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Monday, May 9, 2022

Words To Win By - Elections in the face of Racism

 I have puzzled about what is going on with our electorate for more than a decade - I think I understand it a bit now. If you really want to see that, here is my blog post. The answer is simple - we are a racist nation. What to do about it is the problem. 

When I found this Words To Win By Podcast it hit me just right. This is an approach that seems to work in our fractured world.. This podcast has used science, research, interviews, and a lot of work, to discover the best way to deal with this racist world in our elections. Our natural inclination is to be polite, and just ignore the racist dog whistles and fear mongering sent our way by the opposition. But that is a mistake. We do not want to repeat their message, but we do want to call it out, counter it, send an inclusive message to overcome it. That is what the rest of this entry is about.

So, if you are of the "racist" leaning - you should probably stop here. You could of course write me a nasty note at the bottom - I promise to read it. If you are brave, you might read just a bit more. Thanks for that.

Greater than Fear - Minnesota
Over the last decade, it has become crystal clear that politics is not a rational debate. People are so driven by fear that their thinking freezes up. Politicians on the right have become adept at “dog whistle” messages - using racial threats masked by clever wording to make people afraid. The Words to Win By researcher Anat Shenker-Osorio came to Minnesota in 2018 to help the state overcome this fear mongering. The key is to expressly counter the racism - not to ignore it.

This was not a simplistic get out the vote campaign. This was a focused message based on a lot of research and work. The Greater than Fear banner is one result. And the tagline is just as important. “In Minnesota we’re better off together.” The message is that we are stronger with a multi-racial, multi-ethnic heritage. The popular wisdom is to ignore the racial threat message - but that does not work. The other side simply repeats it. A better approach is to counter it with a positive multi-racial message. Once people understand how the messaging works, the power of the fear is defeated. 

Their research on the political attitudes in MN is also significant. I was surprised to learn that only 27% of MN voters are on “our” side, with 30% on “their” side, and a “persuadable” population of 44%. The numbers are different in metropolitan MN, but the statewide ones are scary. 
To listen to the podcast there is a small PLAY button near the top of the page. It’s just 30 minutes, and I am sure you will find it very enlightening. 

Below is a pointer to a PDF with a nice summary of the research behind this effort. It also contains simple wording messages, pictures, and more details. 

Unfortunately, the certificate for that site has expired and most browsers will alert you to a potential risk. Feel free to click on the link, and go to "advanced". It will simply download a PDF of the research. If that causes you concern,  I put a copy of the document here which you can retrieve without qualms. 

All In Wisconsin -  All in for All of Us.
WI was a key swing state in the 2020 election. This podcast describes the methods, the words, the messages, the talking points they used to win the state. Remember, this is based on research - not someone’s opinion. We are about science, aren’t we? If you find better information, better science - let me know. 

Podcast is here:  
The play button is right at the top. Our prior President won WI  by 0.77% of the vote. Our current president won by 0.63%. A 1.4% point move.

The key point again is that we cannot just ignore the race / class fear raised by the other side. We need to confront it expressly. AND - this is a whole lot of work - no magic bullet.

I put a copy of the WI Messaging Guide here in case you want to review it. What to say, what to focus on, etc. The MN research is here, in case you missed it.

Additional Resources

Sunday, May 1, 2022

People Across Borders - Mission Today


If you are at all interested in the following topics, you should thoroughly enjoy the presentation that you will find below.  Topics:

  1. Missionary Methods - you thought you understood that at some point - well, it has changed. It’s not about conversion - think broader. 

  2. Sister Parish or parish twinning - if you have some history in that - this will change everything you ever thought about it.

  3. Conflict Resolution - between individuals, countries, cultures - how to help heal them. 

  4. Peace on earth - I could not resist that one. But that really is the fundamental Christian message, isn’t it?

Maryknoll Mission Direction

This weekend, Jude participated in a Maryknoll Full Circle discussion via Zoom that was amazing. Maryknoll does a good job in holding on to all of the “ex” members. The President of Maryknoll introduced the session, and spoke about their work on recasting their fundamental view of mission. The keynote speaker brought an amazing perspective to that discussion.

She is Rabbi Victoria (Vicki) Armour-Hileman. (Page down a bit for the text.) She was born in New York City. She has been a Catholic lay missioner since 1988 and has served in Hong Kong, Thailand, and the United States. She is the admissions manager of Maryknoll Lay Missioners. She is an ordained rabbi, and has extensive experience in education.

See longer CV at the bottom of this piece.

To cut to the quick, here is the link to her talk. If this disappears for some reason,let me know - I made a copy. 

