Friday, December 30, 2005

Borges on Argentine Literary Disputes

I disliked what Martin Fierro[a journal] stood for, which was the French idea that literature is being continually renewed--that Adam is reborn every morning, and also for the idea that, since Paris has literary cliques that wallowed in publicity and bickering, we should be up to date and do the same. One result of this was that a sham literary feud was cooked up in Buenos Aires--that between Florida and Bodeo. Florida represented Downtown and Bodeo the proletariat. I'd have preferred to be in the Bodeo group, since I was writing about the old Northside and slums, sadness, and sunsets. But I was informed by one of the two conspirators that I was already one of the Florida warriors and that it was too late for me to change. The whole thing was just a put-up job. Some writers belonged to both groups. This sham is now taken into serious consideration by "credulous universities." But it was partly publicity, partly a boyish prank.

-Jorge Luis Borges
"An Autobiographical Essay"
The Aleph and Other Stories

A Decent Overview of Nietzschean Indecency

Ian Johnston's "There's Nothing Nietzsche Couldn't Teach Ya About the Raising of the Wrist" : A Lecture in Liberal Studies deserves a note.

Eye-Catching passage #1:
And throughout the nineteenth century, the rising success of the new science seemed to be delivering on the promise of an exact description of the world. And the application of this spirit of empirical observation and precise, unambiguous description to an understanding of history and morality, of the sort offered by Karl Marx, set up the hope of a triumph of the language of philosophy (as defined earlier) over the language of poetry (in spite of the objections of the Romantics).

It was an alluring vision, because it promised to lead, as Hannah Arendt points out, to the end of traditional political argument. Since we would all have a full and shared understanding of the way a just state really does work, we wouldn't need to argue about it (any more than we argue about the Pythagorean Theorem). Anyone could govern, since governing, traditionally the most challenging task in human affairs, would be simply a matter of applying known and agreed upon rules, something a technician could do. As Lenin observed, governing would be for cooks, because the truths of political life would be expressed in a language coherent to anyone, a language which did not require interpretation of any sort.

Eye-Catching Passage #2

First, the constant emphasis on individualist self-assertion through new metaphors has made much art increasingly esoteric, experimental, and inaccessible to the public, for the Nietzschean imperative leaves no room for the artist's having to answer to the community values, styles, traditions, language, and so on. Hence, the strong tendency of much modern art, fiction, and music to have virtually no public following, to be met with large-scale incomprehension or derision.

The article lead me to John Dewey's essay Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy and Canadian Tory political thinker George Grant, the further study of which could bear good fruit.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Where's the Outrage? Most of All, Where Are Countdown's Viewers?

On one of my rare periods of television watching, I came across the close of MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." I did not know what the host was talking about, but I joined the broadcast just as he was calling for one of his fellow journalists to resign because of the bigotry he had supposedly manifested and then supposedly lied about.

Turns out, the alleged bigotry is nothing more than basic monotheism.

From the 12/27/05 Transcript:

John revealed a very ugly side to himself. He is one of those people who think all religions but his are mistaken. You know, the way a lot of these religious nut bag terrorists think.

“I would think,” Gibby said on a syndicated radio show, “if somebody is going to be—have to answer for following the wrong religion, they are not going to have to answer to me. We know who they're going to have to answer to.”

I tell you which religion john thinks is the only one that's right, but what's the difference? It's not the faith that's the issue. It's the intolerance. John Gibson, today's worst person in the world.


that phrase “wrong religion” actually sounds worse in context, isn't it?

It's the same kind of misunderstanding and perversion of religion to which we react in horror when we see it in terrorists who have twisted religion for their purposes. Might have been some commentators on some all access al Qaeda show on al-Jazeera talking about infidels.

And by the way, don't you get this creepy feeling of embarrassment

when somebody is trying desperately to be holier than now promptly

misquotes the Bible? “I serve a God who, with a finger of fire,” you just

heard Janet Parshall say, “wrote 'he will have no other Gods before him.'”

Actually, Miss Parshall, as any of us who have actually read the Bible know, the First Commandment is “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” That's not just a difference in pronouns. He's demanding exclusivity from those who believe in him. Nothing in there saying other people can't serve other gods in which they believe.


Now, instead, he's denying he said despicable things, things that where recorded for posterity and worse he is now trying to blame those hateful things on me. Ordinarily, when somebody gets caught saying to something as intolerant as this, their choices are A: to apologize, B: to resign, or C: to make sure there's no tape and try to lie their way out of it.

John, unfortunately, chose D: blame it on somebody else. The audio clip is the definitive answer, and I would hope John would have the self-respect to acknowledge what he said and to leave the airwaves for good, because between the remark and the denial, he has, sadly, forfeited his right to stay here.

Is it any wonder nobody watches TV? The host, whose forceful, declamatory closure to his presentation actually caught my attention, only appears incredibly smarmy in context. There's the prissy demand that ad-lib comments on radio are to be as well-considered and accurate as a fact-checked news article. There's the twenty-first century's equivalent to the argumentum ad Hitlerum, the reductio ad Al-qaedam. There's the casual and exclusionary dismissal of any religion which makes exclusionary claims. Oh, and the trivial demand that the speaker quit his job.

I don't quite know why Dan Abrams backed away from his statements, which seem perfectly orthodox, if a bit pompous. Perhaps he wanted to avoid a heresy trial. Nonetheless, Olbermann's sanctimonious headhunting is one more piece of evidence proving that Tolerance is also a jealous god who has inspired her devotees to nothing more than an empty vanity.

Population Control, Augustine Style!

But I am aware of some that murmur: What, say they, if all men should abstain from all sexual intercourse, whence will the human race exist? Would that all would this, only in "charity out of a pure heart, and good conscience, and faith unfeigned;" much more speedily would the City of God be filled, and the end of the world hastened.
St. Augustine of Hippo, Of the Good of Marriage

via Cornell Society for a Good Time


Certain pro-natalists, like the Population Research Institute, attempt to offset abortionist population-control rhetoric by emphasizing the evils of population decline. For instance, in the Touchstone article The Family Factors Allan Carlson writes:

The global population, it appears, should peak in 2050 at a little over 8 billion souls, and decline thereafter as nation after nation falls into the “age trap” described in Phillip Longman’s recent book, Empty Cradle: too few children to sustain the elderly. (And this is only one of the negative effects of declining, and therefore aging, population.)

In other words, far from being a danger to the planet, human fertility preserves the future.

Augustine's apocalyptic hopes reveal the tension at work in such punditry. One even wonders that the likely eventual success of the pro-natalists could set the stage for future controversies by resurrecting the old liberal industrialists' contempt for contemplatives who do no useful labor and thus deprive the future of their labors' fruits.

Augustine's exaltation of the vowed religious life, which one must mention takes a great deal from St. Paul, should neither overshadow the fact that the married life is also to be ascetic, as the Rev. Paul Mankowski, SJ, discusses in his essay "The Prayer of Lady MacBeth"
"Since our only proof of personal death is statistical, and inasmuch as a new generation of deathless men may be already on its way, I have for years lived in fear of never dying."
-Jorge Luis Borges, commenting on his story "The Immortals"

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Celluloid Jesus Out of Africa?

The films themselves often involve zany plots designed to teach a lesson, with many including black magic and dire consequences for evildoers.

Nollywood's stories are "very black and white" compared with Hollywood, Ms. Silva says - and that explains their appeal across Africa, where religion-based moralistic strains are popular. A "Hallelujah" sub-genre even involves timely interventions by Jesus Christ in daily affairs.

Africans, camera, action: 'Nollywood' catches world's eye via MercatorNet

Were the opportunity to present itself, I would be incredibly interested to see a well-done "Hallelujah" flick. I suspect that I myself would have a rather secularized tendency to scoff at such appearances. Then again, perhaps a semi-iconoclastic fear of depicting Christ in an unbecoming manner would trigger unease, like seeing Jesus painted into an executives' power-lunch or a dormitory bull-session.

Even the Christian morality plays of the late middle ages, to my knowledge, balked at turning Christ into another character in a performance. Perhaps "the next Christendom" can achieve what its predecessors couldn't.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Gaudete, Gaudete! Christus est Natus!

Merry Christmas, especially where prohibited by law!

Here is an Epiphany poem a bit early for Christmas, but good enough for me:


by G.K. Chesterton

Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all the labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but truth.

We have gone round and round the hill
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And serve the made gods, naming still
The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil
Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly…it has hailed and snowed…
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,
And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun
(…We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone…)
The Child that played with moon and sun
Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,
The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
Through the snow and rain.

Philokalia Republic: Quoted in Reuters!

Reuters has picked up the America advertisment flap, citing this site's faux-humble scribe:

Another writer on the Philokalia Republic blog called on America's editors to apologize, but noted, "It does seem an irreverent artist was trying to incite a controversy for free advertising."

Of course, I immediately see some awkwardness in my phrasing. A perfectionist's self-critique is never done.

They likely found me by way of's Off the Record post on the same topic.

Anyway: Mainstream Media, here I come!

