This weekend I entered into a twitter conversation with some people that expressed fear of those that are Muslim and spoke in a disparaging way about the Qur’an. It always seems that fear of others leads to the great evils in our society. We then use that fear as justification to attack the other. Some attack physically and other with words. Yet there is something particularly worrisome to me when the words used to attack are from sources meant to be our guides to faith. I’m always struck by people who choose to pick a single verse and interpret it in the most negative possible manner. In truth, Christians also do that with Bible verses. We take them out of the context of the time or the situation and we use them as evidence of our own views most often that the other is wrong.
Rather than approaching the Bible or the Qu’ran with fear, embrace it with compassion and love.
In my conversations, I always try to remember what imprint I will leave on a person. Even if the person leaves the conversation thinking me a fool, too liberal for my own good, or merely misguided, I hope they also leave the conversation believing me to be compassionate, kind, and patient. I hope they see my faith and my love for humanity.
Today in Mass we were challenged to remember that the Shephard left his imprint on the sheep and so they will always be able to find him. It is important for us not to fill the air with so much foul discourse that the sheep loose the scent of the Shephard because of our actions.
Can we loose the strident denunciations of the other and be a littler closer to Shephard? – Fr. Brown
I choose not to measure any human being by their neighbor, relative, fellow citizens, or co-religionist. It is your words and your deeds that matter to me. I will always first reach for what is Holy in you.
Over the last year, we have heard broad policy issues from political parties. In all cases, it resulted in policy discussions online and in the media that was completely lacking in compassion. Not only did those discussing the policies often have insufficient knowledge of how policy is analyzed and implemented but frequently took pride in not knowing and depending on what they proudly referred to as “common sense.” Sadly, well-meaning people both liberal and conservative, have no idea that “common sense” often leads to failing policy that did not consider unintended consequences or the impact that the policy may have on others. Common sense is limited to one’s toolkit that includes one’s knowledge, environment, resources, and life lessons. Because all people don’t share the same toolkit, it is important that policy considers all the toolkits and what happens when one toolkit has far less in it than others.
We must find a way to speak about a policy that can engage those that profess common sense without the educational training to fully grasp how policy is made and do so in a compassionate manner. Compassionate discussion requires breaking down the issues and speaking at multiple levels of complexity. Until we can to do this successfully, we will remain a divided country in which those that are rhetorically skilled will take advantage of those that are not.
Once we learn to speak with compassion, we must assure that any policy analysis includes a test for compassion.
After the election is over on Tuesday, there are big issues to address that impact every single community in the United States. Shall we discuss them with compassion or shall we continue on our current path?
Human dignity rests above all on the fact that humanity is called to communion with God. The invitation to converse with God is addressed to men and women as soon as they are born. For if people exist it is because God has created them through love, and through love continues to keep them in existence. They cannot live fully in the truth unless they freely acknowledge that love and entrust themselves to their creator.
We learned this week that pro-life is an obsolete word that is without meaning. It isn’t obsolete because people of faith do not believe that abortion is morally wrong. It is obsolete because it has been co-opted by opportunistic politicians that are no more opposed to abortion than anything else they espouse and then do absolutely nothing to change. Worse, they focus solely on the act of abortion and ignore all the factors that lead to abortion.
The Catholic Church is consistent in its teaching that life begins at conception and many faith traditions agree, but certainly not all. Officially abortion can be forgiven, but it can also result in the most severe punishment in the Church – excommunication. It is maintained that from the moment of conception a human embryo is fully human and deserving of all the protections of any human being. If one viewed this statement simplistically, it seems compassionate. We must treat this new life as if it were the same as a school child or a treasured grandparent. It is when one realizes that in saying “all the same protections of any human” it must necessarily mean that the mother is subservient to the human embryo so what is clearly meant is the same protections as a man. She must give up the control of her body to that human embryo, which is why some people make caveats for rape, incest, and life of the mother.
Politicians and pro-life and pro-choice advocates were outraged by the statement of Donald Trump when he suggested that women who have abortions should be punished. It is no surprise that pro-choice advocates and most women were outraged. However, for pro-life advocates and politicians who build careers preying on the faithful, it is nothing short of hypocrisy. Those that claim outrage against Trump’s statements need to consider what he said and what they claim to believe. Claiming the woman should be punished is consistent with what I would expect of someone that believes that the human embryo is the same as a child or an adult in rights. If a mother killed her 6-year-old or her neighbor, it would be expected that she would be punished. If one believes abortion is murder, then it would be expected that the person who committed or hired someone to commit murder is punished. However, what isn’t consistent is not also punishing the person that incited the murder – the father, or the driver that waited in the getaway car while the murder was committed. If one believes life begins at conception, and the human embryo is fully human and deserving of human rights rather than potentially human from that moment, then one should support Donald Trump’s original statement.