This is a recording of a PPT. Her internet was unstable, and they decided to go with the pre recorded presentation. If you want to see what she looks like, see the link below.

The talk covers the history of “mission” in the church, and the actual accomplishment of the first 3 waves. She describes the fourth wave as 

  • Building the “One Earth Community”. 

  • Building bridges in a broken world

  • Missionaries as bridges across cultures and nations. 

  • Mission is about recognizing our kinship and connection as part of the whole earth community, 

  • Spreading the gospel means to act out of a sense of community and connection with all creation, human and non human.

At the end of the conference, she also did the final prayer - a reflection on an old Hebrew song. The video lets you see what she looks like, so you might want to watch it first. It includes:

a) the explanation of the Hebrew of the song, b) the song itself,  and c) a final blessing after the song fades. Here is the link: 

New Maryknoll Leadership

This is a relatively short video by the newly elected Maryknoll Leadership about their new direction: Password:  fullcircle07. 

Maryknoll Lay Missioners

If you want to know more about this outfit, here’s their page: 

The speaker has written quite a few articles published there: 

My Comments

I love her read of Christian history and tradition and the path forward. This is beyond converting the heathen - this is to change the world. This is how we extend the good news message, person to person, group to group, to heal a broken planet. If the gospel means anything today - this is part of it. 

The future of mission is Sister Parish, Twinning, cross cultural, cross religions, international. It is building relationships across national and religious boundaries to create a single human community. The world needs this healing at every level. The focus is on relationships - between families, parishes, countries, and individuals via visits and technology (ZOOM)! Missionaries are channels to build relationships. Direct conversations mediated by ”missionaries”.  I have many good friends who do exactly that in their work in Africa and elsewhere. A new global community - the real gospel. No barriers, no walls, people without borders! We need a name??



Vicki Armour-Hileman was a lay missioner in Hong Kong and Thailand before being elected to the first leadership team of the newly founded Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful in 1994. In 2018, after several years of teaching at various universities, she returned to Maryknoll lay Missioners, where she currently works in the Mission Services and Communications Departments. Over the past year, Vicki has been researching and reflecting on a question about the future of mission: Given a world that is simultaneously more connected and more splintered than ever before, what can and should mission look like, and how can we all be involved? She will share her reflections on this topic during the April Full Circle Gathering.

Education: MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, PhD in British and American Literature from the University of Iowa, and rabbinic ordination from Hebrew Union College.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

2022 04 27 What We Do About Politics

 2022 04 27 What We Do About Politics

I have been struggling for the past decade to try and make some sense of politics. What on earth is going on in our country? What has happened to our democracy? What does science and research tell us that might help us understand and change the direction? I have read a small pile of books and articles, listened to podcasts, searched high and low. I have some understanding of what is going on in humans that gives rise to all of this, but I need something we can actually DO to try to change things. WHAT?

I finally found a priceless gem. I have looked at the psychology of all of this, and neuroscience, but this is more pragmatic, nuts and bolts -, a set of tools based on research on what works and what does not to motivate people to vote. These organizations actually research the types of messages that our politicians and the media put forth, to learn what works and what does not. The right side of our political spectrum (conservatives) seem to have figured this out pretty well. They push the right buttons, and they get a response. The left side (progressives) are a bit behind the curve. Having a one sided discussion and game is never going to move us forward. 

Here are the resources. Just looking at the websites will give you a sense of the way these messages are focused. This is not a collection of opinions. This is based on research - surveys, studies, experiments - to see which messages resonate with people. 

The very best thing is that this first talk listed below gave me HOPE - she sees many positive signs, and has many excellent tools available. 

We Can Do This. We WILL do this.

Introduction to Words To Win By

This is an interview with Anat Shenker Osario, the author of "Words To Win By" podcast. She gives a nice summary of the research, and the primary lessons learned in the past few years. It is available on YouTube and in the original podcast.

  • YouTube link: 

  • 2022 02 10 Podcast
    This site has a full text transcription of the podcast which I find to be a bit easier.

  • Words to Win By podcast: Anat Shenker Osario 

  • Future Hindsight Podcast 

  • Aso Communications - the organization behind this:  The website also has some nice shorthand lessons, such as:
    Conventional wisdom says to meet people where they are. But, on most issues, where they are is unacceptable. Applying tools from cognition and linguistics, we uncover where people are capable of going and how to use our words, images and stories to move them.

  • We Make The Future
    We Make the Future (WMTF) was founded in 2021 and is built on the implementation work of Race Class Narrative Action with ASO Communications and Faith in Minnesota and rooted in Race Class Narrative research.
    We are building a multiracial movement across age, class, faith, and zip code to reinstill hope in our democracy and build a brighter tomorrow. Learn more about what we do and the movement to build a place where everyone is safe and free, no exceptions.
    The site has messaging guides and outlines and similar tools.
    This is one on how to talk about climate change in MN - do’s and don’t’s.  