The Last Week of Advent At the Movies

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (8/10)

From Charlie Kaufmann, a very good example of the budding genre of techno-magical realism. Eternal Sunshine is about as good a meditation on memory that film can provide even though the medium is nowhere near so pliable as the written word. Due to the underwritten character of Kate Winslet, I wasn't able to really care about her relationship with Carrey's character. Just as I was tiring of the romantic depiction of a very unromantic couple, Kauffman threw in a surprise subplot with Kirsten Dunst's character that quite improved the movie. Most stories of this type can't escape the stock Twilight Zone dyad between the protagonist and Very Unnerving Situation, but the Dunst subplot broke through that barrier to good moviemaking.

Cinderella Man (9/10) An excellent period piece which, likely due to its length and silly title, deserved more viewers than it actually got.

Batman Begins (8/10) Very fun but typical movie. The leader of the League of Shadows, or whatever the super-duper ninja pirate barbarian club was called, is a mildly interesting shadow of Walker Percy's anti-hero Lancelot. Though such villans are always supposed to be unsympathetic, I actually liked his tear-it-all-down attitude which is perhaps why the film's comic-book moralism felt especially grating. The remarkable hallucinatory imagery lent some novelty to otherwise pedestrian action sequences. Batman makes for a very bad acid trip, chilling to see.

Being There (7/10)

The Forrest Gump of the post-Nixon era. Peter Sellers plays a sheltered television-addicted gardener named Chance whose bland platitudes are misread by absolutely everyone once he becomes the favorite of a dying political kingmaker's wife. Both Sellers' and the writer's ability to make such a situation generally plausible is impressive. This plausibility is completely undermined by a superficial "magical" ending which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Note to all magic-inclined writers: establish magical characteristics at the beginning, not the end, of your story. The movie unfortunately associates Chance with Jesus. If this utterly impassable dullard is echoing the attributes of the Christian God, I'll take Bacchus thank you very much.

The film's PG rating is incredibly wrong-headed. A patent homosexual proposition, implied voyeurism, and Shirley MacLaine engaging in simulated self-abuse(a scene for which the fast forward key is a godsend) makes anything less than an R-rating incomprehensible. The ratings board must have been smoking something.

Boondock Saints (6/10)

A few artistic touches, less obnoxiously cartoonishly violent than Tarantino, but generally unimpressive. A few gaping plot holes are present, as are religious themes that are so seldom used they'd have been better off cutting them out entirely. Give me Bronson in Death Wish any day over these brotherly twits.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Truce Truly Worthy of a Centenary Celebration

Michael Brendan Dougherty posts a friend's review of Joyeux Noel, a French film about the Christmas Truce of 1914.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

"Oh yes it takes a she to be a wife."

A Song for Marriage Amendment Supporters:
Jimmy Durante and Ethel Merman sing "A Husband--A Wife"

A husband,
A husband,
Threre are many different definitions of a husband
It is not a vegetable
It is not a mineral

No it has got to be a he to be a husband!

Boston Tea Party Protested a Tax Cut?

Hewes, who was a teenager at the time of the Tea Party (which he named in 1834), tells that the whole point of this million-dollar (in today's terms) act of vandalism was to protest a tax cut -- a corporate tax break -- that the British had given to the East India Company, which would allow it to unfairly compete with and wipe out the thousands of small entrepreneurial tea importers and tea shops that dotted the colonies.

I'd thought I remembered from school that the Tea Act of 1773 was a tax increase, so I had to check the Encyclopedia Britannica, which, sure enough, said that the Tea Act was a tax cut. So what the colonists were protesting was the principle of taxation without representation, but what they meant was what today would be termed "tax breaks for multinational corporations while the average person gets screwed."


The author also claims the Supreme Court decision granting corporations the same rights as persons was based on a forgery, so I worry he's in the same league as the people claiming the income tax is voluntary.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

God of the Philosophers != God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob

To what I have just said, I would add that theology nowadays, at least the theology that seems most influential at the local level, does not seem to be a very creative discipline. It is in fact heavily dependent on themes marked out by the philosophers; and, moreover, these themes are often treated by using principles of rationality that have little to do with Catholic tradition. Perhaps that is a bit too sweeping, but it does seem to me that a good deal of modern Catholic theological writing is really philosophy of religion. It certainly does not appear to me as patient meditation on the revealed Word of God. It follows that we must go to the philosophers to come to grips with the currents of thought that are really influential.
Rev. Jonathan Robinson, Walking Heaven Backward

To Abolish Christianity...

Upon the whole, if it shall still be thought for the benefit of Church and State that Christianity be abolished, I conceive, however, it may be more convenient to defer the execution to a time of peace, and not venture in this conjuncture to disoblige our allies, who, as it falls out, are all Christians, and many of them, by the prejudices of their education, so bigoted as to place a sort of pride in the appellation. If, upon being rejected by them, we are to trust to an alliance with the Turk, we shall find ourselves much deceived; for, as he is too remote, and generally engaged in war with the Persian emperor, so his people would be more scandalised at our infidelity than our Christian neighbours. For they are not only strict observers of religions worship, but what is worse, believe a God; which is more than is required of us, even while we preserve the name of Christians.
-Jonathan Swift, An Argument against Abolishing Christianity

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Another Banal Atrocity

O nullo scelas in aevo credibile,
quodque posteritas neget!

O wicked deed, unbelievable in any age,
which posterity shall deny!

-Seneca, Thyestes

I was raped at 11, by my 17 year old boyfriend. I chose not to tell my parents because I didn't think their involvement would help, that was the right choice for me. Planned Parethood helped me deal with the aftermath of the rape allowing me to deal and cope as best as I could in my own way.

Dawn Eden exposes another horror

Many abortion clinic protesters are quite familiar with the older man escorting a very-underage girl for the fatal procedure.

The Denver DA Bill Ritter, a putatively pro-life Democrat running for governor, is rumored to have made an executive decision not to investigate these obvious failures for health care providers to report sexual abuse as required by state law.

I hope the rumors about Bill Ritter are unfounded, but I wouldn't be surprised if other jurisdictions have made such decisions. If one could find such official decisions in writing, it would certainly highlight the arbitrary nature of that law enforcement which sacrifices its young girls to sexual predators.

Looks like the First Housecleaning Didn't Take[CORRECTION]

At the Jesuits' magazine America. Jody Bottum Reports an advertisement showing a statue of the Virgin Mary wearing what appears to be a condom. It is derisively named "Extra Virgin."


I stopped by the library for confirmation, and though it definitely seems to be a condom(being a servile and unthinking Catholic, I've never seen one outside of its wrapper), it is just subtle enough that an impious advertiser could have slipped it past an absent-minded editor. I will reserve further judgement until the editors respond to the questions which this will inevitably provoke. If they spinelessly defend the ad, their bad faith will be obvious. However, a full apology to the Blessed Virgin, to her Son, and to America's readers would do a great deal to restore their reputation.

Addendum #2:

Those who complain report receiving the following e-mail:

December 15, 2005

Dear Reader:
We too are offended and very much regret we did not catch the mistake prior to publication. We are returning payment for the ad and protesting the abuse to the artist.

The problem was not evident in the black and white proofs we have used to check final copy.We are taking a number of new steps to review advertising in advance of publication.

Thank you for being so attentive.


Drew Christiansen, S. J.
Editor in Chief

It does seem an irreverent artist was trying to incite a controversy for free advertising. I hope the editors of America recommend their readers to say a novena for the troubled man, and I applaud them for acknowledging such a grievous error.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Against Professionalization

Desperate Housewives, ER, Grey's Anatomy, Law and Order, Scrubs, 24, The West Wing, all of these shows draw their characters from the professional classes, the college-educated and highly skilled people who produce ideas and services in our post-industrial economy. These shows don't feature single moms, the underemployed, or junkmen as characters. Nor are their story lines about making ends meet, balancing work and family, or fighting The Man. Instead, the characters are often The Man, or Men: lawyers, doctors, and government specialists. They are people who make decisions that influence others. The story lines revolve around competition in the workplace, pursuing new sexual conquests, or trying to save the world.

Mark Stricherz, Who Killed Archie Bunker? Working-class Television and the Democratic Party

Stricherz notes how the decline of blue-collar comedy and drama coincides with the shift of the Democratic party away from labor and towards cultural liberalism.

On a related note, I've worried a bit about the takeover of the professional class in American Catholicism, a takeover which Eugene McCarraher denounced in his polemic Smile When You Say Laity. Even the seminaries, it seems, manifest a professionalist ethos with their emphasis on study, study, study. On a vocation discernment retreat a few years back, I met a fire chief who was applying for the seminary but viewed the rigorous academic requirements with much trepidation. I think I've only met one priest who could honestly be somebody "Archie Bunker" could have a beer with. This priest, assigned to shepherd three mountain communities, was a former Army paper-pusher. He was not terribly bright or eloquent, but he was certainly respected by his parishoners who generally worked in ranching, in forestry, or in tourism.

