Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Interview with Kaya Oakes

Interview with Kaya Oakes, a Catholic writer (see ar Religion Dispatches) who teaches at UC Berkeley. I sometimes read her at twitter ...

Here's the interview, in which she opines near the end that the upcoming synod on the family will change nothing - I agree ...

The Pope's US visit: women

My comment at In All Things that was deleted was to a post about Pope Francis and his declining popularity in the US as his visit here approaches. My comment was that perhaps it wasn't just Republicans worried about capitalism and climate change who were down on the pope, that perhaps women in the US had grown tired of hoping Francis would come to see us as more than just "strawberries on the cake". Apparently this was considered outré at In All Things, but it's not just me who believes this. Here's some of an article I saw today on this subject ....

Pope Francis is not a feminist: Why Catholicism’s liberal icon falls far short on women’s issues

[L]ast week, the New Republic’s Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig penned yet another valentine to the man [the pope], this time praising “Francis’s feminism.”

Wait—what? Pope Francis, feminist? In what sense is Francis—a man who presides over one of the most deeply patriarchal institutions in human history, which bans women from positions of authority and restricts them to subservient roles; who preaches a doctrine of “separate spheres” for women that reads like a musty Victorian-era relic; and whose unwavering support of Catholic doctrine on abortion and birth control is responsible for the death and suffering of countless women across the globe—a feminist? To label Francis a “feminist” is downright Orwellian. It twists the meaning of the word beyond all recognition.

There’s plenty wrong with the piece, including its hilariously awkward subhead: “He’s no Amy Schumer, but that’s okay.” (Ah, if only he were!) Let’s start with a subject that Bruenig, who identifies as a feminist and a woman of the left, should care about: poor women. Bruenig misleadingly claims that the ideas about family planning Francis expresses in his climate change encyclical are consistent with feminism. Yet neither that nor any other Vatican document supports key feminist goals such as a woman-centered, rights-based approach to contraception. Bruenig also recycles the Catholic canard that making birth control freely available to those who want it is a form of oppressive “population control.”

But as the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported, an estimated 225 million women in developing countries would like to prevent pregnancy but are not using birth control, for reasons that include lack of access and religious prohibitions against contraceptive use. WHO and other organizations have found that in developing countries, lack of contraceptive access is associated with significantly elevated rates of AIDS/HIV, as well as some 290,000 pregnancy-related deaths each year. Bruenig’s data-free piece does not engage with this tragic reality.


Bruenig and other traditionalists insist that Francis has little power to change anything. On the contrary, Church doctrine is hardly set in stone. The Church did not officially declare abortion to be murder until 1869 (previously, early term abortions were considered a venial, not mortal, sin). In the ’60s, the ban on birth control was very nearly overturned by an official Vatican committee—until Pope Paul VI chose to reject their findings. Even the key Catholic doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception did not become official dogma until the 19th century.

What is perhaps most peculiar about Bruenig’s piece is her static, essentialist, ahistorical notion of the Catholic Church. Catholic converts like Bruenig (and also Ross Douthat) often write as if the Church is little more than a set of authoritarian teachings handed down from on high. But cradle Catholics intuitively know otherwise.

The Church is not its hierarchy. Rather, the Catholic Church, as Vatican II defined it, is “the people of God.” In other words, it is the parishioners who fill the pews every Sunday; who staff the parish council, organize the bake sales, and pass the collection plate; who serve as lectors, Sunday school teachers and eucharistic ministers; and who are baptized, married and buried under the auspices of “the one holy apostolic Catholic church.” Those people, and particularly the female half of those people, are becoming increasingly restive over the Church’s brutal, reactionary teachings about women’s bodies and souls—dogma that has cost untold millions of women their lives.