  • Faith in Minnesota - the political arm of ISIAH.
    Faith in Minnesota is a political home for people of faith who are acting boldly and prophetically to create a new, people-centered politics in our state — one rooted in abundance, where everyone is in and no one is out. Faith in Minnesota, the 501(c)4 arm of ISAIAH, gives us a new platform for living more fully into our moral citizenship by allowing us to organize and advocate directly in our state’s elections and political process. It is a vehicle for creating a Minnesota that is inclusive and just for every person. 

Key Takeaways

I thought it might help if I summarized some of the things I learned in the course of writing this.

  • Voting is a Verb. Do not focus on issues and complicated ideas. Focus on the FREEDOM to vote, and your power in doing that. Even democracy is too complicated these days - it is about exercising the FREEDOM to vote to enable all of the other possibilities that we can accomplish together.

  • Don’t Push Back. Call for action to move forward. The right says that the election was a fraud - if we just say “there was no fraud”, “no fraud”, we are relating their message. We need to say: This was the most fair election in US history, as testified to by scores and scores of election officials from both parties. Joe Biden won the largest majority of the popular vote ever recorded. He carried more counties and cities than any other candidate in history.

  • Don’t ASK - TELL. Don’t ask what we can do to get young people to vote - that just sends the message to young people that they do not vote. Instead, tell them they have the power to change things. More young people voted in this last election than have ever participated in history. YOU have the power to change things. YOU are in charge with your FREEDOM to vote. YOU are going to change the world. Predict it - don’t ask for it.

  • Define the Moment. We are at a critical crossroads, a pivotal point. YOUR vote will make the difference in the freedom we all enjoy in the future.

  • Don’t do Negative - Spur Defiance. NOT: They are trying to silence our voices - so you should vote. RATHER: We delivered the goods in 2020, if anyone thinks they are going to silence our voices, they have another think coming. We will show up, we will fight to elect real leaders to vote in our name.

  • Use First Person Plural - These are OUR problems, This is what WE need.

  • Speak about what we can do - not the dangers of doing nothing.

  • What You Fight You Feed: Progressive messages often lead with "no" and "don't." We rely on fear and anger — reactive emotions. To sustain long-term movements, we must shift from cataloging what we're resisting to painting a desirable portrait of the world we seek.

  • Engage The Base, Persuade The Middle If your words don't spread, by definition, they don't work. To break a signal through the incessant political noise requires constant repetition. That's why our messages must persuade the middle while also energizing the base.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A Slight Change of Plans - being a cop

 A Slight Change of Plans - being a cop 

This is a bit of a departure from my normal blog content. I just listened to a podcast that gave me a strong empathic feeling as to what it means to be male, to be female, to be a cop. I learned a bit of empathy. I thought others might as well.

The podcast is 30 minutes - please give it a listen. The website for the podcast is here:

There is a good introduction there, and I copied a bit here:

Named by Apple as the Best Show of the Year 2021, host Dr. Maya Shankar blends compassionate storytelling with the science of human behavior to help us understand who we are, and who we become, in the face of a big change.

Dr. Shankar has many interesting podcasts. This one is “I’m Not as Free as I Thought”. You can look for it in your podcast app, or use this link:

As noted, it’s only 30 minutes, but I found it very meaningful, and I hope you will as well.

Stay Safe.

Friday, April 1, 2022

A Warm Hearted Woman - a reflection

This is a bit of a departure for my blog. But I thought folks might appreciate it.

My lovely wife is a "warm hearted woman". She worked for our church for many years as the peace and justice coordinator. People would regularly show up and ask for help. It was her job to greet them, to help them. She always did it with warmth and graciousness. 

Late last year a friend asked me to do a reflection for a small faith gathering for the First Sunday of Advent. I was a lay preacher in our parish for about 10 years. It was a real gift. It gave me an opportunity to stop and think about life and meaning, and to share that with others. When my friend asked me, I stopped and thought and grew a tiny bit.    
The text for this: Luke 21:25-28, 34-36. Lk 21:25-28, 34-36


The First Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year. The Church always takes this opportunity to look to the end times - the second coming. Paul and his community clearly anticipated the arrival of Jesus within their lifetime.

This Gospel is in what is called the “apocalyptic genre.” It is not immediately obvious as to what is going on. Some commentators assume that the author really did see the future and was trying to describe it. But I think that does a disservice to the author and the community that celebrated the story. We have to step back a bit and remember the origins of these stories. The Christmas narratives are the Christian origin stories - and this one is an end time story. They have the same purpose. They emphasize, highlight, bring to our attention the most significant things about our history and tradition. These are not historical narratives - they are not prophetic predictions - they are more like poems or operas, focusing on the important values and issues - not a recounting of the events. 

