Après Gorsuch le deluge

Did you find the Gorsuch hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee a depressing exercise in political theater? Are you tired of the members of the “world’s greatest deliberative body” playing “Gotcha!” games that would embarrass a well-trained high school debate team? Have you had it with a mainstream media that doesn’t hold senators accountable for gross ignorance and bias and a social media universe that’s constantly in hysterics?

If so, I’ve got some bad news for you: the melodrama over the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court was just the warm-up. Things will be immeasurably worse the next time. Why? Because Gorsuch was a trade-across that maintained the Court’s philosophical balance after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Assuming the next justice to retire or die is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who’s 84), Justice Anthony Kennedy (who will be 81 in July), or Justice Stephen Breyer (who will be 79 in August), the nominee to follow will be replacing a justice fully committed to the abortion license defined by Roe vs. Wade in 1973 and reaffirmed by Casey vs. Planned Parenthood in 1992.

Which means, in a word, Armageddon: a battle of apocalyptic passions, unhinged from reason.

Disturbing as that forecast may be, Armageddon seems virtually inevitable after the Gorsuch hearings and the Senate floor debate on his nomination. For beneath the “Gotcha!” games played by the Senate minority, an implacable determination to preserve the abortion license, at all costs and in its present form, was obvious to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. And perhaps the most chilling formulation of that grim resolve came from Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.

The Senate today is not replete with genius; it’s somewhat disconcerting to contrast today’s solons with a Senate that included, in 1850, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Jefferson Davis, William H. Seward, Lewis Cass, Salmon P. Chase, and Stephen A. Douglas – men who, irrespective of their positions on issues, argued with keen intelligence anchored by deep learning. There are few such senators today; but Dianne Feinstein enjoys a reputation for seriousness and thoughtfulness that is, in my experience, deserved.

Until the subject turns to abortion. Then we get the following:

“Judge Gorsuch has not had occasion to rule directly on a case involving Roe. However, his writings do raise questions. Specifically, he wrote that he believes there are no exceptions to the principle that ‘the intentional taking of a human life by private persons is always wrong.’” And that principle, Senator Feinstein concluded, raised the specter of a situation where a woman’s “decisions about her health care will be determined by politicians and the government.”

It would be interesting know if there are situations other than the termination of an unwanted pregnancy in which Senator Feinstein would recognize a liberty right to the “intentional taking of a human life by private persons.” It would be even more interesting to know if, in formulating her fear as she did, Senator Feinstein was conceding that the unborn child is a “human life” – a life that for a variety of reasons, does not deserve the protection of the laws? Which would then get the discussion down to what seems to be the bottom line: the senator’s claim that Roe vs. Wade gave a “woman…control over her own body.”

And there we arrive at the Armageddon-like character of what’s-coming-after-Neil-Gorsuch.

The day after the presidential inauguration, Washington saw a display of rage, vulgarity, and violence by over half a million demonstrators, the overwhelming majority of whom, I’m willing to bet, consider the empowerment of women inextricably linked to the abortion license defined by Roe. The false (and indeed bizarre) linkage between the abortion license and the dignity of women has served the interests and convenience of irresponsible and predatory men. It has led to a tragedy of breathtaking proportions – the deaths of 58 million innocents. It has warped our politics for two generations. Yet that linkage is what leads an otherwise intelligent senator like Dianne Feinstein to take issue with “the principle that ‘the intentional taking of a human life by private persons is always wrong.’”

Reason is another victim of Roe vs. Wade. The Gorsuch hearings underscored that. Which does not bode well for the future.

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.


Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.