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A tale of two sex hormones

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By Anthony Esolen
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March 19, 2012 (thePublicDiscourse.com) - In 1999, at the ripe old baseball age of 35, Barry Bonds, one of the five or six greatest players ever to carry the bat, was finally beginning to wear down. Even aside from the effects of aging, the long baseball seasons take their toll on the body: nagging little injuries, a pulled muscle here, a sprain there, a touch of arthritis, a fractured bone that never quite healed right. The muscles don’t contract with the same old lightning speed. You’re smarter, and you make fewer mistakes, but your batting average drops, you lose range in the field, and you’re out of the lineup more often. So it was with Bonds that year. He batted just .262 and played in 102 games, his lowest figures in a decade. What with his power and his batting eye, he was still a great player, but his best years were behind him.

Except that they weren’t, not exactly. Bonds arrived in camp the next year with a new body. He had put on weight, but lost body fat. And his bat speed was breathtaking, so much so that pitchers were afraid of leaving the ball anywhere over the plate. In 2001, the 37-year-old Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, 24 more than he had ever hit before, and slugged .863, almost 200 points more than his previous high. From 2000 through 2004, Bonds’ records are wholly unlike those of any other player in baseball history, as witness his unimaginable 232 walks in 2004, when he was 40 years old.

Well, we know the reason for these strange results, and for the sudden ability of otherwise ordinary infielders to slam the ball over the fence to the opposite field. It’s “steroids,” the popular term for artificial testosterone, ingested to repair and build muscle. Some of these steroids may be legally prescribed for certain medical conditions, normal aging not among them. Similar drugs that were legal at the time, like the androsterone taken by Mark McGwire in 1998 when he hit 70 home runs, meet with the reproach of fans anyway. Lovers of baseball have, with remarkable unanimity, decried these years as the “steroid era.” They accuse the players of a kind of cheating that goes far beyond the gamesmanship, say, of a pitcher “cutting” the ball on his belt buckle, or a man on second stealing signs from the catcher. In fact, they seem unwilling to elect any of the cheaters to the Hall of Fame, at least until many years pass by.

They are also not going to accept the argument that the ingestion of testosterone is a matter of individual choice. That is because of the nature of the game. It would give an advantage to the players who “juice”—a considerable advantage, as it turns out. It would also compromise the venerable history of the game, making it impossible to judge the worth of contemporary players against that of players past. In other words, to allow the use of testosterone would immediately immiserate those who do not use it; and it would alter the game itself. It would do so, moreover, by means of a tissue-growing hormone that poses obvious medical risks: the growth of cancerous tissue, for instance.

Yet, when one compares this sex hormone, testosterone, to the sex hormone now in the news, estrogen, it is hard to see why, on medical and social grounds alone, the one would be severely restricted and the other so freely dispensed that people are ready, not simply to affirm its legality, but to mandate that people and institutions violate their religious faith to purchase it for women who want it.

There are some medical uses for estrogen, as there are some medical uses for testosterone. These are not at issue. The Catholic Church does not oppose the use of estrogen to treat a disease. But there is also an immediate health-related benefit that testosterone secures. It builds and repairs muscle. That is, taken by itself, a good thing. If it helped Barry Bonds to swing a bat, it would help Barry the Miner to swing a pickax, or Barry the Infantryman to climb up a cliff, or Barry the Roadworker to heal from the battering his frame takes when he spends a day with the jackhammer. Yet we judge, correctly, that these Barries should not be ingesting testosterone. As I see it, we do so for three reasons: the benefit is not necessary; the benefit is outweighed by the risks of the drug; and the use of the drug by some men would put others at an unfair disadvantage—it would immiserate them. The first two reasons have to do primarily with the individual; the third, with society.

Now compare this drug to estrogen. Unlike testosterone, estrogen does not confer any obvious medical benefit upon a woman who ingests it. Its use when ingested for non-medical reasons is to fool the body into the condition of pregnancy when it is not actually pregnant. If anything, the drug is attended by a host of troubles, from minor annoyances to those severe enough that some women cannot use it. Testosterone will help Barry lift things up and put them down, and that, considered alone, is a good thing. We need strong men to lift things up and put them down. But estrogen enhances no such practical performance.

Someone might justify the use of testosterone on the grounds that our bodies are always repairing muscle; indeed the only way to build muscle is to tear it down and “persuade” the body to compensate by building even more. I do not buy the argument. I only note that it makes at least a superficial claim to being medical in nature: it has to do with a bodily function that needs repair. But the use of estrogen as contraception is not medical at all. Quite the contrary. A couple who use estrogen to prevent the conception of a child do not ingest the drug to enhance the performance of their reproductive organs, or to heal any debility therein. Their worry is rather that those organs are functioning in a healthy and natural way, and they wish they weren’t. They want to obtain not ability but debility. They want not to repair but to thwart.

Here it is usually argued that the drug is medical because it prevents a disease. But that is to invert the meaning of words. When the reproductive organs are used in a reproductive act, the conception of a child is the healthy and natural result. That is a plain biological fact. If John and Mary are using their organs in that way, and they cannot conceive a child, then this calls for a remedy; that is the province of medicine. It is also the province of medicine to shield us against casual exposure to communicable diseases—exposure that we cannot prevent, and that subjects us to debility or death. Childbearing and malaria are not the same sorts of thing.

Moreover, estrogen, like testosterone, is a tissue-growing hormone, and therefore subjects the woman who ingests it to a much higher risk of developing cancer, not to mention other serious medical troubles. Indeed, if it were not dangerous, drug companies would not be struggling to keep the dosage as low as possible. So the widespread use of estrogen actually involves widespread and grave medical harm. In a country as large as ours, with breast cancer as common as it is, even a smallish increase in the risk of cancer would mean thousands of deaths; and the increase in risk is not small.

And this brings us to the heart of the matter. The argument for the use of this drug is not medical (since it does not remedy anything, it does not shield against communicable disease, and it actually subjects the user to medical risk). It is social. It is simply this: Without the drug, many millions of sexually active women would become pregnant who do not wish to be so. But now we are not in the realm of individual choices alone. We must address the whole of society. We must address the common good.

Here is where the comparison with testosterone helps clarify matters. Again, if Bonds uses the drug, that immediately immiserates those who do not wish to use it. It helps this player, here, turn on the inside fastball. But no player is an island unto himself. The drug hurts everyone, because it hurts the game itself; it is destructive of the common good.

The same is true of the artificial estrogen. It “helps” this couple, here, do the child-making thing, without making a child. It “helps” that couple, there, do the marital thing without being married. But it immiserates all those couples who, in a healthier age, would not wish to do so. It alters everyone’s view of what marriage and sexual congress are for. The result is, as anyone with a little common sense could predict, that there are far more children born out of wedlock now than there were before the artificial estrogen changed the whole nature of the game. We have produced now generations of people who have never known an intact marriage. The sexual revolution has devastated the lower classes, and renders us ever less willing to practice the difficult and self-denying virtues, while we are ever more willing to surrender genuine liberty for the illusions of license.

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Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Ironies of Faith. He has translated Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata and Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received more than $400 million in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

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If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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