Thursday, May 30, 2013

Smart people agree with me about the Boy Scouts....

A very intelligent canon lawyer Has written a post basically affirming my previous post....

I only disagree with one of his points, namely, that withdrawing sponsorship from a Boy Scout troop by a Catholic organization might not be a sign of unjust discrimination. I think it would, if such a decision were made institutionally or collectively by a group of parents or by a parish church  itself. However, it is of course up to individuals whether or not to participate in the Scouts, just as it always has been.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Prayer/Poem of the Week- Prayer of Roses (from the back of a Spanish votive candle)

I found this prayer on the back of a votive candle to Our Lady of Guadalupe. I have looked and looked for a source, but haven't had any luck. In any case, I loved the prayer so much that I immediately scribbled it into my Book of Hours and recite it on a regular basis. 

Merciful Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, show clemency, love, and compassion to those who love you and search for your protection. May the sweet fragrance of roses reach your divine Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that He may hear our prayers, wipe our tears, and give us comfort and assistance. (Concentrate on your desires.) Amen. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Boy Scouts, And Why I Support Their Decision

Given all the talk in the Catholic blogosphere, especially here, at Rorate Caeli, about the latest decisions made by the Boy Scouts, I thought it might be instructive to actually read the decision, rather than giving a gut-reaction to all the media speculation. Here is the text with my commentary in bold.

WHEREAS, it is the mission of the Boy Scouts of America to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law:

Scout Oath

Scout Law

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
And to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
Mentally awake, and morally straight.
(Does not mean straight in sexual orientation.)

A Scout is:

AND WHEREAS, duty to God, duty to country, duty to others, and duty to oneself are each a core value and immutable tenet of the Boy Scouts of America; and
WHEREAS, the Scout Oath begins with duty to God and the Scout Law ends with a Scout's obligation to be reverent, and that will always remain a core value of the Boy Scouts of America, and the values set forth in the Scout Oath and Law are fundamental to the BSA and central to teaching young people to make better choices over their lifetimes; and
WHEREAS, the vision of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare every eligible youth in America to become a responsible, participating citizen and leader who is guided by the Scout Oath and Scout Law; and
WHEREAS, for more than 103 years, programs of the Boy Scouts of America have been delivered to youth members through cooperation with chartered organizations that select adult leaders who meet the organization's standards as well as the leadership standards of the Boy Scouts of America; and
WHEREAS, numerous independent experts have recognized that the programs protecting Scouts today, which include effective screening, education and training, and clear policies to protect youth and provide for their privacy, are among the best in the youth-serving community; and
WHEREAS, the current adult leadership standard of the Boy Scouts of America states:
The applicant must possess the moral, educational, and emotional qualities that the Boy Scouts of America deems necessary to afford positive leadership to youth. The applicant must also be the correct age, subscribe to the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle (duty to God), and abide by the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.
While the BSA does not proactively inquire about sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.
AND WHEREAS, Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting; and (This means that chastity is an essential characteristic of a good scout.)
WHEREAS, the Boy Scouts of America does not have an agenda on the matter of sexual orientation, and resolving this complex issue is not the role of the organization, nor may any member use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda; and (Basically, the Scouts are saying, "Look, we aren't scientists or psychologists or clergy. How children work out their identity in the context of their faith has to do with people a lot more important than us. Scouts want out of this mess, but we want to do so in a moral way.")
WHEREAS, youth are still developing, learning about themselves and who they are, developing their sense of right and wrong, and understanding their duty to God to live a moral life; and (The language that we use to describe ourselves, particularly while we are young, is something fluid and incremental, and depends on family situations. For example, while a child from a practicing Catholic family might not describe themselves as "gay" but as "struggling with chastity issues" or "struggling to find his vocation", a child from a Methodist family might come right out and identify himself with the cultural term, "gay" or "bi" or whatnot. As an organization, the Scouts are more concerned with helping students to do what is ACTUALLY morally upright and to help them become good people. They aren't really concerned about the labels that students from different backgrounds and faiths use to describe themselves. After all, they're kids, and that will probably change later anyway.)
WHEREAS, America needs Scouting, and the organization's policies must be based on what is in the best interest of its young people, and the organization will work to stay focused on that which unites us, and
WHEREAS, the Boy Scouts of America will maintain the current membership policy for all adult leaders of the Boy Scouts of America, and (The Boy Scouts basically are saying that they agree with the Catholic position that having openly and avowedly gay men in charge of groups of pubescent and post-pubescent boys is probably a bad idea. To use an example, I teach at a Catholic school, but as a man, I am generally not asked to take charge of the Junior High girls on a permanent basis. If we were running a boarding school, it wouldn't be ideal to have a fairly young man in charge of the junior high girls' dormitory, whatever our estimation of his moral character might be. It just makes sense.)
The following membership standard for youth members of the Boy Scouts of America is hereby adopted and approved, effective Jan. 1, 2014:
Youth membership in the Boy Scouts of America is open to all youth who meet the specific membership requirements to join the Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Sea Scout, and Venturing programs. Membership in any program of the Boy Scouts of America requires the youth member to (a) subscribe to and abide by the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law, (b) subscribe to and abide by the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle (duty to God), and (c) demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone. (The key word here is "alone". Look, if I had a son who sexually oriented to men, or to both genders, would I want him, from adolescence, to be excluded from activities that are a normal part of growing up, such as scouting, or youth sports, or swim team, just because he might get a crush on the other boys? No. It's not cancer. It won't kill him. It won't even cause him to sin unless he wants it to. That's my personal take. Here's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about it....)

