Thursday, November 30, 2006

Absolutist and Arbitrary Secularism

Two International Herald-Tribune writers, previously mentioned here for confusing their Roman emperors, have redeemed themselves with a short but substantive examination of Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey in an article titled Benedict's post-secular vision.

Benedict opposes secularism because it is both absolute and arbitrary. In the name of being neutral with regard to values, secular ideology eliminates all rival world views from the public sphere. By denying the existence of objective moral truths, it elevates self- assertion as the measure of all things. Social life is reduced to the arbitration of conflicting self-interest — a process in which the most powerful always win.

Ultimately, this arbitrary absolutism produces a society ruled by an unholy alliance of utilitarian ethics and the proxy politics of the managerial class. This collusion destroys the very idea of common action and a binding collective discernment. Thus does the pope attribute the failure of Europe's common political project to the growing secularization of European culture.

They also write:
It is important to realize, however, that Benedict recognizes a mutual problem in this explicit project of religious realignment around shared critiques and common discernment. Secular conceptions of race, state and nation have corrupted all the faiths, too often turning them into a vehicle for nationalism or racism.

The advancement of religion for political or cultural gain, what Remi Brague has called "christianism," is omnipresent in today's discussions of religion and sometimes more pernicious than outright secularism. People are compelled by secular habits to make utilitarian justifications for religious belief in hopes of maintaining the respect, or at least the awareness, of those who do not share their religion. Some fall into the trap of seeking converts for the benefit of demographic expansion or national vitality, rather than out of love for others in order to glorify God. Such insincere corruptions of Christian evangelism warrant great and purifying attention.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Looking for Ockham's Razor

via Lex Communis, an essay arguing that the medieval scholastic William of Ockham never said "Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity," tracing the geneaology of the idea.

I am under the impression that under medieval nominalists' principle of parsimony, which shirked multiplying seemingly unnecessary entities such as Aristotelian essences, the only necessary cause was God. A fire lights dry wood? No inherent properties in the fire or the wood are necessary to explain the phenomenon. God did it, and it is only the constancy of his will that makes this fire-lighting a regular coincidence.

I doubt that this interpretation of Ockham would be welcomed by those who invoke his name today.
This is why there is a boom in self-help books such as mine, and Eats, Shoots And Leaves, Lynne Truss's surprise hit of Christmas 2004, which instructs you about grammar and punctuation and has now sold three million copies. The success of authors like us depends on education's failure.
-Harry Mount, author of Amo, Amas, Amat And All That

American Casualties in Iraq Undercounted?

Daniel Nichols at Caelum et Terra recounts a conversation with a fellow parishoner, an Army combat medic just back from Iraq:
He confirmed what I had heard, that the official numbers of American dead are far too low, that if someone is wounded in Iraq but dies in a hospital in Germany, he is only counted as wounded and not as a battlefield death.

I hadn't thought about this before, but media reports are careful to specify "combat deaths" when statistics are involved. Nothing about later deaths from wounds, not to mention accidents, other medical deaths, and suicides.

Is there a watchdog group compiling more truthful statistics?

May they rest in peace.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

St. Brigid’s Prayer

I'd like to give a lake of beer to God.
I'd love the Heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity.

I'd love the men of Heaven to live with me,
To dance and sing.
If they wanted, I'd put at their disposal
Vats of suffering.

White cups of love I'd give them,
With a heart and a half;
Sweet pitchers of mercy I'd offer
To every man.

I'd make Heaven a cheerful spot,
Because the happy heart is true.
I'd make the men contented for their own sake
I'd like Jesus to love me too.

I'd like the people of heaven to gather
From all the parishes around,
I'd give a special welcome to the women,
The three Marys of great renown.

I'd sit with the men, the women of God
There by the lake of beer
We'd be drinking good health forever
And every drop would be a prayer.

I was surprised to find that I had not posted this wonderful little representation of divine inebriation. I first discovered this in Noirin ni Riain's version on her album Vox de Nube.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Unintended Consequences are Inescapable

Anyone who has ever studied the history of American diplomacy, especially military diplomacy, knows that you might start in a war with certain things on your mind as a purpose of what you are doing, but in the end, you found yourself fighting for entirely different things that you had never thought of before. In other words, war has a momentum of its own and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it.
-George F. Kennan
Quoted by Mark Danner, Iraq: The War of the Imagination New York Review of Books
via Mark Shea

Friday, November 24, 2006

My Home Parish Makes the Nebraska News. Why?

