Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Population Problems

Writing in First Things Susan Yoshihara begins with the chilling statement that: "Right now, in any corner of the World, a baby girl is being killed just because she is a girl." The author goes on to explain:

Throughout human history, demographers tell us, nature has provided about 105 male births for every 100 females. This “sex ratio at birth”—stable across generations and ethnic boundaries—may range from 103 to as high as 106 boys for every 100 girls. In only one generation, that ratio has come unglued.
A Chinese census reports ratios as high as 120–136 boys born for every 100 girls; in Taiwan, ratios of 119 boys to 100 girls; in Singapore 118 boys per 100 girls; South Korea 112 boys per 100 girls; and in India, where the practice was outlawed in 1994, the ratio continues to exceed 120 boys for every 100 girls in some areas. Countries such as Greece, Luxembourg, El Salvador, the Philippines, Cape Verde, and Egypt, even among some ethnic groups in the United States (Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino), are showing the same deadly discrimination against daughters

Basically what seems to be happening is that modern "reproductive technology" (especially pre-natal gender determination and, of course, selective abortion) has enabled people having fewer and fewer children to be very selective about the children they do choose to have. The statistics point to a sharp preference for boy babies in such circumstances. Now of course, "reproductive freedom" implies that couples ought to be able to make such choices for themselves. However, the cumulative effect on the future (like the cumulative effect of couples choosing to not have children) can have unfortunate consequences for society.

What will some of these societies be like twenty short years from now when these short sighted practices result in a dramatic shortage of females able to be married? These choices (whether to have children and the gender of those children), even though they seem to be personal relate to the future of the society. Increasingly we seem to be inclined to make these choices simply on these personal motives and preferences. Our ancestors, when they migrated from Europe for example, did so largely because they looked forward to a better future for their descendants. I know they did not have the same "reproductive technology" and so they did not have the temptation that we have yet the reality is that they were focused on the future. Do we look forward to the future in everything we do? Will the future be better because of our decisions?

Thursday, August 16, 2007


The first part of August brings us to the anniversary of the events leading to the end of the war against Japan in 1945. By the summer of 1945 it seemed clear that Japan's power to wage aggressive war had been crushed. What remained was to force Japanese leaders to accept their defeat and surrender to allied (mostly American) forces. This was accomplished when an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and three days later on Nagasaki. These events always raise the question of the morality of these acts in the light of Catholic moral teaching.

Reading the word's of Jesus in Matthew's gospel you might get the impression that Christians are called to be pacifists.
"38 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:38-42)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church does however, describe self preservation (self defense?) as a legitimate cause for war. The Catechism seems to also require that the actions of self defense be proportional to the threat from the aggressor. (CCC. 2259-2267)

Now, in the case of Japan it seems clear that when the USA went to war in 1941 it was reacting to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In fact it seems clear that Japan was engaged in an aggressive war of conquest in the Pacific at that time. So I suspect that most people would say that initial American participation in the war was justified. However, was the use of atomic bombs justified in 1945. By 1945 Japan no longer had the means to wage aggressive war (although the Japanese army in China had been largely untouched by the war). The use of atomic weapons and the massive destruction of life which followed could hardly be described as a proportional response to the Pearl Harbor attack. So the justification that Hiroshima was simple retaliation for Pearl Harbor does not work from a moral point of view. There is however, the reality that even though Japan was clearly defeated by the summer of 1945 the country was still in the control of a fanatical band of militarists who would not accept defeat and who were prepared to sacrifice countless lives defending the Japanese homeland against invasion by using "kamikaze" tactics. So, the loss of lives at Hiroshima might be proportional to the loss of lives, both Japanese and American, that would be the consequence of an invasion of the Japanese home islands. So, if you accept that the defense of human lives (remember the continuing war in China) required the surrender of Japan and if you accept that the only way to achieve this was going to be by invasion then the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima might be justified. The attack on Nagasaki seems to be a different question to me.

Realpolitik is foreign policy based not on principles of morality but on calculations of power and of the national interest. Here is where the decision to attack Nagasaki (and to a certain extent Hiroshima) comes from. After Yalta at least some people saw the USSR as the future threat to the USA and to world peace. The USA had spent at lot of resources to acquire atomic weapons and they had no reason to believe that the Soviets were close to their own atomic bomb. Therefore it was in the US national interest to demonstrate (to everyone, not just the Japanese) the power of this weapon and the importance of it in determining the future of world politics.

The role of the USA in world affairs can sometimes seem quite ambiguous. There is no doubt that sometimes the Americans have been the defenders of freedom and truth (like in World War Two). There have also been times when their decisions have been based primarily on the notions of power and self-interest. I think that one of the things that explains the difference between the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan is this distinction. In Afghanistan the outside military involvement has been primarily to depose and rogue government that was supporting terrorism and to restore stability to a failed state. The motives in Iraq however, seem much more confused and this is what contributes to the controversy over that war.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

More Motu

On the weekend I had a chance to visit with an old friend and colleague. At one point the talk turned to the "extra ordinary" form of the mass as outlined by the recent motu proprio. The topic came up because a former student-athlete that we both knew is now attending Mass at a chapel of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) in a town about two hours away. While driving two hours to attend Mass is evidence of amazing devotion I wondered if she and her family would return to the local parish if the parish began to offer Mass according to the 1962 missal.

I think that one of the motives behind the motu was to restore some of these people (like our former student) to their proper parishes. After some discussion I'm not sure that a simple "if you build it, they will come" approach to this is going to work. Many of the people that we know who attend the SSPX mass have complicated issues in the area of religion. On reflection the one explanation for this that makes partial sense to me comes from a book that I read when preparing for a master's degree project a few years back. In the book (What Prevents Christian Adults from Learning? by John Hull) the author describes several possible reactions to the increasing disconnect between religion and modern culture. He suggests that a common reaction is an attachment to something (or anything) that seems to provide certainty. So, people (even people like our student who was not alive in 1962) develop an attachment to the "old Mass" because it represents a time when things were more "black and white". I recall another example of this kind of attitude. Several years ago during a discussion on high school religious education I was told that we could solve a lot of the problems we were having with our young people if we only had more altar calls. This clearly is another example of someone seeing an overly simple solution to a complex problem. Still, my friend tells me that the SSPX chapel in his community in Southern Alberta has two Sunday Masses that attract 80 to 100 persons. That certainly represents a "stable number" referred to in the motu. If those numbers could be restored to the Church simply by instituting a regular "old Mass" in the parish it would be worth the time and effort. Still, its not certain that there are simple solutions to this situation (SSPX) as I've already said.