CCC 2358: The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. 

CCC 2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Let's look at the Boy Scouts' decision in light of the two quotes above. However, first, a slight prefatory note. The Catechism states that the "inclination" is "objectively disordered". However, I think it is important to point out that the Catechism does not claim to be a psychology textbook. It is not saying that homosexual persons have any sort of genetic, psychological, or medical 'syndrome' or that they are somehow 'defective' by scientific standards. The Catechism looks at it from a moral perspective. The desire to have sex with people of the same gender is a desire which is not ordered to a moral end. End of story, from the Catholic point of view. Likewise, persistent, deep-seated desires to have sex with women other than one's wife, or to use pornography, or to engage in masturbation, are all objectively disordered. They also happen to people who are perfectly healthy, capable human beings. Being homosexual is not the same as being a leper or having PTSD. But, then again, even if homosexuality were some sort of disease like leprosy (as I do NOT believe it is), how did Jesus teach lepers? St. Damien of Molokai, anyone?

Moving on to some of the key ways that these two texts encounter the BSA resolution, I would like to note a clause that is often left out in these discussions. Right after the "objectively disordered" bombshell, which usually leaves everyone--conservatives and progressives alike--foaming at the mouth, there is a little sentence that is absolutely essential to a right understanding of Catholic doctrine. "Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." Not just the discrimination itself, folks, but even the "sign" of it, which would include actions or words that merely hint at unjust discrimination. For example, even if the exclusion of gay boys from locker rooms might be a 'just discrimination' (I'm not sure), the effects of such a decision might be to (a) expose the boy to additional bullying at school, (b) prevent the boy from participating in school sports equally--which would surely be unjust, (c) lead him to develop an unhealthy separation from good male influences which could help him to adjust to his situation, (d) represent an attitude that homosexuals are somehow 'diseased' or 'unclean', which would be fundamentally un-Christian. I would argue that excluding homosexual boys from activities such as Boy Scouts could have largely the same effects as these, and is therefore unjustified and unjust. 

Second, we note that the part of the resolution which deals with chastity could very well have been lifted straight out of CCC 2359. Boy Scouts ought to be chaste. Period. If they aren't, then they will be kicked out anyway, and as anyone who has actually worked with youth can tell you, there is no way based on a child's declaration of sexual orientation or preference, to tell exactly what their sexual behavior will be in a given situation. I was in a Southern Baptist youth group growing up with  two homosexuals and two bisexuals. Youth are unpredictable on chastity issues. 