I'm a few days late to the story on the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln discussing its complaints and plaudits from "liberals" and "conservatives," respectively. For me, it would be unremarkable except that it mentions my home parish:

Louise Baskin, who grew up in the Lincoln Diocese but moved to Colorado nine years ago, said when she began attending a Catholic church in Arvada, Colo., “it was the first time I understood that Mass was a celebration, not solemn, quiet and reverent.”


Baskin disagrees that allowing girls to be altar servers will discourage boys from becoming priests. “Here in Colorado we have an equal number of girls and boys. No one feels left out.”

Her church in Arvada is large, but builds close relationships among parishioners through what she called “small church communities” that meet in people’s homes. Her parish priest gave a talk supporting evolution but also examining the claims of creationism and is planning another on stem cell research.

Much as I lament the fact, Spirit of Christ indeed lacks reverence, silence, and solemnity in most of its Sunday masses except for the earliest one on Sunday morning. If anything, the parish seems to celebrate itself. A parish that has a mission statement is already compromised by the managerial mentality. When its mission statement begins with the words "We, the diverse members of this vibrant Catholic Community..." one wonders who its focus really is.

I myself lack Mrs. Baskin's enthusiasm for altar girls. There is an ugly story to tell about how Spirit of Christ got its way on altar servers. I hope this isn't dirty laundry, but when the ban on altar girls was initially affirmed, there were some murmurings on how this was only done because of those priests in Africa who, unlike us, needed an all-male server corps to train apprentices for the priesthood. The pastor at the time gave a homily at mass where he smarmily declared "if we cannot have altar girls, we will have no altar servers at all." Most of the parish gave a standing ovation, including me. I was perhaps ten, and no way did I want to face any pressure to become an altar server.

That petty self-righteous disobedience does not speak well on the parish's fundamental health. My one sibling who served at the altar after the restoration of co-ed servers is now an apostate. I doubt the two are unrelated.

But back to the story: what caught my eye about this article is that the priest mentioned hasn't been at that parish for six months. His evolution talk wasn't very good in the first place, resembling a report copied from a high school textbook. It lacked any historical sense or theological nuance, and merely jumped upon the anti-creationist bandwagon. He also made some grievous science errors, such as believing that carbon dating is a reliable method for dating ancient fossils.

Worse, he played to the crowd, and precipitated my abandoning the Sunday liturgy at that parish. One Sunday, the Gospel reading was the parable of the wedding garment. He processed in wearing over his vestments an abominable sportsjacket and a poorly-tied tie, continuing to wear it like a preening starlet up through the end of the homily. At its close, he was applauded.

I did not acquit myself well in reacting to this gross irreverence, but I am better for having left for a more traditional parish for Sunday mass. Spirit of Christ's new pastor seems much improved, though I still cannot tolerate the Sunday mass.

To return to the point, this pastor decided to enter a monastery after only one year in the parish. As I said, he left in June. This article was printed in November. How long have these journalists been working on this story?

I also wonder how they decided to contact this particular Arvada woman. Perhaps she is a friend of the journalists, or has some connection to the Call to Action sectaries who wanted to provide sources to the writers. How did Spirit of Christ end up in a story in Nebraska?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Disney's Mary Poppins: Hippie Propaganda

The 1964 Disney movie “Mary Poppins,” for example, treated adulthood as if it should be another form of childhood. Mary Poppins’s job, after teaching the Banks children that any job can be fun if you pour enough sugar over it, is to teach their father that the right dose might even dissolve the job altogether. Mr. Banks learns that the British Empire, its banks and many other manifestations of authority should be undermined, or at least taken less seriously. Life would be better if parents allowed themselves to dance like chimney sweeps and fly kites in the park. They shouldn’t just pay more attention to their children; they should become more like them. The movie’s liberatory spirit is, of course, out of the heart of the 1960s.
-Edward Rothstein, NYTimes

Non-Voluntarists a Majority in Islam

via Laodicea, a brief but rather meaty response to the pope's Regensburg speech:
The Pope acknowledges a spectrum of Catholic views but cites only one Islamic thinker, Ibn Hazm of Cordova, whose view of an essentially non-rational, capricious God was rejected by virtually every other Muslim. Far from teaching an irrational obedience to a non-rational deity, mainstream Islamic theology insists on the systematic use of reason, since the Koran itself asks its audience to deduce the existence of God from his orderly signs in nature. Of the two schools of Sunni orthodoxy, Ash’arism and Maturidism, the latter—the orthodoxy of perhaps 80 per cent of Muslims—is particularly insistent on the rationality of God’s actions.
Abdal Hakim Murad

Saudi Slaver Conviction in Colorado Gets Hacks', Diplomats' Attention

Some media hack named Debbie Schlussel is going after the Colorado Secretary of State for his visit to Saudi Arabia to explain our justice system in the aftermath of the conviction of one Homaidan al-Turki. al-Turki was convicted by an Arapahoe County court of keeping an Indonesian woman as his household slave, whom he raped several times during her captivity.

