“It was a moment of extraordinary expectation. Great things were about to happen.”
So writes Pope Benedict XVI as he recalls the mood during the opening of the Second Vatican Council – a momentous three-year meeting that aimed at opening the Church to the modern world. Fifty years ago, on October 11, Pope John XXIII inaugurated the meeting to much fanfare in St Peter’s basilica.
Writing in the preface of a new collection of his works on the Second Vatican Council, the Pope, who as Father Joseph Ratzinger took part in the Council as a “peritus”, or theological expert, summarizes with characteristic clarity just what was at stake.
“The previous Councils had almost always been convoked for a precise question to which they were to provide an answer. This time there was no specific problem to resolve,” he writes. “But precisely because of this, a general sense of expectation hovered in the air: Christianity, which had built and formed the Western world, seemed more and more to be losing its power to shape society. It appeared weary and it looked as if the future would be determined by other spiritual forces.”
The Catholic Church has just started a “year of faith” and launched a program for re-evangelising countries where the fire of Christianity seems to have burnt itself out. But is it possible to make a comeback? To assess the chances of reChristianising the West, MercatorNet interviewed Mike Aquilina, an expert in the early history of Christianity, about the challenges of its first three centuries.
MercatorNet: For believing Christians the re-evangelization of Europe looks like a tough job. How long did the first evangelization take?
Mike Aquilina: It's not a tough job. It's an impossible job. If you look at the odds against Christianity in the first, second, and third centuries, there was really no chance the Church would survive. Rome had brute power. And it controlled everything -- the jobs you wanted, the media and entertainment, travel. And even if Rome had somehow managed to lose its grip, its enemies were no warmer toward Christianity. It's not like the Church could have played the Persians against Rome.
Brother, have you been saved? That's a question we associate with soapbox preachers. But the question of salvation has not gone out of style. Only the answer has.
Only last month, for example, two leading bioethicists published a book on salvation. Julian Savulescu, of Oxford University, and Ingmar Persson, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, have written a passionate proposal about saving the human race, Unfit for the Future: The Urgent Need for Moral Enhancement. We have an extraordinary capacity for self-destructive behaviour, they contend, and our selfish pursuit of profit, passion and power could trigger a global apocalypse. Whether this happens because of climate change or a nuclear holocaust, our doom will be our own doing.
Savulescu and Persson have a plan. Their ambition is familiar: to make mankind virtuous; the means are not: drugs, genetic engineering, and neuroscience. "We have radically transformed our social and natural environments by technology, while our moral dispositions have remained virtually unchanged,” they write. “We must now consider applying technology to our own nature, supporting our efforts to cope with the external environment that we have created." In other publications, they have advocated using technology…
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The latest parliamentary effort to address Canada’s total lack of restrictions of abortion came to an end last week when a motion which proposed setting up an all-party Parliamentary committee to discuss when an unborn child becomes a human being was voted down, 203 votes against, 91 for.
But the fact that slightly over 30 percent of the MPs who voted supported Motion 312 is a victory in defeat for the mover, MP Stephen Woodworth, on two fronts.
First, most people had expected a far greater rate of rejection. They never anticipated that, despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s opposition to it, ten cabinet members, including the Hon Rona Ambrose, the Minister for the Status of Women, would support the motion.
Second, the pro-choice mantra that “there is nothing to discuss” about abortion and that there is a consensus in Canada with respect to the current status quo of no legal restrictions on abortion at any point in gestation, were both clearly shown to be false by the voluminous and heated discussion, both inside and outside Parliament, that the motion generated.
Canadian Minister for the Status of Women, Rona Ambrose
Francophone Canada has always been, let’s say, a little “different” compared with the anglo majority, but, as someone of French extraction living in Montreal, I strive for a balanced view of the nation. My morning routine includes an attentive perusal of four newspapers: the NationalPost, the Globe, and the Quebec papers La Presse and Le Devoir. It is always interesting – and sometimes fascinating – to witness the differing perspectives.
Last week, however, following the Canadian Parliament’s vote on a motion concerning the life of the unborn child, the difference made me ashamed of our leading French papers. The Post‘s editorial, It’s no crime to debate abortion was a breath of fresh air in contrast to the closed minds reflected in the Francophone mainstream media on Motion 312.
