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abortion

Freedom for Parents

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In an article for The Atlantic, Erika Bachiochi argues that connecting abortion rights to women’s autonomy and equality—in fact, virtually equating autonomy and equality—has allowed businesses to treat families as encumbrances. Instead of recognizing that men who have children also undertake a role of nurturing and caring for them, society has an ideal for women that guarantees them the right to behave like men, abandoning their role in nurturing and caring to further their careers. The result is an economic landscape that ignores families and their centrality to social stability and happiness.

Perhaps the strongest illustration of the brokenness of these ideas comes in the form of a counterfactual: Imagine a world without Roe and Casey, but with Ginsburg’s rightfully celebrated anti-discrimination successes in the 1970s. In this world, workplaces and other institutions better acknowledge encumbered women, duly encumbered men, and the child-rearing family’s demands generally. Rather than being “free to assume Roe’s concept of liberty in defining the capacity of women to act in society,” as the Casey plurality contemplated, employers are burdened instead by the reality—now too easily cast aside—that most working persons are, and wish to be, deeply encumbered by their obligations to their families and the important work they do in their homes. In such a world, authentically transformed by women’s legal, political, and social equality, today’s overburdened mothers and fathers just might receive the respect they deserve.

The Troubling Ideals at the Heart of Abortion Rights by Erika Bachiochi
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Why I’m Leaving Facebook

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I’ve put up with it for a long time now, this nagging feeling that I need to make a change. Every time I’m on Facebook, I leave feeling a bit worse than when I started. It’s like an itch I can’t reach or a mild toothache, a low-level irritation that never quite rises to the level of something actionable. I’ve justified it by telling myself that everyone is on Facebook. Leaving it would cut me off from my friends and family, a genuinely serious concern.

The political climate has contributed to my decision, but it is not the determining factor. I have no trouble accepting people who don’t share my political opinions. But I’ve grown tired of having to always be on my guard, not against lies—that’s easy—but against vitriol, sarcasm and ridicule. Not that I am often a target. Indeed, I’m a mild-mannered, inoffensive guy whose interest in political subjects is mostly academic. No, it’s the negativity spewed toward politicians, government officials, and public persons that I find objectionable. Derision is one of the easiest modes of disagreement because it requires no evidence, no support. All you have to do is find something ridiculous and exaggerate it. Since mockery makes no argument, you can offer no rebuttal but to deride your accusers in turn. I’m tired of it.

I have argued vehemently against many of the President’s policies from his dismissal of environmental protections to his cruel and inhumane immigration policies, but I am tired of seeing him constantly pilloried by liberals. I’m equally tired of seeing the same treatment meted out to Democratic candidates and politicians. I’m tired of making the constant effort to see the good in people who make no corresponding effort to see the good in those with whom they disagree.

I’m tired of the self-righteousness. Of course, we all have a little self-righteousness. How can we help it? We want—sometimes desperately—to be right. We forget that there is a little bit of what we hate in the purest among us. Facebook somehow encourages moral myopia, magnifying the misdeeds of others while blinding us to our own. It feeds and justifies our sense of outrage and presents us with a community of like-minded people who will agree that what we believe is good and right and that what they believe—it matters not who they are—is stupid and wrong.

It is my own weakness, however, that has made me realize that Facebook is not for me. I have a weakness for intellectual debate. Facebook both feeds and frustrates this proclivity, making it seem that debate is possible, and then showing me time and again that most people mistake vituperation and abuse for debate. Moreover, I am arguing with people I can neither see nor hear, so there is a disconnection from their humanity that makes it easy to be less sensitive to them as people than if we were, say, arguing over coffee or debating in a study group. Despite being fairly aware of the humanity of my interlocutors, I sometimes say things that unintentionally give offense. Our debates lack context, becoming just so many words aimed at winning in some pointless contest while onlookers cheer and boo.

So I’m leaving Facebook. It is the only social media I’ve engaged in, so it will leave me with no social media presence. I will miss the friends I can’t visit, but I think I will gain something in having more time and less struggle against Facebook’s algorithms. I haven’t even mentioned how Facebook spreads misinformation or how people often mistake satire for news. Those are good reason for leaving, too, but they are less personal.

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Always the Poor

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You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.

John 12:8 (NIV).

How often I have heard this quoted along with the vague suggestion that giving to the poor is futile! Can this really be what Jesus meant? Did he mean that our efforts to eradicate poverty can never succeed, that giving cash to poor people is like trying to carry water in a sieve? Such thinking misses two very important yet obvious facts.

The first is that Jesus—as he often did when making a point—was referring to the Law of Moses. Take a look at what Moses commanded concerning the poor:

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.  Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.  Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.  There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

Deuteronomy 15:7–11 (NIV). Emphasis added.

Moses commanded generosity toward the poor for the very reason that poverty was ubiquitous. The purpose of giving was twofold: it opened the hearts of those who gave to see the poor as fellow humans, and it alleviated their suffering. The purpose of giving to the poor has never been to eliminate poverty but to soften the blows of its buffeting. Moreover, those who give to the poor are promised God’s blessing in all their work and in everything they put their hand to.

John’s account also calls out the hypocritical concern of Judas Iscariot. He was the one who complained that the expensive perfume with which Mary anointed Jesus’ feet should have been sold and the money given to the poor. “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” As treasurer, Judas saw a lost opportunity to embezzle more funds from the common stock of Jesus’ followers. In the end, his greed led him to betray Jesus to the authorities who sought to kill him.

The second obvious fact is that Jesus was comparing the uniqueness of the situation to the quotidian concern for the poor. There are occasions in every life that call for extravagance, when we feel impelled to give a gift of extraordinary value because the occasion is extraordinary. What made Mary’s gift all the more luxurious was its utter uselessness. No one’s life was made better by it. No one received any lasting benefit from it. But, of course, that is characteristic of perfume. Its use is always a waste—unless you are trying to cover up the stench of death. Jesus regarded Mary’s costly perfume as a preparation for his own burial, then only a week away. By her gift Mary showed her gratitude to Jesus, who just a few days before had raised her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. Extravagant? What she gave was paltry in comparison with what she had received. Was any price too great to pay to show her devotion to the one who had restored her brother?

Everyone present knew what had happened: how Lazarus had died, how Jesus had risked his own life in returning to Judea, how Jesus had called the dead man out of the tomb, how Lazarus was restored to life, how Lazarus himself was there at the table with Jesus and his followers. No one could fail to appreciate the rarity of the situation. Except Judas. He evinces a sudden concern for the poor, and Jesus deftly exposes how improper that concern was under the circumstances.

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