The Compassionate Alternative
Wanting to punish a woman for having an abortion shows a complete lack of compassion for a woman in trouble. Isn’t that what we teach with excommunication. When we say we punish the woman and not the man we are clearly setting different standards for men and women, doctors that do abortions and women that hire them, and mothers, fathers, and significant others that drive women to the abortion appointment. If one truly believes that abortion is a mortal sin, then to condemn the woman as a murderer is too easy and self-satisfying. It is too easy because it allows us as a society, a faith community, and as individuals to do nothing to help her through the pregnancy, to dismiss her as immoral, and to condemn her and those who assist her as murders and consign to the criminal justice system. Calling abortion criminal allows us to continue to advocate against abortion without showing the same concern for women before pregnancy, during pregnancy, or after birth.
The child/fetus in the mother’s womb is drawing its life directly from the mother, and she must be nurtured, nourished and protected. Only then will the child develop to its full capacity. Not only is it necessary for a mother, a woman, to be cared for during her pregnancy, but we know through medical science that nutrition is essential even before conception. What we are doing for all women of childbearing age we are also doing for the child she will one day nurture. When we fail her, we fail to defend the integrity of the human embryo that will grow into a child.
We can begin our compassion by ending the use of the terms pro-life and pro-choice. Let us start saying what we believe. In stating our beliefs, we may find common ground that brings us together to find solutions that don’t criminalize acts of fear and desperation and further grow our flawed criminal justice system. Here is what I believe:
Women are fully human – not less than men or human embryos or human fetuses.
A human embryo has all the genetic material of a human being but is not sentient from the time of conception.
The human embryo/fetus is drawing its life from the mother.
Self-determination should be a right for all sentient beings – rights come with responsibilities to make moral decisions.
However, pregnancy is a choice in most circumstances – rape, incest, and the life of a mother are special circumstances that force choices between the good of the human embryo and human fetus and the good of the mother.
Contraception meant to prevent implantation is not equivalent to abortion – it does violate the teaching of the Church, but can result in a reduction of abortions.
Poverty, abuse, lack of child care, few education options for women with children, fewer job opportunities and discrimination against women with children, and inadequate support for those that are pregnant impact a woman’s decision to have an abortion.
Abortion is a moral decision – women are endowed with consciences and can make moral decisions.
Pregnancy is stigmatizing – society values fertility, but not the always the pregnant woman especially if she is unwed or poor.
The objective act of abortion being immoral does not equate to the person carrying out the act being either good or evil.
The compassionate solution cannot be to build a wall between women and legal and safe abortion and expect it will end abortion and after we stop the access then explore laws to help women care for their children. We should begin with compassion and start by passing laws and making policy changes that will encourage giving birth and value pregnancy.
Paid maternal leave for six months
Affordable child care based on income
Educational support for pregnant teens and new moms
Adequate nutritional assistance for all women of childbearing age
Women’s health care in all communities that is free to all women of childbearing age
Corporations that don’t disadvantage women with children
If we put the same passion into supporting pregnant women as we do into preventing abortion, the result may be surprising. I look forward to the day we are praying in the streets outside of community health centers and family practice clinics insisting that they provide women’s healthcare including maternity care or that we march on Washington every year to insist that all women have paid maternity leave and affordable childcare. This week taught us one important lesson – justice must include compassion. It is inhumane to treat women seeking abortion as criminals.
2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.72
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.73
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.74
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.75
God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.76
2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,”77“by the very commission of the offense,”78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.
2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:
“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”80
“The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.”81
2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.
Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, “if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safeguarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence.”82
2275 “One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.”83
“It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.”84
“Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity”85 which are unique and unrepeatable.
Teaching students is always a pleasure and a privilege. Yet, sometimes the stories that have been the most powerful for me seem to have no impact on them. Today I read them an excerpt from Mary Elizabeth O’Brien’s book, Spirituality in Nursing. Sr. Macrina advised,
“if you should ever hear God speaking to you from a burning bush, and it happens more often than most of us realize, take off your shoes for the ground on which you stand is holy”. How appropriate, it seems to envision practicing nurses, who must come together with their patients in caring and compassion, as standing on holy ground. God frequently speaks to us from a burning bush, in the fretful whimper of a feverish child, in the anxious questions of a preoperative surgical patient, and in the frail moans of a fragile elder. If we take off our shoes, we will be able to realize that the place where we stand is holy ground; we will respond to our patients as we would wish to respond to God in the burning bush.”