And so what is this story teaching us? When you realize that the story was written down after the fall of Jerusalem, it takes on a very different character. The section just before today’s reading is the narrative of Jesus’ predicting the destruction of the temple. Just reach back, imagine those disciples who walked with the carpenter from Nazareth. Imagine that day they heard him preach about the kingdom, about the poor, the widowed, the change to be brought about in the world - the coming of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Heaven. They were changed. They left their jobs, their families - they committed to following him, trying to understand his message. 

And then their whole world ended with the cross. 

And then it changed again - the resurrection. Even Paul, who had never met Jesus, was changed by experiencing the resurrected Jesus. Jesus changed them - they could not go back. They set out to literally change the world. This tiny group, from this tiny country in the middle east, they were going to change the world - to bring about the good news, the gospel to the poor, the kingdom of God. 

And then, Jerusalem was destroyed, Rome conquered all. Their world changed again.

That is the flavor of the time when this story was told, when these words were written down. They contain dire predictions - but they also say - do not be deceived. These are not the end times. The glorious return is still in the future. Have hope. They thought the end time, the return of the Lord would be quite soon. That did not happen. So the message to us is the same - endure, hang in there. 

The marvel to me is how this little group of disciples from a tiny country, with a religious tradition that has been rejected and trampled, how could they conceive that they had a mission to the world. But they did. That was the message of these readings - hang in there - you can do this. Have faith.

When the emperor converted to Christianity, the wind changed. Now we can do anything. We are in charge, we can dominate the world. In retrospect, that may not have been the best approach to bringing about the kingdom of God - but it is our history. We have to deal with that. We are still shackled by the dominance of the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Church. 

In some ways, looking at our own times, we are in similar straits. The world feels like it is ending. The progress we have made with democracy, for development, for human life and health all feel at risk. Haiti, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Ukraine, a world pandemic. What right do we have to think we can continue to carry the good news forward? 

We know the good news is not about actually achieving the end of poverty - it is about the choice to live for and with each other. It is about the choice to embrace all humans as sisters and brothers. But, in fact, in our day, it is actually within our reach to end poverty. Here in the US it is clearly doable. We have more than enough food, more than enough resources, it is really just about the commitment to make it happen. We can do this - we just need to choose it. People talk about having faith - like faith is a gift from above. I think it is simply a choice. I have no firm proof that we can do this - that we can make the kingdom real - but I choose to believe that.  I choose to work on that. 

For the world, the UN actually has a plan to end world hunger - the world just needs to choose to commit the resources. We can end and reverse global warming - it is a choice. It is the recognition that we are all in this together - that we must work together - to actively love and serve each other for humankind to thrive, or simply to survive.

How do we do that? I think we need to keep the commitment visible. Keep a global perspective - but work locally. Do what you can. Elect people who support this. Donate to causes with this goal. Pay attention to what is going on around you.

Stop waiting for Jesus to come - go out and find him. Visit Dorothy Day. Help at the food shelf. Drive for the food garden. Volunteer in a nursing home. Just seeing and speaking with some of our sisters and brothers will keep you honest and engaged. If you never see them, never talk with them - you can easily forget.

When I was a kid, Jesus came to our back door on a regular basis. We lived miles from the railroad yard. But hobos would walk an hour or so and manage somehow to find our house. They came because they had marked our home and spread the story that a warm hearted woman lives here. There is a hobo symbol for the warm hearted woman - a small smiling cat. We were just above the poverty line, but my mom always gave them something to eat - ALWAYS. And we would sit and visit with them. They were not to be feared, or pitied. They needed help, and we could do it. Who benefited from that? We did. My mom changed how I see all of life. 

We did a bit of that for our kids and family and friends. Our church of Guardian Angels gave us many opportunities to show what the gospel message means. We are eternally grateful for that. And the message was not: “Go to church every Sunday”. The message was: Pay attention to those around you. See what they need, help them with their problems. Love and care for them. Be part of the solution. You can do this. Choose to do this.

You can do it too. Think, meditate, find out how you can help. What kind of message or example can you set that might reach out and change others? What if you are walking in downtown St. Paul and a beggar approaches. Or you are at a stop sign and someone is begging there. 

I think the message here is more than just fixing the world’s problems.  It’s rather about letting go of our worries and cares, and focusing on the needs of others.  Every mystic of every religion has preached this same gospel in hundreds of ways – let go of yourself – it is the only way to find yourself, to find salvation.