This structural orientation towards the professional class seems to account for the American Catholic Church's weakness in ministering to Latin American immigrants and the Latin American Church's weaknesses towards the rural poor. The Tridentine seminary regimen itself, I am told, didn't effectively preserve the faith of Europe's urban working class once the Industrial revolution took hold.

Perhaps the "worker priest" needs to be revisited.

Don't Tell The Kilt-Wearers At Samhain or Lughnasa...

...but Celticism is mostly pretty fantasy.

One man pens a necessary attack on neo-Celticism debunking all sorts of silliness.

Yesterday I had the amusement of skimming through a bad book on the Celts, _Celtic Mysteries: The Ancient Religion_ written by devotee of Robert Graves and The Golden Bough. Lots of nonsense about Virgin-Wife-Crone manifestations of the Mother Goddess, incredibly strained trans-cultural comparisons of religion, a dash of neo-pagan dilletantism, and outright falsehoods about the content of The Cattle Raid of Cooley.

They'd be better off making a novena to St. Patrick or indulging, if that is the right word, in good old Irish asceticism.

Dennett Diplomatically Backpedals

[Daniel] Dennett claimed that Darwin had shredded the credibility of religion and was, indeed, the very “destroyer” of God. In the question session, philosophy professor Jeff Jordan made the following observation to Dennett, “If Darwinism is inherently atheistic, as you say, then obviously it can’t be taught in public schools.” “And why is that?” inquired Dennett, incredulous. “Because,” said Jordan, “the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution guarantees government neutrality between religion and irreligion.” Dennett, looking as if he’d been sucker-punched, leaned back against the wall, and said, after a few moments of silence, “clever.” After another silence, he came up with a reply: He had not meant to say that evolution logically entails atheism, merely that it undercuts religion.

Stephen Barr, First Things Blog

Humorously disingenuous. It is very curious that he seems to not have thought of this objection before. I wonder if this will put a damper on Dennett's proselytizing for a world where the lame don't walk and the blind don't see and what's dead stays that way.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Politics of Science at Work

I have asked the leaderships of both the American Society for Cell Biology and the International Society for Stem Cell Research to conduct anonymous on-line polls of their membership regarding their views on human embryo research. Neither has been willing to do so. Many scientists who do not support human embryo research are afraid to speak out because of possible reprisals from powerful scientists who can affect grant success, publication acceptances, tenure promotion, and employment.

To clone or not to clone, an interview with James Sherley, associate professor of biological engineering at MIT

Monday, December 12, 2005

Veritas from Harvard

My desires haven't altogether changed; I still want my pain to go away. Anyone who felt what I feel and said otherwise would be talking nonsense. But I no longer want it quite so desperately as I once did. Other wants have changed too. For much of my working life, my most desperate desire was to avoid failure and embarrassment. My heart's most fervent prayer was: "Please don't let me mess up too badly." When that prayer failed, I had a backup: "If I do, help me cover it up so no one will notice." I don't pray those sad prayers now. One benefit of living with agony is that professional failure seems a smaller thing than it once did. So does professional success. I take more joy in my work now than I did when my back was healthy; not coincidentally, I have less ego invested in it. I care more about getting things right and less about convincing others that I’m clever. I love the ideas more, and I love the praise I get from them less, which makes for better ideas, and a more satisfying professional life.

From William J. Stuntz reflection on Suffering, Doing Your Duty

My own condition has given me joyful freedom. No longer am I incredibly anxious about my future, a worry which had been a looming tyrant in my healthier days. Any lengthy experience of one's powerlessness exposes petty successes and failures for what they are.

Following Servais Pinckaers, I'm a bit worried about the author's emphasis on Duty and Obligation, which sometimes overshadow Virtue, but perhaps I'm reading too much into this. Stuntz touches upon the Cross, but generally avoids Christology. John Paul II's Apostolic Letter on the Christian meaning of human suffering, Salvifici Doloris, fills this gap nicely.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Priesthood Controversies: Being vs. Functioning

The issue is not about the marriage or celibacy, or sexuality at all _ not really. The issue is how does our culture make sense of Catholic priesthood when we have come to understand the diminishing role of clergy (Protestant as well as Catholic) solely in terms of functionality?


Now contrast this development with what was claimed of the Catholic priest in the same 16th century. Committed to the idea that what one is has priority over what one does, Roman Catholicism came to understand the priest as an icon of sorts: He was a sign of the "other." It wasn't that he was holier or wiser, or even necessarily a good person. But the priest bore a certain other-ness, often (usually?) in spite of himself.
Rev. David Lewis Stokes, Jr., When the Priesthood Becomes a Bundle of Cliches
Via Eve Tushnet

In her work Icarus Fallen Chantal Delsol noted the collapse of role into function:

“In a practical sense, roles remain determined. Not that playing them is compulsory—a mother may abandon her child, and [Vaclav] Havel could have refused to lead. But to take on a role is very often a response to a felt moral obligation. In a sense, the person inherits the role because of the position he is in, the responsibility he has accepted, or the irreplaceable experience he alone can draw upon. Because he is irreplaceable, and because action is necessary, he simply cannot turn away without failing to live up to his duty.

The very idea of obligation, in combination with the inegalitarianism inherent in the notion of role, has led contemporary society to reject roles in favor of functions. Functions have no obligations because they can always be carried out by someone else. They leave open the freedom to abandon one’s post, which is not considered a desertion. And because of their neutral and anonymous character, they presuppose that virtually every and any individual can fulfill them. Functions serve both liberty and equality. And so our contemporaries reject roles, which create both obligations and distinctions.

Just as functions have replaced roles in modern society, the individual has come to replace the person, the latter phenomenon being a corollary of the former. The person is unique, the individual interchangeable. The more functions there are, the more human beings define themselves by their competencies and repertories of technical abilities. This is the price of equality. With the disappearance of roles, the individual is left to himself and is henceforth able to choose anything. A society cannot make absolute equality a reality. In our society, however, we have managed to at least make it a virtual reality: anyone can, in theory, take the place of anyone else.

Thus, the modern individual no longer expects at all to be “indispensable.” Everywhere replaceable, he has become free and indistinct. He has gained liberty at the expense of his uniqueness, and even further, at the expense of his identity. For we identify with what makes us distinct from others more than with what makes us the same: we prefer to present ourselves to others by talking about our athletic accomplishments, the volunteer work we do for such-and-such a cause, or a hobby in which we have suddenly found interest,rather than by referring to our professional titles, which we share with a hundred thousand others. It is obvious that personal identity is attached to roles rather than functions.

The society of roles saw inequality everywhere, even where it did not exist. The society of functions sees equality everywhere, even where it does not exist.”
(Icarus Fallen, p. 143-144)

So too we see the flattening of "Father" or "Mother" into a functional "caregiver," and a "husband" or "wife" or even "spouse" is transmogrified into "partner." Even the origin of life itself, the womb, is now viewed as simply a functional uterus which can be replaced by artificial and impersonal means in just a few years.

All this functionalism makes one feel like one is simply another part in the Matrix. No wonder the movie was so popular.

Cant Cant Cant

The Denver Post gave psychologist and community college professor Keith Swain some space to lecture Catholics on their doctrine. Apparently Swain is an Episcopalian with an affinity for pretending to be places he wasn't.

Also, She Who Runs Off At the Mouth Dani Newsum flips out at the Denver Post bloghouse site in another typical Catholic-bashing screed.

Both seem to have relied on the critique-o-matic for lazy thinkers.

I generally ignore these things, but since these are locals I feel obliged to reply.

For Swain's piece, I dashed off this letter to the editor:

Opinion pieces generally only have space for saying "this is good!" or "this is bad!" Professor Swain's Dec. 6 essay "Sex and the church" proclaims "Catholic sexual ethics: bad!" He claims the restatement of a ban on gays in the priesthood to be wrong-headed, but considering that 80% of abuse victims were adolescent males, that there are rumors of a "Lavender Mafia" blackmailing their way out of disciplinary action, and that a gay male can only with great difficulty proclaim in full sincerity the glories of Christian marriage and its consumating act, such a ban is a very reasonable measure.

Of greater concern is Prof. Swain's casual dismissal of two millennia of Christian ethics in favor of a modish masturbatory ethos. This is no place for theological discussion, but to sum up: Catholics love sex. Since fertility is part of sex, that is also to be loved and not to be shunned, as are the babies who are the marital act's greatest fruit. For further explanation, I suggest reading the last pope's sublime Theology of the Body, or local writer Christopher West's concise summaries of said theology for the average reader.

My response to Dani Newsum's rant:

Ms. Newsum,

Have you tried prayer and fasting?

It might have kept you from mindlessly parroting Reformation-era agitprop, which only distracts from the very real failings of the episcopal hierarchy.

I'll note that one indisputably fatal aspect of modern feminism is the mass extermination of the unwanted unborn. It's sad to say, but thanks to feminists' dehumanizing of the fetus in the past few decades altar boys have actually been safer than a babe in her mother's womb. The libertine ethos which feminism encouraged has also lead to disease and unfathomable personal distress and familial disorder. But now I'm the one distracting the discussion.

