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The EditorsJune 22, 2009

Cigarettes, Teens and Movies

Images of glamorous women and rugged men smoking cigarettes have long been a movie staple. In the 1960s, after the U.S. surgeon general determined that smoking and death are related, movie makers began to tone down such images. Depictions of smoking declined from 10.7 per hour of film in 1950 to five in 1980-82, but were back up to 10.9 in 2002. Smoking in movies has now returned to 1950 levels, and health advocates link the change to increased smoking among teens. Such images have continued in blockbuster movies like “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” a PG-13 rated film that shows the character played by Hugh Jackman smoking.

In late May, to counter this kind of appeal to teens, the American Medical Association, together with the Los Angeles County health department, began a deterrence-based publicity campaign with the headline “Which Movie Studios Will Cause the Most Youth to Start Smoking This Summer?” Studies have shown that once smoking has begun, it is likely to continue if the smoker began before the age of 20. They have also alleged that half of new smoking by teens can be attributed to movie actors’ smoking.

Images of tobacco use in Hollywood movies, moreover, have global influence. U.S. films account for over 60 percent of box office receipts worldwide. A 2008 Australian study found that 70 percent of top box office films showed characters smoking. In the United Kingdom, where almost all forms of tobacco advertising are prohibited, blockbuster movies, with their smoking scenes, make billions. Holly-wood must do better at policing itself to stem this dangerous, youth-threatening trend.

Bum Stomping

Hoping to stem violent attacks on homeless people, attacks that perpetrators sometimes call “bum stomping,” Maryland has become the first state to categorize such assaults as hate crimes. In signing the legislation in early May, Governor Martin O’Malley added homeless persons to the list of protected categories under the state’s existing hate-crimes laws. These allow prosecutors to call for harsher penalties for those who attack people not just because of sexual orientation, race, religion or ethnicity, but now also because of their status as homeless persons. The law takes effect on Oct. 1.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, attacks on homeless people have been increasing nationwide over the past decade. Perpetrators are mostly teenagers and young men. In one Florida case last year, a 15-year-old boy killed a homeless man by laying a log across his chest and jumping on it. The coalition reports that in another attack in Florida (incidents have been especially numerous in that state), a surveillance camera recorded one of several teens laughing as he beat a homeless man with a baseball bat. In New York City an assailant poured flammable liquid on a man sleeping on a piece of cardboard outside an East Harlem church. The victim died of his burns.

Maryland deserves credit for leading the way in identifying attacks on homeless people as hate crimes. California, Texas and Ohio are considering similar legislation. It cannot be enacted soon enough as a needed protection for an especially vulnerable class of human beings.

A Higher Righteousness

Over the course of his career, George Tiller, M.D., performed over 60,000 abortions, specializing in what are euphemistically called “late-term” abortions. His murder at Wichita’s Reformation Lutheran Church on Sunday, May 31, has sparked soul-searching among some pro-life advocates. Did incendiary speech against brazen abortionists contribute to an overheated environment that then led to the doctor’s murder? Was Scott Roeder, the unstable man who allegedly killed Tiller, egged on by “hate speech”? What moral responsibility do activists and church leaders bear to prevent moral and political criticism on both sides of the abortion divide from escalating into hate speech?

It is not hard to find examples of incendiary speech. Tiller’s critics were wont to step up to the line of incitement and then draw back. Bill O’Reilly regularly called the Kansas doctor “Tiller the baby killer” and devoted 29 segments of his Fox television show to vilifying him. “If I could get my hands on Tiller...” he threatened. “Well, you know. Can’t be vigilantes.... It doesn’t get worse. Does it get worse? No.” Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City is now best known for his proclamation to the Gospel of Life Convention in April: “We are at war!” Though the bishop went on to explain that the struggle is a spiritual one and the means nonviolent, he announced an apocalyptic struggle against evil “that may rival any in time past.”

Defenders of life must recall the warning of the Sermon on the Mount: “If a man calls his brother ‘Fool,’ he will answer for it...; and if he calls him ‘Renegade,’ he will answer for it in hell fire.” For the Gospel of Life to be good news, it must reflect a higher righteousness.