It’s long past time for Francis to start listening to his Church—and for his fans on the left to stop defending the indefensible.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Mr. Robot

I've started watching a tv series - Mr. Robot ...

an American cyberpunk–thriller drama television series created by Sam Esmail .... The series follows Elliot Alderson, a young man living in New York City, who works at Allsafe, a cyber security firm as a programmer. Elliot has social anxiety disorder, but connects to people by hacking them and acts as a cyber vigilante. He is recruited by a mysterious social-anarchist known as "Mr. Robot", and joins his team of hackers, known as "fsociety". One of their missions is to take down one of the largest corporations in the world, E Corp (known as "Evil Corp" by Elliot), a company that Elliot is paid to protect.

I've only just started it but it reminds me of The Speed of Dark meets The Fifth Estate. And it kind of reminds me of me too in that Elliot and I are both lonely people.

Here are a couple of articles about the show ...

- Mr. Robot, Ms. Robot ... USA’s new hacker drama is a surprise hit that deserves attention for its subtle critiques of gender norms and masculinity.

- TV Preview Wealth disparity, hackers and cyber threats in 'Mr. Robot' ... Mr. Robot," a psychological thriller premiering June 24 on USA Network, hacks into some of today's biggest problems and fears: Cyber threats. Rising wealth disparity. Mental health and youthful rebellion.

And a promo ...

You can watch episodes free here

Where are *my* people?

The story of my life has been that I have never really fit in anywhere, not at school, not at work, not at church. And that seems to be true in the online Catholic community too. In the last few days I've had comments at dotCommonweal and In All Things deleted because my views were too different, I guess, from those of the majority.

I used to think this meant that I was part of a tiny minority of Catholics who disagreed with the hierarchy about contraception, marriage equality, married priests, divorce, women's ordination, the sex abuse scandal. But then out came a number of polls and the recent Vatican surveys which showed that actually a *majority* of Catholics in the pews around the world feel the same as I do (like in Germany and Switzerlan and in Ireland and in Japan and in the UK and in Belgium).

But today I saw this interview with Jon O'Brienof Catholics for Choice . I guess I'm not alone online after all ...


It's the time of year when the tarps on the leaky roof must be taken down because the sun has deteriorated them ....

My sister and I used to put the tarps on and take them off ourselves but I can't now with my bad knee. Last year was the first time I had to hire someone to do it and now I must find someone to take them off too, I guess. Here's a photo I took last time I was up on the roof ...

Mouse wonders why I'm taking photos of the roof instead of petting him :) ...

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"What do you want from your sex life?" and more

Some links ...

- Professor at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Lisa Fullam, asks us "What do you want from your sex life?" ...

- Gay Celibacy is the New Ex-Gay Therapy

- Remember Andrew Sullivan's series on the woman who have had to get late term abortions? ... It’s So Personal. I posted this link in a comment at dotCommonweal on the subject of the Planned Parenthood videos but my comment was quickly deleted. I'm just reading the series now for the first time myself - anyone who thinks people who have late term abortions are bad or selfish should read it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Oliver Sacks: stars, lemurs, and bismuth

An article by Oliver Sacks on the things he's appreciating as he nears death - Oliver Sacks: My Periodic Table ....

[...] A few weeks ago, in the country, far from the lights of the city, I saw the entire sky “powdered with stars” (in Milton’s words); such a sky, I imagined, could be seen only on high, dry plateaus like that of Atacama in Chile (where some of the world’s most powerful telescopes are). It was this celestial splendor that suddenly made me realize how little time, how little life, I had left. My sense of the heavens’ beauty, of eternity, was inseparably mixed for me with a sense of transience — and death.

- New Technology Telescope in the Chilean Atacama Desert


A few weeks ago, in the country, far from the lights of the city, I saw the entire sky “powdered with stars” (in Milton’s words); such a sky, I imagined, could be seen only on high, dry plateaus like that of Atacama in Chile (where some of the world’s most powerful telescopes are). It was this celestial splendor that suddenly made me realize how little time, how little life, I had left. My sense of the heavens’ beauty, of eternity, was inseparably mixed for me with a sense of transience — and death.