The Gospel message here is not about what we do – but about what we are.  It’s about how we see ourselves in the world.  If we were to retell the story using a modern paradigm – the damned are the “me” generation – the folks that care only for themselves, that are out to get theirs, and the rest of us be damned.  The blessed are the people who are there for others – who do not think of themselves first.  They worry about themselves enough to stay alive, to grow and learn, but their first thought is always out there – how can I be of help and service to others.

The amazing thing about this choice, being a person for others, is that it is itself our freedom and our salvation.  It frees us of that selfish concern that ties us up in knots.  It opens doors, it changes focus, it lets others see us as people open to them.  Rather than being afraid and protective of our own, we are open, encouraging, helping.  We invite others to confide in us, to ask for help, to let us be there for them.  It is the secret of a rich and fulfilling life – and it turns out, it is also the secret of a long life.  It is clearly proven that people who live a life of service and concern for others actually live longer.  Life is fuller, more joyful, and longer.  

What this means is:

  • I am less concerned about my property values, than I am about the welfare of my new neighbors.  I don’t live in fear of them, but rather focus on helping them.  
  • I am not worried about being part of the ‘in’ crowd, or fearful of losing my status as one of the power elite at work, or the bosses’ favorite – I am focused on how I can help them all, how to understand them.
  • I am not frightened of the beggars on the street or at my door, but rather focused on how to really help them.
  • I don’t need people to like me – I need to understand and like them.

The perverse or amazing thing is, that once I let go of the “me”, it all comes back to me.  People see me as focused on them, and they respond to that in kind.

I think this gospel has worked, and continues to work.  It is about becoming a “person for others”.  I can’t fix the world’s problems – but I can do something here and now.

Take the next opportunity that shows up to do anything at all to help – speak to someone, help someone, include someone, approach the stranger, or the poor, or the naked.  Let go of protecting yourself, and experience the fearlessness of living for the other. 

Think about it. Pay attention. When you see the people panhandling at a stop sign - what goes through your brain? Do you see them with love and respect? Or do you dismiss them as lazy and incompetent. Do you see them as victims of some organized ponzi scheme? Are you warm hearted - do you hold others in your heart?

We can do this. It is a choice.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

A Path Forward for Catholic Theology - with Gabriel Moran

 A Path Forward for Catholic Theology - with Gabriel Moran

Just to warn you up front - this blog entry has some theology in it. I know, boring stuff, but some of us believe it is the most important thing in life. 

It is about this book: What Happened to the Roman Catholic Church? What Now?: An Institutional and Personal Memoir, by Gabriel Moran. The book was published on Oct. 4, 2021, and the author died on Oct. 15, 2021. His obituary is here: 

A list of his publications and articles is here: 

He had been a Christian Brother, and a New England provincial for that community. He got a PhD from the Catholic University of America. He published more than 400 articles and 31 books.

Personal Note: I hereby apologize to the publishers for the amount of quotations herein. I can only defend it as a “fair use” to try to persuade readers to buy the book. I hope you agree.


I am a ‘recovering theologian’ - I spent 12 years studying theology - 4 of them in Rome. I have some credentials of the traditional church. After all of that, I discovered that the idea of deity no longer made any sense. But I was born and raised a Catholic, and a Catholic I would remain. This was 1969 just after Vatican II, and it appeared that our Church was finally on the road to a progressive version of itself. We seemed to understand the real message of the Carpenter from Nazareth. We had given up the fiction that the rest of humanity are all going to hell, and that we had the only version of truth. We realized that we are not about “saving souls” - we are about transforming humankind. I could support that.

Over the years, we “faithful” have put up with a lot of nonsense to remain Catholic. Our church does not recognize that women are full and equal partners. It does not understand that sexuality and gender have a much broader canvas than we had thought. It thinks it cannot make a mistake in doctrine and ethics. It acts as though clergy and bishops are the only members of the body of Christ that have a voice. And, not incidentally, those clergy abused thousands of child victims around the world and covered it up for decades, if not centuries. We will never know.

Since I do not hold to the need for a deity, I tend to just ignore what the church thinks are its “truths” or “doctrines”. But most of my family and many of my friends are still adherents to this version of Christianity. Some of them are current clergy who are more or less required to follow the doctrinal dictates. If at all possible, I would like to help them see a way forward for our backward Church. 

There is a fine review of the book here which initially got my attention: 

You should read that and then you may not need to read this piece any further. BUT if you want to know more, if you want to understand what the faith of this Catholic church could be, based on absolutely solid research, exegesis, history and tradition by a true believer - then come back here for the rest of this.