Phillip Jenkins, among others, claims that the rate of abuse among Catholic priests is no greater than among any other organization. The problem was magnified because the bishops, like Americans in general, have lost the sense of sin and were treating these pederasts as victims rather than wicked moral agents. They had bought in to the therapeutic ethos, bringing in psychologists when they should have called the police and demanded laborious penances from such sinners. (Though knowing what happens to child molesters in prison, putting them in jail would just have likely led to even more hidden acts of rape and sexual abuse in a Dantesque contrapasso). Clericalism among the laity had not only led them to outsource their call to holiness, but to kowtow to every misguided, heretical, or predatory cleric, and are to an extent complicit in the abuse.

Since the homosexual is now a certified Sinless Victim of the Evil Patriarchy, it's no surprise that you're trying to downplay their misdeeds just as the bishops downplayed those of their homosexual priests. Considering the massive percentage of male victims any claim that this is not a homosexual problem is completely laughable. Perhaps you have not heard reports of the "Lavender Mafia" blackmailing their fellow priests into silence, taking over certain seminaries, screening out any normal men and recruiting more members to its perverted circle. That's one reason behind the recent Apostolic Visitation to American seminaries.

Besides curtailing the Lavenders' power, the ban on gay men is also quite reasonable from a pastoral perspective. A gay man can only with great psychological difficulty proclaim the glories of Christian marriage and its consumating act.

"I can’t think of any institution that is less qualified to address the systemic problem of pedophile priests than the Vatican."

I can! I can! The Denver Post's Bloghouse!

As for the vocation shortage, this is very much due to lazy bishops and actual fifth columnists who want no priests so that the laity can take "control." By this time next year, Denver will have ordained over a dozen seminarians in the past two years.

"Sex. It’s normal - it’s healthy. An institution that requires its members to abstain from sex is not. Jesus didn’t require celibacy from his disciples; and his relationship with Mary Magdalene was one of trust and intimacy, if not actual sex. I’m not talking “Da Vinci Code,” although Dan Brown’s novel is probably closer to the truth than the lies spun by the Catholic Church."

Ms. Newsum, this is sickeningly masturbatory. Do you recall that Jesus Himself condemned even sexual fantasies? He is far more demanding than your flabby libertinism or sixties' pop-theology imagines Him to be, which is why the floor of hell is, as St. John Chrysostom said, paved with the skulls of priests and bishops its burning lampposts.

Where do you attend your No Popery meetings?

Denver Post's Bloghouse is quite dead, a failed Old Media attempt to catch the New Wave, but Ms. Newsum does get on the local PBS station occasionally.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Theological Tidbit for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

"Answer," then, is quintessentially feminine, and this is why it was so "fitting," as Thomas Aquinas says, that the consent to the incarnation come from a woman.[7] Moreover, not only was Mary predestined to be the Mother of the Savior, whose consent to the incarnation would inaugurate the drama of our redemption, she would do so entirely by the power of the grace of God.[8] Only this realization, enshrined in the infallibly defined dogma of the Immaculate Conception, can preserve the essential feature of our theodramatic redemption: that God has in his infinite freedom decided to save us in a way that respects our finite freedom but which also demands his infinite power of grace to fulfill:

In the course of unfolding these implications, two difficulties were encountered that have occupied theology right up to medieval and modern times. The first arose from the realization that God's action in reconciling the world to himself in the Cross of Christ is exclusively his initiative; there is no original "collaboration" between God and the creature. But as we have already said, the creature's "femininity" possesses an original, God-given, active fruitfulness; it was essential, therefore, if God's Word willed to become incarnate in the womb of a woman, to elicit the latter's agreement and obedient consent... God could not violate his creature's freedom. But where did the grace that made this consent possible come from--a consent that is adequate and therefore unlimited--if not from the work of reconciliation itself, that is, from the Cross? (And the Cross is rendered possible only through Mary's consent.) Here we have a circle--in which the effect is the cause of the cause--that has taken centuries to appreciate and formulate, resulting in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the exact reasoning behind it.

From Edward T. Oakes' Pattern of Redemption, Posted Here Long Ago

Telos at Work, Pardon The Mess

A nice discussion is brewing on essentialism, anti-essentialism, and Darwinism from a philosophy professor and classicist who I have somehow missed all this time.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Kluxers: Star Wars Nerds, Twenties' Style!

A nice little piece from Reason tweaking certain progressive policies of the Ku Klux Klan.

It didn't take long for America's first blockbuster feature film to produce its first creepy fan subculture. Right before the Atlanta debut of D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, an epic that glorified the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan, William Joseph Simmons and 11 others celebrated Thanksgiving by burning a cross atop Stone Mountain and declaring the KKK reborn. A week later, on December 4, 1915, they received a charter from the state of Georgia for their new organization, dubbed The Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Inc.

The parallels with contemporary Star Wars or LOTR fans is too precious to ignore.

Being a Libertarian, of course the author has to bash some of the Klan's more moralistic strains:
Race may have been paramount in other parts of the South, but in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, wrote Alexander, the Klan's activities "indicated a strikingly small amount of hostility to Negroes." Instead, the "Klansman's conception of reform encompassed efforts to preserve premarital chastity, marital fidelity, and respect for parental authority; to compel obedience of state and national prohibition laws; to fight the postwar crime wave; and to rid state and local governments of dishonest politicians." These Klansmen were more likely to flog you for bootlegging or breaking your marriage vows than for being black or Jewish.

One of my great-grandfathers made it into family lore for kicking the Klan out of his yard when they tried to burn a cross on it. This of course brings to mind the image of an old-timer yelling "Damn kids, get off my lawn!" but the Klan in Denver was quite intimidating and politically powerful for a time. Thomas Noel reports one incident in Arvada not too far from my great-grandparents' home:

The Shrine of St. Anne also attracted the hooded eyes of the Ku Klux Klan, which met on nearby Hackberry Hill. These spooks burned crosses in front of the shrine and harrassed Walter Grace, the first pastor. The Klan and its sympathizers took glee in charging Father Grace with forging an altar wine permit and serving wine socially during the prohibition era, for which he served two years in prison.

In August 1925, several thousand Klansmen marched through the streets of Arvada. In reply, thousands of Catholics led by the Knights of Columbus and Holy Name societies from throughout Denver countermarched from Regis College to St. Anne's for an outdoor Mass. Shortly afterwards, the Klan collapsed.

I've fancied putting together a parade to follow the old KofC route to mark the centennial and to celebrate the Klan's demise. I still have twenty years to plan a dance on the Kluxer's grave.
Galileo Galilei's Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina is an excellent read.

A favorite passage:

I think in the first place that it is very pious to say and prudent to affirm that the holy Bible can never speak untruth-whenever its true meaning is understood. But I believe nobody will deny that it is often very abstruse, and may say things which are quite different from what its bare words signify. Hence in expounding the Bible if one were always to confine oneself to the unadorned grammatical meaning, one might fall into error. Not only contradictions and propositions far from true might thus be made to appear in the Bible, but even grave heresies and follies. Thus it would be necessary to assign to God feet, hands and eyes, as well as corporeal and human affections, such as anger, repentance, hatred, and sometimes even the forgetting of things past and ignorance of those to come. These propositions uttered by the Holy Ghost were set down in that manner by the sacred scribes in order to accommodate them to the capacities, Of the common people, who are rude and unlearned. For the sake of those who deserve to be separated from the herd, it is necessary that wise expositors should produce the true senses of such passages, together with the special reasons for which they were set down in these words. This doctrine is so widespread and so definite with all theologians that it would be superfluous to adduce evidence for it.

It is quite a pity that Counter-reformation paranoia, clerical politics, and no small amount of impolitic aggrandizing generally kept Galileo's work in the dark.

Plaudits to DarwinCatholic and Speculative Catholic for bringing it to my attention.

Monday, December 05, 2005

"I will now let you into a secret. Not only do most voters not have the slightest knowledge of or interest in policy; the majority of politicians do not possess it either."

Alan Watkins, via Kevin Michael Grace's The Ambler

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Business?

As discussed previously, big government is the best friend of big business. Tim Carney gives actual examples of this influence at work:
Wal-Mart made news last month when it called for a raise in the federal minimum wage--something Democrats typically welcome. Despite its reputation for paying slave wages, Wal-Mart on average pays its hourly full-time employees $10.53 per hour, according to the company's website. The current federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour.

So, if minimum wage goes up, Wal-Mart might not pay an extra dime in wages. But Mom 'n Pop corner stores--Wal-Mart's competition--who employ local High School students at or near minimum wage will be in a pickle. The small stores might just have to close their doors, driving even more business to the retail giant--that is if Wal-Mart gets its way in Washington.

And what about evil Phillip Morris? What is it lobbying for on Capitol Hill? Check the company's annual report to find out. The 2005 Altria Group annual report states that the company: "endorsed federal legislation introduced in May 2004 in the Senate and the House of Representatives, known as the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which would have granted the FDA the authority to regulate the design, manufacture and marketing of cigarettes and disclosures of related information."