- a lemur from the Duke Lemur Center

NEXT to the circle of lead on my table is the land of bismuth: naturally occurring bismuth from Australia; little limousine-shaped ingots of bismuth from a mine in Bolivia; bismuth slowly cooled from a melt to form beautiful iridescent crystals terraced like a Hopi village; and, in a nod to Euclid and the beauty of geometry, a cylinder and a sphere made of bismuth ....

- bismuth crystal

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Liar, liar, pants on fire

It's said that in war, the first casualty is truth. I guess that's true for culture wars too ... at nearly every religious site I visit online there is the untrue assertion that Planned Parenthood is in the business of selling baby body parts for profit. But that isn't true.

1) Planned Parenthood does *not* sell baby body parts. When a patient requests that a donation to research be made, then they facilitate that donation, sometimes charging costs for transportation/processing, sometimes not. The pro-life people who made the videos lied. Read Unspinning the Planned Parenthood Video ... A cynical attack on Planned Parenthood ... The Campaign of Deception Against Planned Parenthood

2) Yes, Planned Parenthood does some abortions, but abortion makes up only 3% of their services. They also do gyn exams for infections, pap smears, breast cancer screening, prenatal care, provide contraception. And they are one of the few places women who are poor can afford to go for these services. Read Nope, Abortion Is Not Planned Parenthood's "Central Purpose"

3) So when pro-life groups like the Center for Medical Progress and Republican politicians attack Planned Parenthood, they are making it ever harder for poor women to get health care. Read  Who’s Behind the Planned Parenthood Sting Video? Troy Newman—and Other Rabid Anti-Choicers ... Suprise: Anti-Vaxxers Are Leading the Charge Against Planned Parenthood ... The Planned Parenthood 'sting' video's first casualty? Women with breast cancer

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ignatian prayer

It's almost St. Ignatius day (July 31) so let's listen again to this description of Ignatian prayer from Rob Marsh SJ ...

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mean, cruel, and exclusive: where Jesus drew the line

I've been thinking about the Presbyterian Church lately. Partly it's because my grandmother was a (non-church-going) Presbyterian .... most Scotch-Irish are Presbyterians. But also it's that I've been enjoying the blog of Presbyterian pastor Patrick Vaughn. Here's another 2 minute video from him about where Jesus drew the line :) ....


I just spent the last couple of hours trying to catch a lizard in the kitchen. I did finally accomplish it - there he is above in a plastic container - amid much screaming on my part ;) and was able to release the little guy outside. I wonder what kind of lizard he is ... neat toes :)

Thursday, July 16, 2015


This week's movie rental was Maggie ... a 2015 post-apocalyptic drama film directed by Henry Hobson, written by John Scott III, and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin and Joely Richardson.

I thought the movie was pretty good, if sad and grim, and in its quiet way it made the idea of a zombie plague much more believable (PS - you may want to avert your eyes when the little fox appears). Here's the beginning of the review in Forbes: Review - 'Maggie' Deconstructs Zombie Films, Schwarzenegger And Breslin Shine ...

It is not often that a film comes along which not only subverts genre expectations, but in fact uses that subversion of expectations to create a disconnect between how we traditionally perceive the themes and moral imperatives inherent in the genre and what we are experiencing in the film itself. As our expectation of fulfillment of tropes takes root during viewing of a film, teasing us into aligning ourselves with certain traditional attitudes in order to grant our approval for a certain outcome, our embrace of those assumptions makes us vulnerable should anyone decide to yank the rug out from under us.

That’s precisely what writer John Scott 3 and director Henry Hobson conspire to do in their film Maggie, a zombie apocalypse horror film starring action star Arnold Schwarzenegger that’s actually not an apocalypse after all; that has more drama than horror; and in which Schwarzenegger is not only not the main character, but is instead an ordinary father left helpless in the face of his daughter’s horrible illness. It’s really a film about how families and society deal with terminal illness and the terrible pain it inflicts — in quite different ways — on the sick individuals, their families, and on the community around them ....

