There is a picture of Oregon school shooter Christopher Harper-Mercer, one that I have used with my article about him, that I find sad and rather moving. He was a gun toting, Christian hating, narcissistic young man who shot dead nine people in cold blood, and then himself. I suppose his look could be taken to express a kind of contempt for the opinion of others, not to mention their lives. But knowing something of his story it speaks to me of resignation to the disappointment life has turned out to be. How utterly sad it is that a young life can be so embittered, and how shocking that society refuses to deal with one of the root causes.
Yesterday YouTube made history. Literally. Assisted suicide became legal in California yesterday after Governor Jerry Brown put his signature on a law passed by the state's legislative assembly and senate. And it would never have happened without a YouTube video which was released on this day, exactly one year ago.
Compassion & Choices, America's leading right-to-die group, financed, produced and promoted a short video about Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old, recently married woman with a brain tumour. She was "forced" to move to Oregon where assisted suicide is legal. The video was seen by millions of people -- including Jerry Brown -- who watched Brittany plead tearfully for the right to die. It shows the immense power of stories in an era which respects emotions more than reasoned argument. Read our take on the new law here.
The Catholic Church arguably has more experience in dealing with issues related to marriage and the family than any other institution on the planet. For 2000 years it has supported the ever-controversial notions that marriage between a man and a woman should be forever and fruitful. At no stage in history have these been easy to observe or to teach. But the Church has still insisted, successfully for the most part.
Now they are under attack again, which explains why Pope Francis has convoked a confab of bishops in Rome. This Synod is the focus of intense interest by the media, as there is talk of the Pope changing those 2000-year-old teachings in the light of changing social mores. It hardly seems likely, but here at MercatorNet we'll try to cover developments over the next three weeks for you. See the articles below...
In a United Nations Organisation that is often frustratingly disunited at the highest levels – as seen in the Security Council’s deadlock over the Syrian war – it is worth remembering that its member states can agree. Early this week they unanimously adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, also known as Agenda 2030, to carry on and expand the work of the Millennium Development Goals.
Family advocacy groups have learned to keep a close eye on such grand schemes to ensure that divisive issues like abortion rights are not somehow smuggled in – and that issue, at least, is not mentioned in the SDGs. Climate change certainly is, and that might be a problem for some people.
At the same time one should not lose sight of the essentially positive agenda that the nations of the world have agreed to: eradication of poverty, expansion of quality education and health care, for example. Today we interview Ignacio Socias of the International Federation of Family Development, which has contributed, like many other civil society groups, to the working out of the goals. They are not, of course, exactly as he would have wished, but he says they can do a lot to improve the position of families.
His message, I think, is that we must be genuine participants in such programmes and not merely critics of their weak points.
Some of the most enchanting baby photos I have ever seen are on a Facebook page called Jaxon Strong. Jaxon was born anencephalic -- without most of his brain -- and was not expected to live more than a couple of weeks, but is still going strong at 13 months. The little Florida boy is the son of two marvelllous parents who declined an abortion and accepted their baby as a gift from God. By chronicalling their ups and downs with Jaxon on Facebook they have inspired tens of thousands of people, and encouraged other families with severely disabled children. Today I made MercatorNet one of the mounting number of websites to spread the story of Jaxon, Brittany and Brandon Buell, a family who deserve our admiration and support, if anyone does.
As Rana Jawad points out in one of today's articles, refugees from Syria are flooding north into Europe, rather than south into Saudi Arabia and the other wealthy Muslim Gulf states. These countries don't want refugees, partly because they might upset a fragile demographic balance and partly because they might sully their shopping malls.
There might be another reason, too. Perhaps the refugees don't want to go to a country which beheads and crucifies teenagers. No, not the Islamic State -- Saudi Arabia, a staunch ally of the West.
That is the sentence that a Saudi court meted out to Ali Mohammed al-Nimr. He is a Shi'ite (in Sunni Saudi Arabia) from a prominent dissident family. He was arrested in 2011, when he was 17, for participating in a protest during the Arab Spring. This was upheld upon appeal and the sentence could be carried out at any time. Amnesty has called the trial deeply flawed.
You might think that Saudi Arabia knows nothing about human rights -- but you would be quite wrong. It is an expert, so expert, evidently, that it is currently a member of the United National Human Rights Council, which is "responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations". According to recently released Wikileaks cables, the UK and Saudi Arabia did a deal to ensure each other's election to the council in 2013.
Winston Churchill had many sterling qualities, but punctuality was not amongst them. As a very junior officer, he once kept the Prince of Wales and a dinner part of 12 waiting (bad luck to start with 13, it seems) until Winston arrived an hour late. His Royal Highness was fuming and asked, “Do you have an excuse, young man?” To which he replied, “Indeed I have, Sir. I started too late.”
I have always found it comforting to share my own lack of punctuality with a great man. I have sometimes thought of it as a hallmark of greatness.
So I was alarmed to read in Sheila Liaugminas’s wrap-up that Pope Francis was extremely punctual during his visit to Washington, New York and Philadelphia and ensured that his schedule ran like clockwork, even though it was punctuated by so many spontaneous personal interruptions. This is just one of the disconcerting but ultimately bracing messages that the Pope conveyed. Read on…
Pope Francis has concluded his trip to Cuba and the United States. He made quite a number of good points, but he was especially eloquent about families. They are the path to the future, he told his listeners:
"As Christians, we appreciate the beauty of the family and of family life as the place where we come to learn the meaning and value of human relationships. We learn that 'to love someone is not just a strong feeling – it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise'. We learn to stake everything on another person, and we learn that it is worth it."
He wasn't speaking as a culture warrior, but it was clear to me that he sees Christian families as the front line in rechristianising American society. That's a big responsibility for the mums and dads in his flock!
It must have been an exhausting effort for Pope Francis to deliver his longish address to the United States Congress in English, but he could not have laboured for a more appreciative audience. Welcomed to a prolonged standing ovation, he found frequent breathing spaces as applause continued to erupt from one or both sides of the political aisle. It is a fine speech, touching on all the issues dear to his heart, especially the struggling poor, immigrants and refugees, the family, the dignity of each and every human being. If there seem t be any gaps, remember there's a speech to the UN to come and the World Meeting for Families.
In societies where an online business dedicated to encouraging marital infidelity can sprout and flourish in plain sight; where apps to facilitate hook-ups multiply, and large swathes of the population view pornography, traditional moral codes seem to have lost their power to foster virtue. And yet, as the Ashley Madison hack demonstrated, the moralising – if not strictly moral – instinct is just below the surface, and surveys show that people feel bad about using porn.
These things Zac Alstin points out in his essay on lust, arguably the most characteristic vice of our time. The answer, he suggests, with illustrations from various religious traditions, is an understanding of the far greater and ultimate good that such uncontrolled desires keep us from enjoying. The following snippet from the Sufi poet Rumi expresses the idea very nicely:
When you have indulged in lust, your wing drops off; you become lame, abandoned by a fantasy. Preserve the wing and don't indulge in such lust, so that the wing of desire may bear you to Paradise.