Family Forum: Email at Its Best
In a world of roughly 6.3 billion people, that amounts to at least 170 messages a year for every human being on the planet. And the vast majority don't even have computers yet.
by Jay Dunlap | Source: Catholic.net
I write in this column about the media, and I do so online. It's only appropriate that I reflect every now and then on the Internet.
The primary use of the Internet continues to be for e-mail. In the year 2000, researchers at the University of California-Berkley estimated the number of email messages per year could exceed one trillion; by now they surely do, especially in this age of instant messaging. In a world of roughly 6.3 billion people, that amounts to at least 170 messages a year for every human being on the planet. And the vast majority don't even have computers yet.
Much of the email, sad to say, is spam, the electronic equivalent of junk mail. And the worst of the spam is pornographic, which email filters are getting better at weeding out.
But sometimes email helps us engage others in ways we could not otherwise do. Some of our relatives have set up a family web site that also includes
to listserves for general messages. One list is for general family news; the other is a forum for debate of current topics.
Uncle Tom is always the one to introduce the topics. Recently he raised the question of whether there is such a thing as "the Catholic vote." A retired academic, Uncle Tom did a tidy little deconstruction of the issues generally considered important to Catholics. An exchange ensued in which Aunt Marianne criticized "one-issue voters" - and that issue, of course, is always opposition to abortion; she stated her preference for Cardinal Bernardin's vision of a "seamless garment" of life issues. I responded as follows:
"It is one thing to be a 'one issue' voter; it is another to recognize a right as fundamental to all others and therefore of prime consideration.
"It's not accidental that our fundamental rights are listed in a certain order: 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' Life is a prerequisite for liberty, liberty a prerequisite for the pursuit of happiness.
"Moreover, political considerations like these have broad cultural implications. The availability of abortion has created an environment in which the unexpectedly pregnant woman is left to 'deal with it' herself or face the consequences. It is legal permission for men to be cads of the worst sort. It is a wide-sweeping failure of love -- especially for women and the children they bear.
"Roe V. Wade is the most prominent example of judicial activism, by which judges have taken upon themselves authority vested in the legislative branch. Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers wrote that the judiciary, of necessity, had to be the weakest branch of government. Because of activist judges it is now the strongest. Most people accept the dictum that 'the Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means.' That's neither what the Constitution says nor what it provides for. In fact the Constitution provides for Congress to limit the jurisdiction of federal courts, and Congress needs to do so to put a stop to judicial activism that continues to impose on our country laws that the people would not support, be they for abortion, homosexual marriage, higher property taxes, etc.
"The seamless garment is a beautiful metaphor, but like any metaphor it is not perfect. Is there a stitch that is fundamental, the one without which the garment unravels? Perhaps the issues of life are more like a pyramid: remove the base and all else crumbles."
Cousin John shared views that I suppose represent the thinking of many Catholics regarding our laws and politics:
"I think that many people are religiously opposed to abortion but that a majority of US voters are not. Congress and the overwhelming majority of judges [sic] are elected by the people, and for some time the result of that has been to keep abortion legal. My bet is that, if the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is no longer legal, much turmoil would result and a future ruling would make it legal again.
"At the same time, I think there are many people in the US who are opposed to abortion but don't want to make it illegal. For example, people who don't want abortion to be used as a form of birth control, or who oppose abortion after 3 months, or who want very rigid controls on abortion --- but still want abortion to be an option. Or, perhaps, who think that banning abortion will be a huge battle that they don't want to be part of."
My response to cousin John:
"Is opposition to abortion a tenet of the Catholic faith? Obviously, yes. Is that the only basis for opposition to abortion? Certainly not.
"There is the science of it. A friend of mine is a state senator in Nebraska and a fierce champion of the unborn. He raised the ire of the pro-abortion crowd by pointing out that a first year textbook used by the University of Nebraska's Medical School lays out very clearly that what happens upon conception is the beginning of a unique human life with DNA that will never change and which fully programs all the biological growth that will come in the course of maturing. In short, the scientific evidence is that a distinct human life begins at conception. That's not religion.
"There are also the vastly underreported sociological facts that women who have abortions are more like to abuse drugs and alcohol, suffer depression and attempt suicide.
"On the other hand, the founders of this country understood the need for religious principles (explicitly Christian principles, actually) to guide our democratic institutions. When the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in the 1830s to observe why democracy was working in America to the surprise of many in Europe, he highlighted the shared Christian ethic (especially Calvinist protestantism) as the moral footing that made it functional. The democracy could succeed because the people had shared morals, and as Aristotle pointed out, ethics govern politics. Harvard's Samuel Huntington has made a similar argument in his new book 'Who Are We?' though I think he goes too far by saying that for America to regain its strength we should all be protestants. The point is this: somebody's values are going to rule our political culture. Those values need to be rooted in the truth, which is Christ, not in atheistic humanism.
"If Roe v Wade were overturned, the laws in effect in 1973 would be in effect once more. More populous and more liberal states would still have legal abortion (such as NY and Calif.); most states would not. The pre-Roe v. Wade laws came out of the democratic process and reflected the will of the people, including the common sense exceptions John refers to. The imposition of abortion on demand by the Supreme Court reflects only the will of five judges (and the lobbyists who won them over).
"Law not only reflects but shapes popular morality: 75 percent of the nation disagreed with Roe w. Wade when it was handed down, and in the decades since
as many as 75 percent have supported it. Within the past year, the number who identify themselves as pro-choice has fallen to less than half in some polls. Sounds to me like the time is ripe for a change."
I am grateful the Internet allows us to engage in such debates. I think the views expressed by some of my relatives accurately reflect the thinking of many Catholics. I pray that these arguments might be helpful, to them and to you.
Media commentator Jay Dunlap writes from New Haven, Conn. He is a contributor to the National Catholic Register, This Rock and other Catholic periodicals.