A New Beginning

My thesis is that Moran has laid the foundation for a complete reinterpretation of Catholic tradition and belief that frees it from its old rigid framework. Or better, he returns it to the origins, stripping out the rigid linguistic craziness of more recent times. He does it with the very best scholarship and supportive philosophy that any educated Catholic theologian should respect.  If you want to remain a Catholic, and if you have a hope of moving our church forward at all - read on, and tell people about this. There are many more popular Catholic theologians, but IMHO they are all dancing around the real problem. Moran jumps right in and shows you how a truly traditional and “conservative” (in the real sense) Catholic can fully understand the historic traditions of this church.

As it is part memoir, the book is an excellent read. That said, it is possible that all of the research and scholarship may be a bit much for some readers. My goal is to simplify the message, so that anyone can pick up the thread and understand it. What is really needed is a populist, an excellent writer, who can extract these ideas and put them in NCR or The Atlantic or someplace similar. I am surprised that this book has not had a more enthusiastic following among theologians to this point. But then of course, I have not read anything in theology for over 50 years - I may be the one out of date.

A Theologian

First of all Moran is a theologian - not an essayist or commentator. He is well versed in Scripture, tradition, languages, history, church fathers, encyclicals, councils - the whole ball of wax. He has all of the credentials. To keep this piece simple there are no citations or references here - refer to the pages in his book for the research sources.

Linguistic Analysis - ideas and words

When this christian community became recognized as a “religion”, and was adopted as the official belief of the Roman Empire, the early church took on the trappings of the dictatorial monarchy that we have to this day. We made this up - and we can undo it. It kind of surprised me that the very idea or concept of  “religion” is relatively recent, developed in the 16th century, around European Christianity. Ancient texts and writings never refer to such an idea. That is kind of a key to this whole linguistic analysis. We create words - ideas - they are derived from some objective reality or experience. We try to describe something “out there”, but the ideas, the words are all created “in here”. A lot of the book’s scholarship revolves around ideas as expressed in many languages over time. This is important. Ideas, concepts are things that we literally create. The words persist, but the ideas change over time, they change in different languages, in different circumstances. Stating that something is TRUE does not mean the same thing in every time, in every place, in every language. 

This book, like my previous books, follows the words to get at the foundational ideas of the institution. If one goes looking for the ideas of revelation or natural law, it may not be clear whether or not one has found them. If one looks for the words “revelation” or “natural law” there is no ambiguity when one finds them. Page 13.

Clericalism - Clergy page 259

Moran treats this topic toward the end of the book, but I think it helps to understand this up front. We Catholics are so beholden to our priests that we literally cannot think for ourselves. “Clergy” here means priests, bishops, the whole hierarchical structure. There is nothing in the New Testament or the early Christian community that established anything like a priesthood. The Apostles had a leader - Peter seems to have been named in some fashion. But he was more fallible than most, as the community often told the story of how he denied Jesus three times. According to Paul, the Apostles had some leadership role, and the early christian communities around the Mediterranean adopted customs and roles of some sort. But there is no hint of any separate class of individuals empowered with “special powers'' of any kind. 

First we get rid of the clergy

Moran has several ideas about how to fix clericalism. Most religions have some sort of “prayer leader” - people well versed in the tradition and able to teach it to others. That role was given to priests for centuries because they were the only ones that could read and write. That is no longer the case with universal education in most of the world. He proposes that we name our leaders for temporary terms, much as we would judges. We should select people with the requisite skills, and give them a limited term. If they are good at their job, we might rename them to a second or third term. He has some ideas on how the church could transition to this state - but that is beyond my scope. No one thinks the current structure is infallible!


For Moran, the real crux of change was one Papal pronouncement which started a revolution in Catholic scripture scholarship. 

If one were to pinpoint when this crisis began, a good choice would be November 1, 1950. On that day, Pope Pius XII declared that it was a “defined doctrine” of the Roman Catholic Church that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was bodily assumed into heaven.
. . . 

The story of the Assumption has no basis in the New Testament or in church tradition before the fourth century. Page 5

That statement initiated a 10 year dialogue between Catholic and Protestant scripture scholars in which the Catholics came to understand and respect the science and exegesis of their fellow scholars. Scripture is one source of our history and faith, but it is hardly infallible. It is the reflections of the early community, passed on by oral stories, written down in various ways, translated, etc. 

Revelation - scripture, councils, pope.

Moran did his masters and doctoral work on the topic: “revelation”. He was trying to understand the debate about the Council of Trent’s declaration that revelation had two sources - scripture and tradition, and all the claims of infallibility.. But, after all his work, he discovered that the actual question is: “What does the word revelation mean?” It is, in fact, not defined or understood well by anyone.