And here's a trailer ...

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


- The Case Against Encouraging Polygamy

- Remember when Cardinal Dolan hid church assets ($57 million) in a cemetery trust fund from sex abuse victims owed compensation? Well, now the Milwaukee archdiocese asks Supreme Court to consider ruling on cemetery fund

- The Sickening Realities of the ‘Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline

- Planned Parenthood’s biggest problem is not “selling baby parts”: What the latest anti-choice sting reveals about the abortion debate

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Kittens get a drink

Here's Misty's baby checking out the water bowl. I was hoping the neighbor would adopt her but she seems to have changed her mind. I'll ask again. I called the SPCA and they said they would accept kittens for a price, but that there already have so many of them because it's kitten season that the ones who are not friendly or healthy will be killed ....

The three other kittens who just showed up in the yard about a week or two ago with their mother are very afraid of me and run away if I try to get close. If I take them to the SPCA (if I could even catch them), I don't know if they would survive. Here's one of them ...

Something that's never mentioned in all the rhetoric about Catholic Social Teaching and the Pope's care for the environment .... About 2.4 million healthy, adoptable cats and dogs—about one every 13 seconds—are put down in U.S. shelters each year. The Humane Society

Wednesday, July 08, 2015


- Cardinal Pell says Same-sex marriage votes show society is abandoning Christian foundation, thus promoting the lie that there is only one Christian view of same-sex relationships, a negative one. He ignores that the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, the UCC, the Quakers, etc., support marriage for same-sex couples. Meanwhile, Pell's Church in Australia tries to get taxpayers to pay the bill for its sex abuse crimes.

- The Unbearable Darkness of Prestige Television ... Critically acclaimed genre series such as Game of Thrones and True Detective are using bleak self-seriousness to distance themselves from their lowbrow roots.

- The Work We Do While We Sleep

- Giving teens effective contraception like IUDs cut the unwanted baby birthrate by 40%. So why did Republicans cut funding? ... The real issue here is that opponents of accessible birth control want to keep sex dangerous, in the hope that danger will discourage girls and women from having sex.

- The Illusion of Time: What's Real?

- Knowing How Doctors Die Can Change End-Of-Life Discussions

- Controversial Chilean bishop's appointment continues to divide diocese

- ;) ...

Tuesday, July 07, 2015


I've finished reading Interstellar: The Official Movie Novelization. One of the things I liked best about the book and movie was the way the robots were portrayed. There were two of them, TARS and CASE, both large and modularly rectangular, both veterans of a defunct marine corps, with computer displays, and honesty, discretion, and humor settings. Here are a couple of movie clips that showcase Tars and Case ...

And an article from Wired - How FX Wizards Brought Interstellar’s Strange Bots to Life

Walking and fiddles

The doc said walking was good for my knee so I've been walking around, listening to music to keep me going ... dueling fiddles :) ...

Monday, July 06, 2015


- Not a link, but here above is a pic of stray cat Misty and her baby. A neighbor said she was considering getting a kitten I hope I can convince her to take this one. If not, there will be 13 stray cats living in my yard and I will almost certainly go insane.

- After gay marriage, expect conservative amnesia

- Jesus Christ Wasn’t Down With Marriage

- Happy 80th birthday to the Dalai Lama ...

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Paul Martin

I was very sad to hear that a friend I had come to know through blogging had passed away today - Paul Martin. Some of you may have visited his blog, Original Faith, which is no longer up. I often mentioned his blog in past posts here, like David Hart and Nature, but he had been ill for a long time and eventually stopped blogging as his illness progressed. Paul did write a book, though - Original Faith - and you can read more about him and the book ...

Original Faith: A Spiritual Journey by Paul Martin

Interview Original Faith Author Paul Maurice Martin

Paul Martin, author of “Original Faith”: Book Blog Tour & Giveaway

Paul will be missed.

Saturday, July 04, 2015