In other words, Phillip Morris is on Ted Kennedy's side in supporting greater federal regulation of tobacco. This regulation, of course, would be more burdensome to smaller cigarette companies than to Phillip Morris, which controls nearly half of the industry.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Short Story in Six Words

A month or two ago either Matthew Lickona or Terry Teachout (maybe both) were talking about Hemingway's successful reply to a challenge that required him to write a story in six words. Hemingway's answer:

"Baby shoes for sale, never used."

My contribution to the contest:

"Wifey's pregnant, but the vasectomy worked."

Friday, December 02, 2005

An Essay summarizing Gilson's From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again
Class notes from Rev. Wojciech Giertych, OP's class on Fundamental Moral Theology. It is of the same school of thought as Servais Pinckaers, who was featured here long ago.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Yet Another Sex Article

I am getting very sick of "sex talk." Too much theory, not enough practice! St. Paul's admonition "let some things never be spoken of among you" provides a convenient excuse for opting out of the always mildly salacious discussions frequenting the topic.

I suppose such talk is necessary, after all, and I think the Touchstone article by R. V. Young, The Gay Invention is quite useful, concisely covering the linguistic and conceptual history of homosexuality.

A few extracts and commentary:

St. Thomas thus points out that while even simple fornication is “against properly human nature, of which the act of generation is ordered to the appropriate education of children,” sodomy is “against the nature of every animal” because it is not aimed at generation at all.

This finally makes the "against nature" description of such acts make sense. The rationale also applies both against a contracepted act of fornication and a contracepted marital act. Perhaps this means the contemporary adulation of homosexuality is linked on a very deep level to the wide acceptance of contraception, because even married people no longer aim at begetting children in the consumation of their married life. Elsewhere Thomas decribes self-abuse as a sin sometimes called the sin of effeminacy, further revealing a possible deep consistency behind the course the pornoculture is taking.

But in our consequentialist age, who wants to argue against distributing contraceptives to kiddies or the HIV positive because contracepted acts are inherently sodomitical and that unprotected fornication is a "less grave" mortal sin than the "protected" kind? I'd be tempted to make such an argument just to shock. However, the newly-found reverence for sodomy is better explained if one thinks that mainstream America has itself been practicing sodomy even in the marriage bed.

Lest one think this too radical, it has been reported that Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, advised Paul VI that the reasoning behind the condemnation of sodomy collapses upon declaring contraceptives compatible with Christian marriage.

Another conclusion: it seems a contracepted marital act cannot consumate a marriage.

A further point of interest from the article:

The first edition of the OED (1933) lists sporadic usages of “gender” for “sex” from the fourteenth through the nineteenth centuries, but notes that such usage is “now only jocular.” The second edition (1989) adds this to the entry: “In mod. (esp. feminist) use a euphemism for the sex of a human being, often intended to emphasize the social and cultural, as opposed to the biological, distinctions between the sexes.”

Though there is a way of thinking in merely biological categories that should be avoided, the flight from the biological is getting really ridiculous right now, especially with the advent of transhumanist nutjobs.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Peas in a Pod: The State and The Corporation

I have come across an interesting essay by anarcho-capitalist Roy Childs, Big Business and the Rise of American Statism. I skimmed halfway through until I hit pay dirt.

A few excerpts:

For the Marxists hold that there are fundamentally two opposing “interests” which clash in history: the capitalists and the workers. But what we have seen, essentially, is that the interests (using the word in a journalistic sense) of neither the capitalists nor the workers, so-called, were uniform or clear-cut. The interests of the larger capitalists seemed to coincide, as they saw it, and were clearly opposed to the interests of the smaller capitalists. (However, there were conflicts among the big capitalists, such as between the Morgan and Rockefeller interests during the 1900s, as illustrated in the regimes of Roosevelt and Taft.) The larger capitalists saw regulation as being in their interest, and competition as opposed to it; with the smaller businessmen, the situation was reversed.

[still happening today. See the USDA's upcoming requirement to license all livestock, no matter how small one's flock or herd.]


In this crucially important era, I have focused on one point: big business was a major source of American statism.


Big business, then, was behind the existence and curriculum of the public educational system, explicitly to teach young minds to submit and obey, to pay homage to the “corporate liberal” system which the politicians, a multitude of intellectuals and many big businessmen created.

In several ways, this piece dovetails with the distributist critique of the large corporation. Too much capitalism doesn't mean too many capitalists, but too few, and it's in the interests certain folk to make sure there are too few entrepreneurs. Reading the essay, I realized not only does regulation benefit the larger businesses, but they have enough clout to tailor the regulations to their existing business structure, further keeping their compliance costs down while maintaining the appearance of doing something.

I had already realized that public schooling can transfer vocational training costs from business to taxpayers, but Childs provides a few choice quotes from early twentieth-century corporate leaders who supported the move towards compulsory education.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Yet another ID vs. Darwinism Post

Last Sunday, an opinion piece on the current science education kerfuffle, Science and religion face off:
The two really aren't incompatible
, was printed in the Denver Post. I was going to send a snide and pithy letter to the editor about it, since snide and pithy letters are the only kind the editor prints, but fortunately the author is a member of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, which has a weblog called Prometheus. (One wonders about the propriety of defending the concordance of science and religion on a site named for a Titan who defied the will of Zeus to bring technology to man.)

So fortunately I could post a fleshed-out list of my concerns with the piece on the thread Tom Yulsman on Religion and Science, which will hopefully receive a reply. I copy most of my comments below:

For what it's worth, I thought the piece was a bit weak. For one, it sometimes treated religion as the practice of engaging in warm and fuzzy thoughts about self and universe, and sometimes as simple deism, the former type of religion being compatible with anything, and the latter being, as pointed out, anathema to most monotheists.

For another, I don't think invoking Gould's "non-overlapping magisteria" is credible, since to my knowledge he treated no religion as having any teaching authority. Though at least he didn't engage in the village atheist polemics of Dawkins.

Finally, there is at least one point where science could hypothetically disprove Christianity, namely by finding the body of Jesus of Nazareth. As St. Paul declares, "And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins." (1 Cor 15:17) Certain Christians and atheists think there are more areas where such disproofs could happen, but that's at least the bare minimum arena of possible conflict.

I'm wondering what you make of the way evolution is taught. There is certainly a lot of sloppy teaching in the field. One of my anthropology classes at CU-Boulder engaged in Bonobo hagiography, depicting the oversexed apes as moral exemplars, while the professor habitually proclaimed his existential despair because he believed himself to be in a purposeless universe, and that Darwinism justified his unwelcomed hopelessness.

What's more, there's a certain philosophical anthropology at work in the presentation of evolution. For all its claims to have banished "telos," popular Darwinism treats genetic propagation as the highest good of mankind, and thus lust is portrayed as a positive good rather than a sin. It also tends to deny human agency and, following Darwin, any ontological difference between man and his fellow creatures.

Of course, fanboy that I am, I had to plug my former professor Edward T. Oakes' writings. I did neglect to mention that he's revising the draft of his book on evolutionary theory for Cambridge University Press.

Philosophers Ancient and Modern

The ancient schools of thought—Platonic, Aristotelian, Cynic, Stoic, Epicurean, and Skeptic—commonly drew a distinction between “philosophy,” meaning the moral and spiritual formation of the soul or person , and “discourse about philosophy,” understood as the investigation of the nature of things and the modes of our knowledge of them. This distinction is related to the more familiar categories of practical and speculative philosophy. But whereas late-modern, recent, and contemporary thought has invested greatest effort and talent in the pursuit of speculation—in the form of epistemology, metaphysics and the philosophies of language and logic—the ancients give priority to practice, and, within that, to the cultivation of wisdom and the development of what the Greeks called “untroubledness” (ataraxia).

Much more of the writing of antiquity, the middle ages, and the early modern period belongs to “philosophy” in the sense of the “practice of wisdom” than is now generally recognized. The French historian of philosophy, Pierre Hadot, has argued that the Western idea of spirituality, which we are apt to think of as entirely religious in source, may have originated not in the Desert Fathers of Christianity but in pre-existing philosophical traditions.

John Haldane, What Philosophy Can Do

2005 Gifford Lectures, Edinburgh

Note to aspiring philosophy majors: Don't go into academic philosophy under the impression that it still resembles the ancient conception of philosophy as a way of life. Modern philosophy departments implicitly deny the necessity of ethical training for good philosophy, rarely requiring that discipline of self which checks the libido dominandi, among other passions, from compromising one's intellectual inquiries.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Local Classical Music Scene

Enthused by an Indian Summer of weather and health, I made it down to an exquisite performance of Handel's Messiah, Dublin Version, last Friday at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Littleton. I had no idea of the quality of their music program. They have a choir and chamber orchestra, a baroque orchestra, and a Gregorian schola! In the desert of contemporary church music, they are an oasis of tradition and good talent.

Of related interest, Early Music Colorado

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

CU-Boulder Episcopal Chaplain Is Converting to Catholicism

James Cavanagh notes his decision and asks for prayers.