Revelation was not a central doctrine in the early church fathers. Page 95

When we came to Vatican II, the bishops commissioned a comprehensive document about revelation. But, as Moran says - it does not say what it is.

The result was a Vatican II document with beautiful biblical imagery that avoided asking if there is such a thing as divine revelation, and if so, what is it and where is it? The pope and the bishops continue to speak of revealed truth as if the year were 1950. Catholic theologians have not been willing to probe the consequences of the fact that church officials do not possess a divine revelation on which to base their teaching.  Page 11

The Constitution was received with great enthusiasm and has never received serious criticism. I was disappointed with the document, which seemed to me to miss the main point. The question was not how to describe revelation but whether the claim to possess a revelation from God makes sense. Biblical experts were not the group to raise such a question. Page 93

      Because - . . . 

Most scriptural scholars preferred to avoid conflicts with church authorities. They asserted that all the scripture is “inspired” by God but is not necessarily revelation. They left the theological debates about what is divinely revealed to other church people.
Page 101

 To sum up - there is no basis in scripture or history to think that any human organization or representative is the definitive spokesperson of divine truth. There - done with that.

Moran actually spends many pages on this topic, and he is not happy with the result. That said, I think this is a fair synopsis. Look at pages 87-104.

Natural Law
A considerable amount of Catholic teaching revolves around an idea called “natural law”. It is as though there is an innate morality in the way things are - we just need to discover it. But our understanding of nature and biology and cosmology is always changing and growing. There is nothing immutable in that knowledge. “Nature” is an abstract term which we created to describe some portion of our understanding of our reality. It does not generate any moral code of itself. 

In writing about the history of nature it is imperative to trace not an idea or ideas of nature but rather the meaning of the term nature. There is some control in speaking about what “nature” means, although it is still an extraordinarily complex undertaking. I have chosen to emphasize some of the major shifts in the meaning of “nature” for the purpose of clarifying the Roman Catholic Church’s use of “natural law.” Page 110

It seems unfortunate that Thomas did not jettison “natural law” as a way to talk about human morality. Christian moralists might have concentrated on learning what is and what is not destructive of human nature. Page 114

The above points provide an outline for the story of natural law and its place in the Roman Catholic Church. The full story starts with the ambiguities of the term natural. “Nature” is perhaps the most ambiguous word in the English language. Aristotle had already identified six meanings of nature.1 A study by two of the great scholars of the twentieth century found over six hundred meanings of “nature.”2 Obviously, some meanings proved to be much more important than others. Page 110.

For the full discussion, see pages 106-117.

The greatest disappointment for Moran is that the Church did not expand this idea of human nature to human rights, and to the ecological rights of all living things that make up our biosphere. “It is tragic that the Roman Catholic Church is widely believed today to be an opponent of human rights. It is obviously a tragedy for the church, but it is also a great loss for the human rights movement.” Page 138.  


It goes without saying that the Catholic church has an enormous preoccupation with sexuality. Sexual activity that is basically harmless or culturally based, is cast as evil personified. 

In the Vatican’s 1975 document on homosexuality, masturbation is named as a violation of natural law because it “contradicts the finality of the faculty.” Every act of masturbation is said to be a mortal sin.22 That statement is just plain cruel to every adolescent trying to figure out what is happening in his or her body. The statement is a painful example of the inability of the Roman Catholic Church leaders to come to terms with the fact that sexual activity has a range of human meanings that are separate from generating babies. 

For human beings, sex is not ultimately about biology but about the relations between women and men, women and women, men and men. All these relations can be called sexual although the term “sexual relations” has taken on a much narrower meaning. A revolutionary movement among women has been coming into existence around the globe during the past century. It has been upsetting a power arrangement that had existed for several millennia. The relation between women and men is the center of the story although questions about the other two relations, women-women, men-men, have accompanied that central change. These relations between human beings are in a context of changes in the human-nonhuman relation. P. 74

Birth Control
One of the co-inventors of the birth control pill, John Rock, was a devout Catholic. He was actually excited to think that he had found a way to manage fertility that his Church could approve. It was to him a “natural” regulation of fertility. As Moran says:

I cannot remember how I initially responded to the existence of the pill but as I later reflected on the question it seemed to me (and still does) that here was a way out of the dilemma that the church officials had created for themselves. I did not know at the time, but it seems to clinch the argument that Pope Pius XII had already said that the pill in question was acceptable for regulating a woman’s cycle.24 If birth control is acceptable and if the pill was safe, why wouldn’t church officials approve it? Women could plan pregnancies as integral to their lives. They could finally exercise “responsible family planning.” 

