where theology and the empirical sciences intersect, they must engage in full and open dialogue in order to arrive at the truth. In the area of abortion, that truth turns on the science of individuation.

The first theological step is to acknowledge that, like all elements of faith, the existence of the human soul cannot be proved. It is accepted as an article of faith in part because we believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and the existence of the soul is that image within each one of us. Precisely because the soul is our identification with God, it is the source of our immortality or promise of resurrection. However, it is not incumbent upon theology to prove the existence of the soul. In fact, were it possible to do so it would no longer be a matter of faith. Since it is also true that no one can disprove the existence of the soul, there remains a need to try to determine when the soul is created. This is known by the theological term "ensoulment". I believe that the convergence of science and religion ultimately leads to consensus on this point.

This is the second theological step: to ascertain, acknowledge and then integrate what the empirical sciences are able to determine about the process of individuation with the theological belief in the human soul. Although many people remain comfortable with suggesting that the soul is created when human life begins, namely, at the moment of conception, that simply does not square with the biological information available to us today. To be specific, individuation cannot be determined with any certainty until after the twinning process is no longer possible. Until that point, we may end up with one embryo becoming two or three. At issue is the fact that two souls cannot simultaneously reside in one body. Once the possibility of twinning has concluded, however, the theological principle of ensoulment takes a compelling turn. It clearly links the human soul (a matter of faith) with individuation (a matter of science).

This dialogue between science and religion is neither artificial nor capricious. It enables us to connect the best scientific information with the deepest of faith. Science allows us to peer into the embryological process to understand what actually happens after fertilization. As such, science issues a caution to theology on the question of ensoulment. At the same time, science does not contradict faith. Rather it strengthens and supports the argumentation for the existence of the soul, while leaving that argument itself firmly within the realm of theology. This dialogue also retains God as an active agent in the creation process, since theology tells us that at some point God must directly create the individual soul. It seems clear to me that science and theology are not competing disciplines, and that people of faith need no longer fear the knowledge garnered from scientific investigation.

More importantly the dialogue between science and religion provides a mutually acceptable foundation for grounding legal arguments and public policy decisions.

The next blog in this series will further examine the importance of shifting our concept from human life to human person in the legal arena and support for further scientific studies.

Abortion - Part 2

In our society at large, most of the "discussion" about abortion takes place without any genuine dialogue or respect. One reason is that both sides of the debate have taken such extreme positions, that people talk past each other, rather than to each other. The end result, is that the only practical point of compromise has been to allow for abortion, (at least as far as federal funding), in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother.

I believe that there are truly good people in both camps, and that they are motivated by the best of intentions, desires and beliefs. Nobody can possibly think that abortion is a good thing, even if some believe it is occasionally necessary. Hopefully, we all share a common desire to eliminate the need (perceived or real) for abortion. Toward that end we need to engage a dialogue that is accepting of differing opinions, and tolerant of the people who hold them. We also need minds that are open to change and agreement.

In my last blog, I suggested that "human life" and "human person" are different terms, and I ended with the following question: At what point does the human life that began at conception become a human person with the dignity and rights afforded every other human person? Let us first take a look at the contribution of the biological sciences.

At this stage in the abortion debate, all reasonable people should agree that immediately upon an egg being fertilized by sperm, a life process begins that, if uninterrupted (either artificially or naturally), will result in the birth of a human being. Embryological studies demonstrate that from the moment of fertilization, there is in the zygote a new biological identity that is neither that of the father nor of the mother. We have human life. But is this human life also a human person?

Many of us have met identical (monozygotic) twins at one time or another, perhaps even triplets. Ever wonder where they come from, other than the obvious? They are the result of a process known as twinning, whereby a fertilized egg can split into identical twins or triplets. Although this twinning frequently happens early in the development of the embryo, it can take place up to 14 days after fertilization. It is not commonly known, but the physical similarities between identical twins depends on when the zygote splits. When the split occurs early on, the twins appear less identical, although they still are. The later the split, the more alike the twins appear.

At the same time, gastrulation (the point at which the embryo attaches to the uterine wall and establishes the basic body plan) does not occur until day 21. As a result there are rare circumstances when twinning takes place even after day 14. This usually results in conjoined, or Siamese twins. For the purposes of understanding how twinning contributes to the abortion debate, it is sufficient to use the 14 day period. At that point we have what scientists refer to as individuation. That means that each embryo is a single person.

Of course, identical twins are not an everyday occurrence, with the worldwide estimate being 10 million. Some people might wonder, therefore, why such concern over something as rare as twinning. I would like to suggest that it is more accurate to say that identical twins are an "uncommon" occurrence, and to consider conjoined twins as "rare". After all, it would be disingenuous to dismiss 10 million people from this discussion. Although most zygotes will not separate, we cannot state with any degree of scientific accuracy that we have a unique, individual human person until day 14, since any one of those zygotes may, in fact, become two or three human beings.

Note that, from this scientific approach, viability is not needed to determine individuation and personhood. This, then, sets a firm foundation for a legal position. Since all rights append to individuated persons, not to human life in general, I suggest that the term "human life" in the abortion discussion be replaced with the more accurate and substantial term "human person".

Most of the momentum for opposing abortion arises from religious tradition. These beliefs are profound, often emotional, and grounded in a deep faith in God and what is believed to be God's most precious gift, life. The arguments as I have so far presented them hold up well in the domain of science, but how do they fare with religion? Neither religion nor science can dismiss the other if we are to arrive at understanding and achieve a national consensus on abortion. How can we bring these two differing, but not opposing or competing, disciplines into harmony?

As the old phrase goes, "Stay tuned".