I never met any Episcopalians while at CU, so at most I perhaps only knew him through the annual anti-cult warning given to new students, which most of the chaplains endorsed.

When I first matriculated, CU's Catholic parish was a bit flaky, as are most campus parishes. It has become much more lively since the arrival of FOCUS.

(I am now informed that the Paulists are pulling out of the parish, which is a pity. It was there that I was reintroduced to the practice of confession, and for that I owe those priests something priceless.)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Richard Sternberg on Darwinism and Catholic Theology

Via Our Father's Will Communications, I have come into possession of a recorded talk given by evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg, an evolutionary biologist who has been at the center of an academic controversy that has fed into the renascent evolution education debates. See "Attacks on journal editor raise questions about academic freedom and intelligent design" and "Faith, Science and the Persecution of Richard Sternberg" for some background information.

Sternberg's talk, titled "The Theology of the Body and Evolution," is very anti-concordist. I think he overstates the case against Darwinian evolution a bit. Part of the difficulty is that Darwinism is incredibly bound up with village atheism and libertine culture. Sternberg seems uninterested in trying to purify the theory of these elements, though he has no problem with change over time. He does seem a bit more favorable to Intelligent Design than his impartial statements on his website let on, but because he never explains the intriguing school of "process structuralism" in his talk I still don't know exactly where he's coming from.

Sternberg isn't a sophomoric anti-Darwinist. He makes a good list of objections that any people with more concordant views of Darwinism must address. It's a good source for the "videtur quod" section in a Thomistic article.

My notes are a bit sloppy, for which I apologize.

According to Sternberg:

Darwinism is a rejection of created essence, the rebirth of epicurean philosophy.

Claims evolutionism believes in self-contained cosmos. Nature is a self-sufficient explanation...

Notes neo-Darwinian "anti-speciesism," but he claims we can't just dismiss this as metaphysical overreach. Rather, it is based on the axioms of Darwinism itself.
[Not mentioned: Darwin's rejection of any qualitative difference between mankind and his fellow animals]

He describes these axioms as follows:
-Genetic determinism. The organism is epiphenomenal. This concentration on the organism is, perhaps, a hint of what Sternberg's "process structuralism" focuses upon, but he doesn't expand on his eccentric philosophy of biology. [Sed Contra: if genetic determinism is inherent to the theory, and not just an assumption made for the sake of easy research, shouldn't old Newtonian physics, with its clockwork view of the universe, also pose some problems? I would also note Thomas Hobbes' committment to epicureanism, as well as Epicurean influence on classical physics and classical liberalism.]

-Likewise agency, consciousness, free will are illusions. Personality itself is epiphenominal. [Sed Contra: "By Darwinian standards I am a horrible mistake, a pathetic loser, not one iota less than if I were a card-carrying member of Queer Nation. But I am happy to be that way, and if my genes don’t like it, they can go jump in a lake." -Steven Pinker

-random mutation, natural selection only. There is no room for designer in this picture. Sternberg voices a low opinion of those who try to graft telos onto Darwinian theory.

He quotes Daniel Dennett, Peter Singer: species are "frozen accidents," the human race didn't "have to be..." speciesism... darwinism is universal acid... I do wish he had dealt with more cordial concilators rather than the village atheist brigade.

Gregor Mendel: Anti-Darwinist?
Sternberg claims an actual historical bias against Mendel, and that early evolutionists rejected genetics. He notes Mendel was testing Darwinian theory because he disagreed with it. Mendel's experiments led to his interpretation which is in favor of fixity of species. This is counter to strict Darwinism.

[Catholic Encyclopedia article on Mendel backs this up: Mendel was an anti-darwinian! My science textbooks seemed to have glossed over this fact. I know neo-Darwinism is an attempt to reconcile Darwinism with new genetic discoveries, but I didn't know it had to reinterpret Mendel to do so!]

He expands in q&a:

Darwin was in favor of blended inheiritance, that is, continuous gradual change over time. For Darwin, there are no jumps in nature. This, Sternberg claims, was for anti-theological reasons.

For Mendel, genetics is discrete quantum changes, jumps, and thus counter to evolution simpliciter. I suspect this might be a red herring, but I can't justify my suspicions at the moment.

It is known that Darwin was aware of Mendel, and had a copy of his genetic studies, but Darwin never opened this work. Sternberg claims Darwin had made note of Mendel's theory when it was described in another book, but alludes to some sort of bias and deliberate neglect of Mendel.

Prurient Darwinians' Interests
Evolutionary biology holds that reproduction is the highest good. Evolutionary psychology has recast everything about lust, polygamy, promiscuity, in very significant ways. Lust is a selected-for trait of biological fitness. Sternberg, I think, too readily accepts certain libertine Darwinists' confusion of lust with sexual desire. I suspect this can be recovered in some ways, as Edward T. Oakes did in his essay on Steven Pinker:
This is why in despotic societies, where one male enjoys all the power, women may genuinely prefer to share one wealthy husband than to have the undivided attention of a pauper. But far from being the defense of polygyny that it sounds like, Pinker’s observation leads to the corollary: that egalitarianism and monogamy go together as naturally as despotism does with polygyny. Although he doesn’t quite say so explicitly, Pinker certainly lends credence to the claim of conservatives that democracy and the monogamous nuclear family go together and cannot be sheared off from each other without damage to both.

Sternberg recalls discovering an evolutionary psychology essay on Bill Clinton, claiming he was compelled by genes, very exculpatory attitude. This leads to Sternberg's hilarious story:

"I had a colleague, and I think it was in '92 or '93, who one night knocked on my door around one or two in the morning, he had been thrown out of his house and I wanted to know what he had done, and his wife had thrown him out because he had had relations with a student. And she had found out about this. And so I of course was shocked and amazed and told him "What in the world was going through your mind?"

You can of course be fired for this.

So I sat him down, offered him a beer and said, you know, let's talk this over. And I said "Don't you have any self-control?"

And he argued, made the perfectly good argument: "Look, you're an evolutionary biologist, I'm an evolutionary biologist, and you know this is an evolutionary drive, we're hard wired to copulate. Cut me some slack!"

So my next question was, "Did you use any form of contraception?"

And he said "Are you stupid? Of course I did!"

So here was this guy telling me that his actions were completely out of his control, that he just went through this act like a blind robot programmed by his genes, but yet this blind robot had the forethought to make sure there would be no consequences for his actions."

Future radically open-ended for evolutionary biology, some have spoken of creating different sexes, three, four of them. Sternberg correctly notes that Darwinism holds that "we are still evolving."

He claims that Catholics enamored of Darwinism are unknowingly suffering from cognitive dissonance. That few have addressed the advent of transhumanism certainly lends support to this thesis. However, Sternberg doesn't seem to have read Etienne Gilson's From Darwin to Aristotle and Back Again, which Edward Oakes tells me addresses some of the ontological problems provoked by Darwinian questions.

Sternberg didn't like the set-up of Dover ID design debate. He thinks it was outright young-earth creationism, and too explicitly theological.

He also alludes to dissenting evolutionary biologists being shut up for fear of professional retaliation and media attention in the eighties.

Sternberg notes the "ontological gap" between humans and other animals in Christian theology. Whether he thinks this can be proved "scientifically," he doesn't say.

He also bashes the habitual exaltation of the Bonobos' sex habits. Anybody who takes an anthro class will have come across bonobo hagiography.

He justly bashes the utilitarianism of human relationships in Darwinian thought. This is a very notable criticism. How many "how to catch a guy/gal" articles rely upon the latest sociobiological speculations for filler?

Concluding thoughts: I'm more annoyed at what Sternberg left out than at what he put in. I hold this to be a sign of quality.

Addendum 12/18/2006
Sternberg is in the news again. I will state here that the producer of this CD was receiving investigative calls from the National Center for Science Education in Fall, 2005 about this lecture. I presume this was done in order to dig up dirt on Sternberg.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Million Dollar Question

"How does the post-Sexual Revolution Democratic Party continue to draw enthusiastic support from the its strongest supporters in abortion-rights groups and university faculty lounges, while also seeking to reach out to the now politically incorrect elements of the old New Deal coalition? Can Democrats please traditional Catholics and Bible Belt populists with words, while pleasing activists on the left with deeds?"


This is closely related to Colorado's gubernatorial campaign which is still only getting under weigh. Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter, the only Democratic candidate currently in the running and a Catholic, has come out and said he would support very stringent limits on abortion were Roe v. Wade to be overturned. This has not endeared him to the party stalwarts, who are frantically searching for other options, but alienated "now politically incorrect elements" like me sure are pulling for him.

Don't Think Foolishly

Courtesy of Edward O. Wilson, something for the bonfire of the cliches:
The revolution in astronomy begun by Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543 proved that Earth is not the center of the universe, nor even the center of the solar system. The revolution begun by Darwin was even more humbling: it showed that humanity is not the center of creation, and not its purpose either.