Church officials could have expressed some reservations about the pill’s safety for women. The Roman Catholic Church could have been aligned with women when health concerns were later raised about the pill. Instead, church officials simply pronounced that the pill was morally unacceptable. Page 76-77.

GLBT - Gender 

I personally find most Catholic theologian statements around gender and sexuality to be painful. Humans simply are not black and white, nor male and female. The spectrum is wide. The official doctrine holds that those of us who are outside the normal distribution are “perverted”, “broken”, somehow less than human. Our only path to salvation is celibacy. That is simply ridiculous - no teaching authority needed. 

A half-century ago a newly fashioned word, gender, borrowed from the world of grammar, was introduced to distinguish biological sex from a social role. I doubt that at the time anyone foresaw that a distinction between sex and gender would later generate a debate about such things as public bathrooms. People who have unimaginative views on sex get impatient with such discussions, but these new questions reveal how much the human race still does not understand about sexual diversity and the existing range of sexual practices. Page 74-75

The distinction between sex as a biological characteristic and gender as a social category has been so helpful that it seems incredible that the distinction had not previously been made. The term sex would best be used only for the restricted purposes of biology. “Sexual” describes characteristics that are primarily attributed to either the male or the female, but which characteristics are exclusive to either sex is a subject that requires study and human testimony. Page 75

The Sermon on the Mount

As I was in the process of writing this, my small prayer group was discussing the Gospel story from Luke 6:27-38, sometimes referred to as the “sermon on the mount”. The author sums up the contrast between the teachings of Jesus and those of the Jewish tradition. We are to “love” our enemies. Many scholars downplay the seriousness of the teachings - giving it a metaphorical tone. Moran does some linguistic analysis - and he thinks Jesus meant every word, in a larger sense than any of his listeners understood.

Critics often complain that telling people that they should love does not work. Jesus does not tell people to feel love instead of hatred. Jesus’ teaching of love to your enemies is a practical, long-range program of reducing personal and institutional hatred. Faced with hostility, we can perform actions that show we are not doomed always to be enemies. 

One’s actions can “de-hostilize” the situation so that over time we may find a way to live on the same planet or even in the same neighborhood. If you act in kindness, it will lead to an affirming of both your neighbor and yourself. There is no restriction of “neighbor” to a friend or someone who lives next door. The neighbor is anyone who is close by and is in need. This principle is not restricted to personal encounters; nations can also practice the same activities of “de-hostilizing” an enemy nation. Page 127

I encourage you to read the whole section. I found it inspiring. I am always puzzled as to where the carpenter from Nazareth came up with his ideas, and this one has always been the most puzzling. As Moran says: “The Sermon on the Mount is not a series of nice thoughts about love.” Page. 128


In my opinion there is simply no way to rationally discuss the ethical issue of abortion with people who believe in an immortal “soul”. I find myself on both sides of the argument. But Moran managed it. He does an analysis of the history of science and theology using words and ideas to try to identify just when a human person is actually present. He is clear that we have created this idea of "soul" to represent that "personhood" presence that then accrues rights. 

I found it very insightful. I have always regarded ALL of life with great respect. I find it utterly amazing that anything is ALIVE, and that there are PERSONS is simply incredible. My moral code says it is always evil to hurt or limit a living thing - ANY living thing. A potential life also has valu. as do the million sperm and a single egg. But the value is relative - and the harm I might do to it can be reasonable in some circumstances. I DO kill most mosquitoes I encounter - and some flies. But I do my best to limit the damage to all of these amazing creatures that share our planet. Exactly when the "person" is present - on both ends of life - is a question that we can only define by some form of agreement - not by science OR divine revelation. 

As a Roman Catholic who has been formed in my thinking by the church, I am profoundly affected by church tradition. But from the study of the past, I have concluded that the Roman Catholic bishops have radically changed church teachings. I am the traditionalist on abortion, agreeing with leading thinkers of the past who held that early abortions are not homicides. The bishops today are the radicals who have abandoned that position, ceding their authority to what they take to be scientific truth. Page 154  

Some wise words

Political organizations at the national level are threatened by authoritarian movements, which are sustained by violence. A religious organization can either offer more of that same authoritarianism or it can dare to follow the best lights of its tradition and listen for the truth in the hearts and minds of its members. Page 104

That is not to say that an early abortion is a good thing - far from it. But the "person" has never been held to be present at conception in the Catholic traditions.


SO. either that is all you ever want to know about the book - or it will entice you to read a bit more. I found it very insightful. Fine theology. But then I have not read much theology in the near past.  I think the current church is dying. Since there are a billion or so Catholics, it will be a while. We shall eventually  see if there is any potential for rebirth.