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13 years 5 months ago
"....incendiary speech against brazen abortionists..." seems like more of the same. What is a "brazen abortionist"? Dr. Tiller was an OB-GYN physician who performed (legal) abortions. He apparently did understand the moral complexity of such a procedure, since he often, reportedly, offered women help with funeral services. The issue is, should have been and should continue to be, the question of life - and if, and under what circumstances, life can/should ever be terminated. Language is important. Catholic perspective regarding the sanctity of life, I agree with the author, ought to be an important part of this national discussion. Righteous words are rarely heard.
Hillary Gainer
13 years 5 months ago
As it has been said, quoting the scriptures out of context is a pretext. We all know well that we can defend many arguments by just conveniently choosing scriptures out of context. God will judge us all, but that does not mean that we must ignore evil actions. That certainly is not the sense of the Gospel. I rather call abortion for what it is (the murder of a most defenseless child of God), than in the search of a higher road, turn a blind eye on this action. And if we want to use scriptures, they will remind us that whatever we are doing to the least of the children of God, we are doing to the Son of God HimSelf. In the search of political correctives we cannot choose avoiding moral criticism. If we do so, we will actually share responsibility in the murder of millions of children. That is definitely not what the Son of God taught us. By the way, does anyone seriously pretend that Jesus' speeches were not incendiary? Jesus did not compromise, why would anyone want Bill O'Reilly or Bishop Robert Finn to compromise?
13 years 5 months ago
BRAVO , Eduardo Garza !!!!
Mary Kay Jones
13 years 5 months ago
The murder of Dr. Tiller was absolutely wrong, but so are the murders of the 60,000 innocent lives put "into his care". Neither death/deaths are justifiable or defensible.
Christopher Mulcahy
13 years 5 months ago
One of our most intelligent commentators wisely and succinctly said: "If you don't believe in shooting abortionists, then don't shoot one."
Aloysia Moss
13 years 5 months ago
Jesus appears not to have excoriated the folks who were advocating the stoning of the Woman taken in adultery . Rather he quietly , discretely but definitively confronted them . Jesus would not condone any type of sinfulness nor did he hate any person guilty of any sin . Christ taught us never to assign culpability to anyone . And that is what name-calling does .
James Collins
13 years 5 months ago
It is interesting to see the outrage and the commentary about the killing of Dr. Tiller. Contrast this with the silence about the killing of a U.S. soldier at an Army recruiting office by a fanatical Muslim at about the same time. Hatred of Pro Lifers is in. Hatred of militant Islamist is not.
13 years 5 months ago
Aloysia, Christ taught forgiveness and mercy, but he also taught justice. Did He not prophecy the fall of Jerusalem because the people did not recognize Him as the Redeemer? As for culpability and "name-calling", I remember that Scriptures says that Christ called the Pharisees "hypocrits" and "vipers" and other such delightful words. He also said, "By their fruits you shall know them." That statement demands that people must recognize the significance of actions. He did not condemn the lady to be stoned for adultery because He offered her the grace of "go and sin no more" and she accepted.
John Moran
13 years 5 months ago
Glad to see this piece. Yes, indeed, pro-life people need to affirmatively work to let all know that killing a doctor is reprehensible.
13 years 5 months ago
This thoughtful editorial and its commentary thread highlight a fundamental challenge in moral formation. There are clearly actions, whether legal or not, which are morally reprehensible. However, how does one express that view in a way that informs a person's conscience without thereby impelling them to take justice into their own hands? And are you in some way morally complicit if they do? Back in grammar school, when a group of bullies egged one of their friends on to beat the snot out of some nerdy little kid, if they got caught (alright - they never did, but for the sake of the argument let's imagine they did) they were usually all punished. That was not only sensible but good moral reasoning, for it reflects the Catholic moral tradition, with its categories of formal and material cooperation which can be proximate or remote. Guilt thus admits of degrees. The person who writes that check to NARAL is in some way complicit with the system that provided late-term abortions at Tiller's clinic. But just so, the person who refuses to report people who advocate violence, or who calls for attacks on abortionists themselves, or engages in incendiary language with no respect for the degree of culpability of its targets, are complicit in the violence that took Tiller's life (and others as well). We are quick to absolve ourselves when our moral arguments turn into occasions for ad hominem attacks or violence, saying we cannot control another person's actions. That is true. But we are morally obligated to see to it that nothing we say and do contributes to those actions. This should cause anyone who holds our moral tradition (and those who don't) to stop and think before they speak. And when they do speak, to speak as clearly and as fairly about an issue as possible. And then to back it up by acting in a way consistent with the whole of the moral tradition they represent. Often we do. Sometimes, we do not. Catholics look to the Church as a teacher in moral matters. John XXIII agreed with this of course. But he added that the Church was "Mater et Magistra". The Church is a mother. Perhaps this is an image all those who speak for the Church should keep in mind before they speak - How would mom have said this? How would we have wanted our mother to say this? Because make no mistake - every time a bishop opens his mouth; every time a Catholic commentator opens hers; every time anyone who professes to be a member of our church weighs in on an important issue; it is not just they, but all of us who are judged, fairly or unfairly, in the light of that comment. For you see, not only the Church recognizes degrees of culpability - so does everyone else.
Patrick Dolan
13 years 5 months ago
I agree that we must stand up for the rights of the unborn. But we must do so without vilifying anyone who disagrees with our faith. It is interesting to note that in the scriptures, the only people at whom Jesus directs harsh "name-calling" are religious leaders who actively use religion to spurn, condemn or exclude others. Attempting to control access to God or openly attacking other on behalf of God seem to be the two dynamics against which Jesus reacts most strongly. We should fight for the unborn and fight against the cultural norms and legislation that continue to attack this fragile and disenfranchised group within our population. However, as Christians we should also understand that the minute our attack becomes an attack against other human persons or their dignity we've undone our own theology and become yet another voice defiling human life. "Disrespecting" those who disagree with us will never be a valid method for to teach others to "respect life."
13 years 5 months ago

It is true to say that the words we use are important and said with haste or misguided passion they usually do more harm than good,so they are best when they are mature.