This is incredibly typical space-filling cant. The heavenly bodies in pre-Copernican thought were believed to be composed of "quintessence," the Fifth Element, a substance far purer than puny little Earth with its sad admixture of the four other elements. In the great chain of being, angels are above mankind, not below. Moreover, in the popular imagery of Hell Satan is depicted as being at the center of the earth--and thus at the center of the Ptolmaic universe!

Christian imagery tends to depict man as an incredibly pathetic creature, a "nought" or a worm, dignified only by the grace of God in the Incarnation. "Galileo and Darwin knocked man off his pedestal!" is a ritualistic invocation of the ignoramuses who pride themselves on their false humility. Most ignorant of what they're most assured, indeed. That Wilson depicts man as a creature needing vast amounts of education, science, and technology, not to mention atheism, to become humble indicates a man who has never seriously practiced the hard art of self-examination.

Humorously enough, Wilson then goes on to deprecate people for blind faith. Physician, heal thyself.

How To Evangelize in Ten Words or Less?

The following was provoked by tonight's Theology on Tap lecture, in the form of a letter to our speaker Archbishop Chaput, but I put it here for anybody who wants to comment, since some of this may have been the wine talking:

Hello, Your Excellency!

I was at theology on tap and tried to bring this point up before the crowd, but alas I was the next in line when the last question was taken.

To set up where I’m coming from: Every time I call someone on the phone, I get a “hello” for an answer. Sometimes it’s a happy greeting, sometimes it’s a bored one. Sometimes I even get a computer, who tells me that my call is important as I listen to mind-numbing muzak in the background while waiting for someone to take my call. So imagine my surprise last week when I called up a wonderful Eastern Catholic woman I know, Anastasia Northrop, who answered the phone “Glory to Jesus Christ!”

Truly, I was caught short. First, because I had no set answer myself, not being in the habit of hearing praise of Our Lord over the phone. I suppose “Praise his holy name!” or “Amen!” would have been the right thing to say. Second, this woman’s enthusiasm seemed like that which one could have heard from the lips of a martyr being torn apart by lions.

What I wanted to ask you was: shouldn’t we all be in the habit of greeting all men with the name of Christ on our lips? Had you encouraged me, I fancied I would have challenged my fellow young Catholics to change their home answering machines and voice mailboxes to include the praise of Christ in their message. Indeed, I am hoping that I can habituate myself to answer the phone like the woman whose greeting so shook me, but I don’t want to be the only one, which is why I wanted to get the rest of the crowd to join me.

My inner conservative advises restraint, prudence, caution, but I suspect him of simply being afraid that Jesus will cause me inconvenience and embarrasment. If it was impossible for the apostles to remain silent after what they had seen and heard, why shouldn’t I be able to say just a few words to greet those people who call my own home? For fear I’ll look even crazier than I do already? For fear my using the Lord’s holy name will scare off people from the one who loves them?

There’s an odd custom in our culture where it seems only poor, plump middle-aged black ladies in their Sunday dresses are supposed to openly praise Jesus. Here’s an opportunity, I think, to “break the conventions, keep the comandments” as G.K. Chesterton advised.

I also think we have not done much to counteract the use of the Lord’s name in vain. If people say His name idly and publicly, in the course of the day using it as a curse word without hestating, why don’t Christians say his name with great piety and without such hesitation even more often—and especially in public? Every time I hear His name uttered in vain, I mutter to myself “have mercy on us!,” to try to turn it into a prayer. I’ve never gotten up the nerve to shout it as loudly as those who use his name in vain, though I should. Such action would utterly shatter my habits of privatizing faith, bringing Christ into the world in word as I try to bring Him in deed.

(As an aside, I wonder if I were to call up my own local parish, would I hear Christ praised, or another quotidian “Hello.”)

The comments on evangelization seemed to focus on education, education, education, formation, formation, formation. Though I’m well aware that many Catholics are woefully ignorant of their faith, having been in that position myself not more than eight years past, I think this focus on education as a panacea might be a minor idolatry of our time. At best, it’s misleading. The actions I propose are even simpler than taking a course of study or joining a group, and its habits could have far more impact. You don’t need a catechism class to answer the phone. Even a five year old can do that with the praise of Christ on his lips.

The word “goodbye,” I’m told, is a shortened form of “God be with you.” People can speak all they want about reviving a Catholic culture, but until we can recover the original Christian meaning and use of our own words, I don’t think any such culture will be fully alive and fully evangelistic.

“Open my mouth, O Lord, and my lips will proclaim your Praise.” Even in a weekday conversation, I hope.

So, what do you think? Should I try in this small way to overcome my reticience and linguistic contraception? Wouldn’t this be a form of evangelization we can engage in every day?

I might send a version of this off to the Denver Catholic Register, or perhaps even somebody who pays much-needed money, since I think it would be of vital interest to Catholics. Written letters are another opportunity for me to try to form this secularism-shattering habit, so after thanking you for reading, I conclude:

In Christ,

Kevin Jones

I add that I think this such practices are a good response to the motivational line "If being Christian were against the law, what would be the evidence against you?"

The Archbishop himself replies!

Dear Kevin,

I'm sorry you weren't able to speak last night. If you speak as well
as you write it would have been an articulate expression of your faith.

I don't know how to respond to your e-mail in a brief way without
oversimplifying, but this has to be brief because I'm leaving this morning
for the Bishops' Meeting in Washington, DC. Additionally, I'm not able
to give long responses to the multiple e-mails I receive.

I think there can be various approaches to what you suggest by people
who are firm believers. Some non-believers, and even some people who
are "mildly" Catholic, are irritated by what they perceive as excessive
evangelical external enthusiasm. So I think some people might want to
accommodate that by not wearing the name of Jesus on their sleeves in
such a public way as you suggest. They don't want to turn people off
before they have a chance to speak to them. At the same time, others are
impressed by this kind of external proclamation. Regardless, it's
important for us to wear Jesus not only exteriorly but deelpy in our
hearts. And if that really does happen, then we find ways of externalizing
our praise and adoration and to bring it up in conversation. But
whether it should be the first thing people encounter when they encounter us
is a matter of prudential judgment. And I think people can come down
on both sides of that.

In a culture which is hostile toward public expressions of religion, I
think it's important that we be courageous and clear. But at the same
time I don't think it's necessary to be provocative. It's important to
strongly hold to our rights and to Christian freedom. At the same time
it's not necessary to shove that into the face of others in a way that
causes them to become even more hostile. The whole goal is conversion
to Jesus Christ and giving glory to His Name. What we should do is
work at that with all our heart and strength and not get committed to
particular forms that may not work under certain circumstances. To have
the gentleness of doves and the cleverness of serpents is what Jesus
called his apostles to.

I wouldn't want anything I say here to dampen your enthusiasm. so
please be enthusiastic; but also, if you go the direction you suggest, see
if it works, rather than become committed to it without reflection.

Thanks for your inspiration. I promise my prayers.

May the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

From the Pen of the Ever-Provocative Eugene McCarraher

...At the same time, the political economy of death is the precondition for the emergence of "choice" as the holy grail of our moral culture. It's neither coincidental nor unironical that the word so decisive in the legitimation of corporate hegemony is also pivotal to the defense of abortion. First, both abortion and corporate capitalism are justified in the liberal individualist language of self-ownership and autonomous will. Second, the language of choice obscures and even nullifies the moral substance of the choices made. And third, the alacrity with which "choice" is now invoked is, I suspect, an indication of how meaningless--and therefore how few--our choices have really become. Abortion becomes more conceivable as a practice, not only when sex is utterly divorced from pregnancy, but when the organization of work hampers or precludes the reproductive practices of sex, birth, and child-rearing. If we are going to combat abortion, then I would suggest that we appropriate and transform the language of choice, and argue that abortion is the hallmark of a culture that forces everything to pivot around the accumulation of capital. we must tie abortion to a political economy that controls our work, warps our practices of love, and compensates with the perverse but beguiling enchantments of commodified freedom.

Mammon's Deadly Grin (PDF!) via Holy Ghost Parishoner, linked below.

His essay full of lively rhetoric and not a few declamatory passages, McCarraher goes on to claim that capitalism emphasizes scarcity, and Christianity plenitude. Curiously enough, my political science professor Thad Tecza claimed that Liberalism's attitude was formed by the discovery of the abundance and possibilities Europeans perceived in the New World. This, Tecza thought, lead to deprecations of the poor as stupid, lazy, crazy, or evil.

Vivat Jesus!

The Grand Knight of Denver Council #503[oops, not really, he's actually former GK of an Aurora council), perhaps the best Knights of Columbus hall in Denver, has a weblog: Holy Ghost Parishoner.

This reminds me that I have neglected to link to my own council, whose activities my illness has forced me to neglect. So Spirit of Christ Council #12979 now has a position in my template.

A Cappadocian Gem

I just discovered that Saint Basil the Great wrote a letter to youths On Reading Greek Literature. Long before the Renaissance, in the midst of a persisting polytheistic idolatry, this fourth century bishop emphasized a certain nobility among the pagans and their literature. Though certainly not uncritical, St. Basil's thoughts should be known to every Christian classicist.