Two powerful pro-choice organisations -- the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ) and the Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances (FQPN) -- dictated the French media reports. Like a lackadaisical high school student, the papers limited themselves to regurgitating the two organizations’ joint press release.
Jesi is a lovely Italian hill town not far from Ancona on the Adriatic coast in the center-north of the country. A few weeks ago the local hospital let it be known that they faced a doctor shortage of sorts. It seems that all of the town’s 10 gynecologists refuse to perform abortions. They are all conscientious objectors. The local office of the communist labor union spread the news because they claimed women’s rights were being denied, although Italy’s abortion legislation (Law 194/78) explicitly provides a right for doctors and other medical personnel to refuse to participate in the procedure.
Jesi’s top medical bureaucrats began a search for doctors elsewhere in the Marche region where the town is located. A doctor from nearby Fabriano, 40 kilometers away, agreed to be on call in case of need and to go to Jesi if an abortion seeker would not go to Fabriano. However, his services may or may not be much in demand.
When it comes to major life decisions, who in his right mind wouldn’t choose what sounded like more fun and less work? This, according to one observer, is the rationale behind a new trend in Canada: childlessness. Says Joe O’Connor in a recent National Post op-ed:
Imagine a scenario where, on a Friday night, after running around like a beheaded chicken at work all week you get home, smooch the person you love, grab a glass of wine and enjoy the silence, the blissful quietude of being a committed and adoring couple — without kids.
Indeed. No great effort of imagination is required, and, while not agreeing with his overall these-folks-are-just-plain-selfish tone, I do think Mr O'Connor has put his finger on real problem. Between the pressures of work and the possibilities for self-indulgence today's couples could very easily decide that there is no room in their lives for children.
It’s not exactly news that western nations are in demographic freefall, but the statistics are never pleasant to contemplate. Canada’s latest batch of 2011 census numbers shows that nearly half of Canadian couples (44.5 percent) are “without children”.
According to the United States Centre for Disease Control (CDC), as of 2009, men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for approximately 2 percent of the US population, but 56 percent of people living with HIV. This same demographic suffered 61 percent of all new HIV infections that year.
The CDC uses the concept of MSM because actions speak louder than words: actual behaviour is a better predictor of disease risk than self-identification. But even though actions speak louder than words, words are much easier to interpret. In fact, words are too easy to interpret, and in our contemporary verbal glut we are at risk of losing touch with the meaning embodied in real actions and real objects.
Here’s the problem: the CDC uses the term “MSM”, and we discover to our surprise that we don’t really know how to interpret such a concept. If only they’d said “gay men”, we could all slide neatly into our prejudices. MSM is a fact; “homosexuality” is an idea, an interpretation, an ideology, a historical movement, and a rallying point in the culture war. Does MSM equal homosexuality? Some would answer “yes”, others…
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Relationships have never been easy to navigate. In our highly sexualised culture, which insists on putting the self before others, they have become even more complicated. On top of this, most of the media push perspectives on relationships that are neither sincere nor fulfilling. So what’s a girl to do?
Well, she could read Jonathan Doyle’s book, How to Get the Man of Your Dreams, in which the Australian teacher turned author and motivational speaker calls on his experience and research to offer young women practical answers. It seems like a big promise and I had my doubts, so I pitched Mr Doyle some tough questions. He fielded every one.
You say to girls that "you'll get the man you think that you deserve". What do you say to a girl who is convinced that she does not deserve a good man because of the way she's lived her life so far?
Why is it so hard to have a calm, rational debate about same-sex marriage? In the US, Australia and Britain it is becoming louder and more bitter by the day. But the torrent of words flows over stone, unabsorbed by the other side. What many people fail to grasp is that key terms of the debate are being interpreted in different ways. Unless these are clarified, there is little hope of a meeting of minds. Here are a few of the issues which need to be unpacked.
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Morality. Are homosexual acts moral or immoral? Nearly all discussion of same-sex marriage tiptoes around this issue. But unless we agree, there can be no progress. If they are moral, it is quite hard to explain why a relationship based on them should not be allowed to bond a marriage.
The question is not whether homosexual acts are legally permissible. The law offers scant help in determining what is moral and immoral. In fact, in Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark 2003 case which declared that it was unconstitutional to ban sodomy, the US Supreme Court declared itself to be agnostic about the…
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