It is important for those with a just moral cause to present their argument with a reasonable tone.However ,who ever heard of a anti-war protester afraid to call a President an Idiot?

If we are outraged will we outrage others too with nice words? Why does America always reduce a very emotional issue and one that to be resolved will involve a lot more emotion ,to a agree to disagree thing?

Are the writers of this article worried that people may now have a poor opinion of Bill O  Reilly or is that their intention?  Do you disagree with Bishop Finn about the moral eveils involved? Do the editors agree with Mother Teresa that abortion is the most important moral battle of our time?

Would a pro-abortion reader of America magazine be led to change his mind or else to simply think how open-minded the people who write there are?You have surely  spent more time on the death of Dr Tiller than on any of his victims.Is it time for you to rethink how and where your words go?

13 years 5 months ago

How many times did this magazine call George W. Bush a fool?  Seems that you use Scripture selectively.

13 years 5 months ago


what about the rights of the unborn.  who speaks for them. shall we be silent against evil. aren't we suppose to protect the weak and innocent. do you think it is righteous to do nothing. does that make you a better person than those who try to defend.  you find it so easy to defend the wrong than the right.  you are quick to judge and put down those who speak for the defenseless and spew out righteously how bad they are and pat yourself  in the back for defending the wrong.  saying look at me i am so righteous i don't judge anyone.  Not siding or saying what is evil, says that you are condoning the evil.  You condemn those who speak facts and truths.  The truth is the truth and no candy coating it will make it otherwise.

13 years 5 months ago

"It is not hard to find examples of incendiary speech. Tiller’s critics were wont to step up to the line of incitement and then draw back. Bill O’Reilly regularly called the Kansas doctor “Tiller the baby killer” and devoted 29 segments of his Fox television show to vilifying him"

As much as I dislike O'Reilly, it would be just great to see America produce an editorial against what Tiller represented,  in an educated Jesuit kind of way. I know you could do it, I challenge you to do it, give us an editorial on abortion from the Jesuit perspective.  



13 years 5 months ago

The report that the recent unjust and criminal killing of abortionist George Tiller, M.D. "...has sparked soul-searching among some pro-life advocates..." (America Magazine, June 22, 2009) seems like an exagerated claim to me.  The groups that I have been affiliated with  have for a long time rejected violence of any sort and have documentation to prove it.  In this tragedy, as in so much concerning abortion, America Magazine seems to get it wrong, at least in its emphasis.   Pro-lifers need to rededicate themselves in light of the unjust, inaccurate accusations hurled at them in the light of this event.  America Magazine seems to reflect that nonsense, the hypervenilation so characteristic of the pro-death, pro-choice side.  Actually, now pro-lifers are accused of being terrorists, even on national television programs, because of peaceful, prayerful protests.  The pro-life organizations I am familiar with have no need for soul-searching in the matter of inflamatory speech.  Our task is redediction in the light of unjust accusations steming from this tragedy.  Can America Magazine ever get the emphasis right in regard to abortion? 

13 years 5 months ago

          The author of "A Higher Righteousness" made his point well...  incendiary language and aggressive, rude  behavior have no place among a life-affirming people — neither laity nor clergy.       Words matter.      Jesus was omniscient God.      We are creatures.     Discernment is given to ourselves individually,  but  judgment belongs exclusively to Him.       We must take care lest we fall into the trap of spiritual pride.       Given our flawed creature state,  when given a choice,  we are better off erring on the side of mercy.


          In both the temporal and spiritual life,  it is best to not allow ourselves to be ruled by emotions,  which are fleeting and unreliable.      Under the influence of strong emotions we are more likely to say or do things that cause more harm than good...  and that we may regret later.        On the day of Dr. Tiller's murder,  the end result of emotions,  words  and actions,  was to kill a human person,  devastate his family,   and  leave a very negative impression of pro-life Christianity to all present.      We are responsible before God for the end result of our careless words and actions,  regardless of our professed intentions.       We are also culpable when we incite another person to violence.


          Fr. Patrick Dolan and Don Baker,  each made excellent contributions to this conversation.

13 years 5 months ago

Jesus also said, "Speak the TRUTH in season and out of season."  There is a gross difference between incitement to riot and speaking the truth (hate speach????)  Although I can see that wolves in sheeps' clothing may call the truth "incitement to riot", that is NOT what Bishop Finn said nor intended to say, and I dare say, - - - you know that!!!!

13 years 5 months ago

One More Thing:  It is interesting to note that Planned Parenthood held a memorial in honor of Dr. Tiller themselves; in Tiller's honor they offered three (3) free abortions.  That's fine, celebrate a life by murdering three innocents. 

13 years 4 months ago
Wow, lumping Bishop Finn with Bill O'Reilly by taking his quote completely out of context.  Perhaps the editors should write about the similarly "evil" things Paul and Jesus and others said throughout the Scripture and blame the saints of old for Tiller's death.  After all, their words (unlike Bishop Finn's words) actually had some influence on the Protestant who murdered Tiller.
Perhaps the reason the editors of this magazine are so offended that Bishop Finn would point out the spiritual war behind abortion, is that they support pro-abortion policies, putting them on the opposite side of this spiritual battle.

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