Finally, we might note the ways in which a Boy Scout troop sponsored by the Catholic Church, with its carefully nuanced perspective on homosexuality, might well be exactly what a young boy needs who is struggling with homosexual feelings. Within such a loving group of boys his own age, he might well find the acceptance and support he needs to make good decisions about chastity and prayer, and therefore approach the "Christian perfection" talked about in the Catechism. I am not saying that if you just take the boy camping and fishing enough you will get him to become more "manly" and less "effeminate", nor am I saying that a Catholic Boy Scout group could help a gay child "pray the gay away". Rather, I am suggesting that being around boys who loved him, not as a potential sexual partner or someone 'different', but as a fellow Boy Scout and friend might just help him to find healthy relationships that could maintain the standards of Catholic chastity. That's to say nothing about what it might teach the straight boys in the troop about the need for sensitivity to the struggles of others....

And so, with all that being said, recognizing that my view will probably make neither conservatives nor progressives very happy, I say that, if I were to have a son with deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or just a son who wasn't particularly picky, I would be very happy for him to join the Boy Scouts, sell popcorn, and go long as I didn't have to go.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Prayer/Poem of the Week- All Are Welcome (a parody of the song by Marty Haugen)

Let us build a house where all can dwell,
And no one feels left out,
Where preachers never preach on hell
And folk are free to doubt.
Full of councils and committees
To see each smiling face;
Smaller governments have governed cities,
All are welcome! All are welcome! All are welcome in this place!

Let us build a house where hands will clap,
At every choral song;
And give us jokes that make us laugh
And make no sermon long.
Every day it's Marty Haugen,
Sung by Sister Margaret Grace,
Hey that Entrance Song is really rockin',
All are welcome! All are welcome! All are welcome in this place!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What is a teacher? What is the point in learning Latin?

I was asked these questions a couple years back by a colleague in grad school. I recently dug up my response, which I thought might serve as an interesting discussion-starter.

So, you posted this a while ago. Back then, I felt like writing a reponse, but didn't. Now, I don't feel like writing a response but will anyway.

A teacher is, simply put, an extension of the parent. Basically, it takes a LOT to raise up a human and halfway-decent child, and most parents don't have what it takes. Among the skills that most parents don't have, usually, education tops the list. Some parents are excellent teachers, but most aren't, so they ask other people to give 'em a hand. 

Now, there are higher, deeper meanings for the word 'teacher.' A teacher in the truest sense is someone who has ideas of their own and wants to share them with others. But most of us aren't that, and if we were when we started at UMASS, it is likely that the reality of the job quickly crushed any such idealistic notions. And, basically, it's an impossible ideal, because there's only one fellow who ever came up with something truly new, and we aren't Him. 

Now, let's get back to the other half of your question. "What is the point of learning Latin?" The fact is, in my humble opinion, there ISN'T a point for most people to learn Latin. The point of learning Latin, in its most limited academic sense, to gain an in-depth understanding of the Romans and subsequent Latin-speaking cultures. That limits the academic need for Latin to a few archaeology geeks and a few anthropology majors. 

But there is a wider, non-academic need to learn Latin. Latin is the language of a culture (actually, multiple cultures) which continues to have significance for SOME of the world's population today. Connection with that tradition allows those people to root themselves and develop a deeper sense of self-identity ("autochthony" in Heideggerian terms). For some people, e.g. Roman Catholics, that cultural heritage is so significant that the language remains in active use even to the present day.

To me, however, that makes teaching Latin in most public schools (I would except those in Europe) the equivalent of forcing students in Antarctica to take lessons in water skiing. Learning an ancient language is simply too difficult to be justified, when such brain power could be used on something more applicable or local, such as regional languages. 

As for the notion that learning Latin helps with a plethora of other skills, the evidence is too questionable. I am comforted everyday by knowing that the students to whom I teach the "Lingua Latina" also use it everyday, or at least have the opportunity to do so, in the context of the traditional Roman Liturgy.