Consistent Life Ethic

On Friday, CNN published a brief article describing the differences between John F. Kennedy and John F. Kerry in the eyes of Catholic voters. The moral of the story is pretty obvious at this point. Namely, more observant Catholics favored Bush by 13 points because of his conservative stances on social issues like abortion. What hasn't been so obvious is this.

"Only 29 percent of churchgoing Catholics favor the death penalty for murder. Among less observant Catholics, nearly two-thirds support the death penalty."

This took me very much by surprise and should have surprised the author as well. I had to re-read it a couple times for it to sink in. Opposition to the death penalty is something more often associated with the left side of the spectrum, with the occasional moderate exception, such as myself. There's a known correlation, which the article mentions, between regular church attendance and support for conservative causes. Why, then, do so many wishy-washy Catholics support the death penalty?

I think the author wrote the wrong story – the less interesting one.

Thoughts? Comments?

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

9 thoughts on “Consistent Life Ethic

  1. Jerry Nora

    ” My point was: if you’re wishy-washy, then you’re wishy-washy, and that point still stands.”

    I’m still a little mystified by that line–from what was said above, there is room for active support of the death penalty (e.g., as in opposing its abolishment) in a 1st World Country, albeit cautiously. The term wishy-washy is getting thrown around promiscuously. 🙂 How is Dulles on weak ground over there?

  2. Steve Nicoloso

    Funky asks:

    Why, then, do so many wishy-washy Catholics support the death penalty?

    Because they’re wishy-washy. Duh! The current teaching is clear: the death penalty is not necessary for morality, justice, and the preservation of civiliation, ergo it ought not be practiced. Catholics (sic) who reserve the right to overrule the clear teaching of the church couldn’t care less, ergo they’re wishy-washy.

    My $0.02

  3. Tom Smith

    I think the average American supports the death penalty, though not strongly (although I haven’t any stats to back this up). It stands to reason that non-observant Catholics, because there are so many of them, average out to be, well, average. So it seems that they simply follow the patterns of the rest of society. Observant Catholics, on the other hand, are much more likely to listen to the Holy Father’s opinions on the matter than the GOP’s, even though they do agree with the GOP on any number of other issues.

    I also think it’s somewhat artificial to put Catholic politics into a conservative box. The nation’s stances on any number of issues have changed greatly over the past few decades, whereas the Catholic positions really haven’t. The appellatives “conservative” and “liberal” are ever-changing, whereas Catholic morality and political thought don’t change much. American conservatism has been formed around a Protestant mold, and as such, doesn’t fit Catholicism well. For example, America is fiercely individualistic, which I tend to believe has a lot to do with the Protestant sensibilities (if not doctrines) of the Founding Fathers. Luther introduced a radical rethinking of man’s relationship with God; strictly a me-and-Christ approach which tended to throw out the communal, ecclesial relaions with the Trinity. Catholicism can’t exist without a common relationship with the Lord; we ask that God remember the merits of the saints, and we believe that the prayers of the faithful are efficacious at achieving salvation for others, whereas the Reformers believed (at the risk of oversimplifying) that one’s individual relationship with Christ is what saved. Just look at the back page of a Chick tract (I’m really not implying that all Protestants are like Jack Chick). Say that little prayer and mean it, and you’re good to go. In Catholicism, say a prayer, and you might be okay, but to be more sure, get baptized and receive the Eucharist to be assimilated to the Mystical Body of Christ. Where is this all going? America takes its cues from Protestant ideals of individualism, rejecting dependence upon others as necessary. You can see this in the U.S. public’s worship of the idol of democracy. (Not to open up a whole new can of worms, but) Catholicism and democracy simply do not mesh particularly well, while Protestantism and democracy are a perfect fit.

  4. Rob

    Revenge is fun.

    Giving up revenge requires that we seriously consider the claims Christ makes on us, including on our need for retribution.

    Definitely the author wrote the less-interesting article.

  5. Jerry

    Steve, you overstate your case: the death penalty may be necessary to preserve the safety of the state’s citizens. Many Catholics, including the Pope, think that the death penalty is not necessary for a 1st-World nation, and thus oppose it in the US for most, if not all circumstances (I fall in the “Most” category).

    So those who do support the death penalty are not in violation of “the clear teaching of the church” as you said, nor it is wholly unncessary for justice, etc., as you had earlier asserted as well.

  6. Jerry

    The last paragraph was not properly word: those who support the death penalty are not necessarily in violation of the church. Bush seems in violation, and evidently, even Santorum is getting wary of the system. But there is room for supporting the penalty on some level, unlike abortion.

  7. Jerry Nora

    Tom, I disagree. Democracy is a loose term: do you mean a simple majority rule? If so, it doesn’t fit anyone well, as it isn’t even individualistic. If the mob doesn’t like you or your opinions, and majority rule is the only rule, that’s it.

    Just about any reasonably liberal government tends to be a republic, whether or not you still have dukes or monarchs floating around. The balancing of individual rights with the demands of the public is not a problem with the Church, which teaches both an eternal truth but also mercy for individuals. I’m not sure what you see as a problem with democarcy, Tom, since rampant individualism is anarchy, not democracy. Democracy’s problem is rather a mob rule, as Plato (whose master was lynched by a democracy) noted. Then again, a mob is what did in our Savior, huh?

    Democracy, while often touted by various politicians, is not really what we ever see, it’s a republic. And America, if not Europe, is a republic that often commends its martyrs in the military and also those who died or suffered for domestic struggles. M.L. King is probably the best recent example of that. But this can get us into the separate problem of America as a religion (which some neocons are arguably guilty of), but any political system can be idolized. But so can anything that is not God, so that’s nothing special about political systems.

  8. Steve N

    Yeah, Jerry, I meant that: i.e., the “first world nation” bit. I’m aware that difference of opinion on the death penalty goes pretty high up, and it is merely prudential. Even seen Cardinal Dulles be pretty “wishy-washy” on it recently. But I’d have to say that active support of the death penalty in a 1st world country is different than agreeing it might theoretically become again “prudential” to have it. My point was: if you’re wishy-washy, then you’re wishy-washy, and that point still stands.


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