I believe we should all take off our shoes and experience what is holy in our professions and our human relationships. What are we called to do and what is preventing us from doing it? We should take off our shoes of bias, our shoes of fear, and our shoes of judgment and help alleviate unnecessary suffering. Only then will we be able to feel what is holy and just. Only then can we answer the questions that examine our values:
Who am I? Who am I to become? How do I get there?
“Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.” Mahatma Gandhi.
We all know the statistics or can quickly find them at the Gun Violence Archive http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/. How can one not grieve the 39,650 gun related deaths and injuries that have occurred in 2015 alone. If that doesn’t cause one to pause and say a prayer maybe the 554 children, 1,975 teens, or the 265 mass shooting will wake people up to the fact that we are killing and injuring each other with guns in a way that no war since Vietnam has equaled. Even terrorist haven’t been able to do to us what we are doing to each other.
I am a great believer that compassionate policy has the ability to change thousands, if not millions of lives with the stroke of pen. I also know that bad policy has the ability to cause pain and suffering for equal numbers of people. As much as I would love to believe that our Congress and political leaders have the best interest of the people in mind when they do their jobs I have sadly given up hope that it is true when they produce legislation to stop the CDC from actually studying the underlying causes of gun violence. Therefore I believe it is up to We The People to be the change we know must occur and change our families, our neighborhoods, our states, and our country one small community at a time.
I’m interested in hear what people think we could do as small communities to stem violence that does not involve Congressional action since we know they are unwilling and incapable of doing anything. Is there anywhere we can find common ground that doesn’t require a policy change or political action? If you love your guns and don’t want to give them up is there anything you would be willing to do in your community to help eliminate gun violence without discussing the use of more guns? If you share my belief that we should decline our 2nd amendment right to bear arms is there anything you can do in your community to decrease gun violence that doesn’t involve trying to take guns away from those that love them?
We need to put aside our self-importance, our fear, and our love for guns and consider the victims of violence involving guns. Surely there is some common ground at the community level that would allow us to put aside our interest in individual rights and consider the value of human life.
If you are interested in being part of the solution and joining the conversation you can do so here or on padlet.
“Those that proclaim themselves to be the sole measure of realities and of truth cannot live peacefully in society with their fellow men and cooperate with them.” –Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
Recently it seems as if we have had no great days for justice, freedom, and equality. It is a sad day for policy makers when the reduction in teen pregnancy seems to be linked to a reality TV show and not to a change in policy. It is also a sad day when federal policy to provide military weapons to civilian police appears to be resulting in the increased use of force that is disproportionately levied against young black men. We have a few options: 1) let reality TV take over policy, or 2) change our policy model.
There is a plethora of policy frameworks and models that I could adopt to analyze a policy. Hindshaw and Grady (2011) identified three that work especially well for health care policy:
Data-Driven Policymaking (Weinick & Shin, 2003)
Evidence-Informed Health Policy (Green & Bennett, 2007)
The Policy Cycle: Moving From Issue to Policy (Shamian et al., 2002)
Each has distinct advantages and may serve me well, but like many policy analyses I have reviewed they are lacking two fundamental elements: compassion and human dignity. The Policy Cycle did include values and beliefs, but as we all know many of our values are completely devoid of compassion when carefully examined. Compassion and reason should coexist in our policy making. If we are ever going to get beyond the negative influences of policy that is bought and paid for by the highest bidder, forced on the weak by the biggest policy bully, conceived by the person who puts personal success in front of a well ordered society and profits before people, then a broader concept of what a constitutes a good policy must be considered. We must add compassion and ensure human dignity while minimizing negative influences. Maybe then we won’t have to depend on reality TV to solve teen pregnancy or turn our police officers into occupying forces to “protect and serve”.
Adapted from: Policy Cycle: Moving from Issue to Policy (Shamian, Skelton-Green, Villeneuve, 2002)
I have an almost complete disregard of precedent, and a faith in the possibility of something better. It irritates me to be told how things have always been done. I defy the tyranny of precedent. I go for anything new that might improve the past.” –Clara Barton
I love teaching because it gives me the opportunity to form compassionate students. After all, isn’t teaching about the hope that one of our students makes the world better? Isn’t the goal of research to find something new that might improve the past? I suppose it is human nature to see oneself as in the mainstream of thought. I have sometimes delighted in being outside the mainstream. I enjoy thinking big thoughts and imagining something better, more compassionate, and less violent. It is hard to imagine such a world when a child being held hostage after a shooting.