An excerpt:

Now to that other life of the Holy Scriptures lead the way, teaching us through mysteries. Yet so long as, by reason of your age, it is impossible for you to understand the depth of the meaning of these, in the meantime, by means of other analogies which are not entirely different, we give, as it were in shadows and reflections, a preliminary training to the eye of the soul, imitating those who perform their drills in military tactics, who after they have gained experience, by means of gymnastic exercises for the arms and dance-steps for the feet, enjoy when it comes to the combat the profit derived from what was done in sport. So we also must consider that a contest, the greatest of all contests, lies before us, for which we must do all things, and, in preparation for it, must strive to the best of our power, and must associate with poets and writers of prose and orators and with all men from whom there is any prospect of benefit with reference to the care of our soul. Therefore, just as dyers prepare by certain treatments whatever material is to receive the dye, and then apply the color, whether it be purple or some other hue, so we also in the same manner must first, if the glory of the good is to abide with us indelible for all time, be instructed by these outside means, and then shall understand the sacred and mystical teachings; and like those who have become accustomed to seeing the reflection of the sun in water, so we shall then direct our eyes to the light itself.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Pieces of Interest in the latest New Atlantis

Francis Bacon's God by Stephen A. McKnight. I had received a rather negative impression of Bacon. Perhaps Thomas Molnar's declamations against the perennial heresy of utopia had prejudiced me against him, or perhaps I had read Eric Voegelin describing him as gnostic. I definitely read Paul Rahe's quite Straussian depiction of the Baconian project as a clandestine effort to rework religion for secular benefit, the taming of the poets by the philosophers.

Apparently Rahe's view derives from the first major twentieth century study of Bacon, Howard B. White's Peace among the Willows, and McKnight delivers significant evidence against this opinion. Bacon's scientific project, it seems, was a fundamentally Christian one. Though one could at first sight catalogue Bacon's friendly attitude towards the hidden knowledge of the ancients as semi-gnostic, his deprecatory attitude towards impure forms of Christianity indicates a more typical Protestant complaint about ecclesial corruption. The wise man of Bensalem, knowing the secrets of the ancients, emphasizes that his people's study is "motivated by piety," holding that "the ability to discover useful information is dependent on reverence and charity."

Try saying that in a contemporary academic department. It's a nice contrast to certain depictions of him which present him as a simple iconoclast dedicated to tearing down what had come before for being idols of the tribe.

Also of interest, a reflection on the greatest myth of the scientific age after Prometheus, good old Frankenstein:

Why does he[Dr. Frankenstein] go on to claim: “No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs”? Hitherto, every father has had to share the glory of human creation with a mother, whose role in bringing the child into existence was at least as great, if not greater. One can see Shelley thinking as a woman in this passage, and calling into question the masculine pride of the scientific creator. Frankenstein acts out a kind of male fantasy—to skip over any natural means of reproduction, to be solely responsible for the creation of his offspring, and thus to be able to claim its total gratitude. In her deepest insight into scientific creativity, Shelley sees its link to a will to power, and a desire to go beyond all conventional and natural limits on human aspiration.

The Scientist and the Poet, Paul A. Cantor

Death Before the Fall?

Speculative Catholic cites some thoughts of Edward T. Oakes on prelapsarian immortality, thoughts I had forgotten or overlooked.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Michael Henry Against Natural Rights

Voegelin diagnosed what he regarded as the Gnostic nature of modernity in the seventeenth-century Puritan "lust for massively possessive experience," an un-Christian libido dominandi for achieving existential security by drawing transcendence into immanence to transform all experience into proofs of divine election. Thomas Hobbes's remedy for the destructive conflicts stirred up by the Puritan drive to possess certainty was an immanently salvific Gnostic civil theology that effectively rejected transcendence and permitted all citizens to have a relationship with the divine only through obedience to the terrifying Absolute Sovereign, the intracosmic "mortal god," who dictated the form of "Christian" worship compulsory for the whole society and prophylactically sealed off the "Christian Commonwealth" against intrusions by transcendence. Because for Hobbes "there was no public truth except the laws of peace and concord in a society," he constructed civil theology as a "peace" in which soulless human beings attain worldly salvation from the imminent fall into non-being through death in the state of nature by suppressing not only the Puritan appropriation of transcendence but also the spiritually ordering power of amor Dei. The enjoyment of the "natural right" to physical self-preservation in a cosmos devoid of divine presence is the substitute for the soul's quest for immortality through participation in divine transcendence.


Although Arkes makes a strong case for a morally objective understanding of natural rights, there is an even stronger hedonist and relativist interpretation of natural rights that eviscerates the philosophically substantial meaning of human liberty and makes the understanding of freedom in terms of rights rather problematic. Since the civil theology has been reduced to an entirely secularized and immanent version of the Puritan sense of mission, if the public philosophy means that liberty is the possession of rights determined by the citizens' preferences then order is merely the absence of chaos but has no positive content or meaning. It certainly does not involve the participation in a higher truth that is essential for the life of the soul. It is, in fact, little more than the Hobbesian view that society exists simply to maximize earthly gratifications.

In other words, Arkes fails to see that positivism is not an error exogenous to natural rights but is a congenital disorder of the very notion of natural rights. Thus, Arkes's rational, objective interpretation of natural rights is not the whole story because the modern idea of natural rights is heavily contaminated by the secular devotion to progress in the individual's ability to pursue self-interest, which is, in metaphysical terms, a devotion to nothingness. This subordinates the common good to the protection of individual natural rights and the laws become an articulation, not of what actions are right or wrong in themselves or serve to promote the common good, but merely of what rules serve the private individual desires of the majority.

Civil Theology in the Gnostic Age, Michael Henry, Modern Age

Eve Tushnet takes on "Basically Good People"

Miscellaneous Links

Some things cleaned from my bookmarks, yet worthy of record:

On the Uses of Liberal Education As Lite Entertainment For Bored College Students

David L. Schindler on The Problem of Mechanism

A muslim book review of Alisdair MacIntyre's Whose Justice? Which Rationality?

Randian Clinical Psychology

Friday, November 04, 2005

Interview Excerpt, Mary B. Jones, 5/13/93

KJ: How did you feel when FDR died?

MJ: I didn't feel so bad at all. I felt it was about time for him to die. Did Truman replace him?

KJ: Yeah, he did.

MJ: Oh, good. My dad knew him.

KJ: Really?

MJ: Yes, he did. He went to KSU with him. Now, I don't want you to put this down, but he thought Truman was a sissy! But he wasn't a sissy as president. He said what he said and meant it.

An Approximation of a Shadow of a Book Review


David Foster Wallace

DFW was my first introduction to contemporary literary fiction, so I owe him. His nigh-omniscient lexicon and quirky--dare I say, postmodern?--manipulation of literary styles and tropes endeared him to my wide-eyed late teen mind, and his themes on the isolation and emptiness of American life appealed to my loner tendencies. Having finished up his latest collection, I find that his stories which avoid resolution are the most disappointing, while those which aspire to halfway complete the narrative are far more appealing.

My favorites in this collection:

The Soul is Not a Smithy, a man reflects on a childhood incident when a substitute teacher suffers a mental breakdown in front of an elementary school class, intermingled with the narrator's description of the daydream which completely distracted him from the teacher's panicked mind.

Incarnations of Burned Children, a tragic, very short story that pierces straight to the heart.

Another Pioneer, a second-hand discussion of a story involving a preternaturally gifted child in a primitive village whose omniscience eventually destroys his home once he hits puberty.

Good Old Neon, an incredibly successful man, aghast at his own fraudulence yet also the (putative) cliches we repeat to ourselves to get through the day, describes his manipulative actions towards his fellow men which lead up to his suicide.

Here's a particularly striking stream-of-thought passage from his less successful story "Mister Squishy" about a focus-group facilitator who is trying to live with his awareness of his utter ordinariness:

Or maybe that even the mere possibility of expressing any of this childish heartbreak to someone else seemed impossible except in the context of the mystery of true marriage, meaning not just a ceremony and financial merger but a true communion of souls, and Schmidt now lately felt he was coming to understand why the Church all through his childhood catechism and pre-Con referred to it as the Holy Sacrament of Marriage, for it seemed every bit as miraculous and transrational and remote from the possibilities of actual lived life as the crucifixion and resurrection and transubstantiation did, which is to say it appeared not as a goal to expect ever to really reach or achieve but as a kind of navigational star, as in the sky, something high and untouchable and miraculously beautiful in the sort of distant way that reminded you always of how ordinary and unbeautiful and incapable of miracles you your own self were, which was another reason why Schmidt had stopped looking at the sky or going out at night or even usually ever opening the lightproof curtains of his condominium's picture window when he got home at night and instead sat with his satellite TV's channel-changer in his left hand switching rapidly from channel to channel out of fear that something better was going to come on suddenly on another of the cable provider's 220 regular and premium channels and that he was about to miss it, spending three nightly hours this way before it was time to stare with drumming heart at the telephone that wholly unbeknownst to her had Darlene Lilley's home number on Speed dial...