If we are going to change the way we approach violence it is not productive to say that a policy or law is ineffective when special interest managed to have enough holes in the policy or law that it looks like policy swiss cheese. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 expired in 2004 and there is great disagreement as to whether it had any effect on gun violence. One problem was that there were so many exceptions as to make the law ineffective. It starts by stating, “It shall be unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon.” What follows is a full page of exceptions and then a description of what it takes to be considered an assault weapon. It would be comical if it weren’t for the fact that this legislation was meant to save lives. Is it any wonder that it is hard to show if it was effective?
Christopher Koper (2004) did a good assessment of the impact of the assault weapons ban. He stated,
Because offenders can substitute non-banned guns and small magazines for banned AWs and LCMs, there is not a clear rationale for expecting the ban to reduce assaults and robberies with guns.96 But by forcing AW and LCM offenders to substitute non-AWs with small magazines, the ban might reduce the number of shots fired per gun attack, thereby reducing both victims shot per gunfire incident and gunshot victims sustaining multiple wounds. (p.81)
He makes one point on which everyone should be able to agree – there is no single factor that influences violence. During much of the research that occurred while the ban was in effect there was a crack epidemic that influenced violent behavior. It also occurred shortly after the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill when funding for and availability of outpatient clinics was completely inadequate for the large number of people who were no longer hospitalized. In 2004 the ban expired and there is clear evidence the number of mass shootings has increased, but why?
We must examine the culture of violence not as merely a gun issue, or a mental health issue, or a drug issue, or even a moral issue. We must examine the culture of violence as a threat to safety, security, and well-being. The politicians and lobbyist had their chance to address the issues and they clearly demonstrated they cared more about their own self-interest than safety, security, or well-being of the citizens of the United States. What they did went beyond benign neglect. It was at best apathy and at the worst a lack of respect for human dignity and life.
It is time for academia, health care, and the faith communities to take on the issues that have resulted in the culture of violence. We need a fresh perspective that is rational, evidence based, and driven by concerned citizens. It is time to take the box the lobbyists and politicians have put the issue of gun violence in and break it down and throw it in the recycling bin. It is time to think outside the box. The people who care about rationality, evidence, and human dignity and are not driven by personal financial gain or votes need to step forward. It would be nice if our government could be trusted to prevent violence, protect human dignity, and support a culture of life. I do not think they have the courage to do so. While politicians continue to talk to the people that stood by an let a culture of violence go unchecked those who view life as sacred need to address the issues with open minds and open hearts. Finding the root cause of gun violence requires that be willing to accept that life is sacred. Guns are not.
“The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”
Open dialogue is essential to a democracy. We value our freedom to speak our minds. However, open dialogue does not negate the requirement to be reasonable, thoughtful, and kind. Our freedom is threaned if we do not exercise compassion in our words and deeds. “The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, “the subject of this freedom,” is “an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods.”33 Moreover, the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions that are needed for a just exercise of freedom are too often disregarded or violated. Such situations of blindness and injustice injure the moral life and involve the strong as well as the weak in the temptation to sin against charity. By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth.” (CCC 1740) If we believe that faith guides policy, then we must accept that threats to freedom will negatively impact our policy, our government, and our way of life.
Every day that we, as citizens of the United States, engage in uncivil discourse we are diminishing our freedom. Do any of us watch what is occurring in the Congress, in the White House, in the media, and through social media and doubt that we are headed down a road that will not end well. We are headed down the road of intolerance that leads to hate.
“Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. …” –(CCC 1731) When we let our public discourse and actions become filled with hostility, a desire to win at all cost, and no focus on how our actions impact individuals then we have jeopardized freedom. The difference between the current citation in the U.S., and so many failed countries, is that in the U.S. the government is made up of the people. We should not be pointing at a few elected officials and saying they are the problem. They are only in their seats and able to maintain their behavior if we support it. They are only able to pass laws that do not respect human dignity if we support it. Therefore, we are the problem.
There are three questions that should be ask before every decision:
How is human dignity protected?
How is suffering alleviated?
Will anyone be made worse off?
Likewise, when we speak publicly, including through social media, we should ask three questions:
How could what I’m saying be construed to violate human dignity?
Will my statements cause anyone to suffer?
Are my words kind, thoughtful, and respectful (not the truth hurts kind or pointing out the error of your ways kind or it is my job to set you straight kind)?
If you can’t respond to these questions in a way that promotes freedom and is compassionate then be silent until you can. Silence can beautiful and enlightening.