The only positive contribution Schlussel makes seems to be this link to the al Turki Fanclub. Otherwise she's just trying to manufacture a controversy.

Islamic law requires four witnesses for proof of rape, so the conviction seemed to them mere bigotry. Further, on the local radio show Caplis and Silverman Suthers claimed that al-Turki is the son of a prominent imam in either Mecca or Medina. This controversy deserved serious diplomatic attention, and I hope Suthers acquitted himself well. The easily-enraged Schlussel certainly did not.

Nature and Creation: Conceptually Distinct?

Lee at Verbum Ipsum reviews David B. Hart's The Doors of the Sea:
That view, he argues, is that "nature" as we know it is not to be identified with "creation." The God of Christianity is a God of perfect self-giving love, and creation reflects its creator in being peaceful, harmonious, and beautiful. "Nature," by contrast
is everywhere attended -- and indeed preserved -- by death. All life feeds on life, each creature must yield its place in time to another, and at the heart of nature is a perpetual struggle to survive and increase at the expense of other beings. It is as if the entire cosmos were somehow predatory, a single great organism nourishing itself upon the death of everything to which it gives birth, creating and devouring all things with a terrible and impressive majesty. Nature squanders us with such magnificent prodigality that it is hard not to think that something enduringly hideous and abysmal must abide in the depths of life.

Not without foundation, it seems, Lee suspects a hint of gnosticism. I really need to get this book.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Spencer Tracy's _The Last Hurrah_

The hope of the future: a mealy-mouthed maneuverable piece of dough. Is this the best we can do?

This McCluskey. Is he typical of what we are turning out of our colleges these days? Is he a specimen of this educated young laity I keep hearing so much about, but never seem to encounter?
-Cardinal Martin Burke, "The Last Hurrah," 1958

The cardinal is speaking here of a young empty suit supported by business interests trying to unseat the four-term mayor Frank Skeffington in The Last Hurrah, an excellent classic previously known to me only for its pithy title's ubiquity. Spencer Tracy plays to near-perfection the character of an old Irish political boss. Though not above threats and a bit of blackmail in the service of his constituents, Skeffington's blustery populist hardball seems preferable in many ways to the McCluskey character, a prettyboy of no declared positions whose image is evocative of John Edwards and other young "rising stars."

As the title suggests, the John Ford-directed film is blatantly sympathetic to the old ways over the new campaigns, which in Ford's view eschew personal flattery, personal intimidation, and personal profit for scripted, rootless mass-media campaigns no more principled, and much less beneficial to the body politic. The old ethnic politicking between Jews, Irish, and Italians in alliance against the WASP elite makes one downright nostalgic for times when whites had tribal ghettoes, too.

Having a relative in politics myself, though one far more ethical than the lovable thug Skeffington, I recognized in this fifty-year-old portrayal of party politics some of the same personalities: the alpha candidate's hangers-on, always hoping success will rub off on their campaigns, or the admiring "Friends of Candidate X" attracted by the overpowering charisma of a career politician who seems to know and to care about everybody in his electorate.

Recommended, especially for sentimental Irish-Americans.

A Father's Love

A touching story from the father of a boy with Down's Syndrome:

At the hospital, when they discovered on the scan that Down's syndrome was a possibility, they very kindly offered to kill him for us. They needn’t have bothered. My wife is, unlike myself, an exceptional person in the field of loving and caring.


This was not negotiable. It sounds, I know, a little dreadful to put it this way. Certainly, I lack the courage to stand between Cindy and someone she loves. The Devil himself lacks that sort of courage. Had life turned out differently, had I been married to another, had that woman preferred to go the way of amniocentesis and termination, I have no doubt that I would have gone along with that, too, and treated parents of Down's syndrome children with a lofty pity.

But, thank God, I did not marry someone else. And that left me with a straightforward choice.
Simon Barnes, "I'm not a saint, just a parent"

Monday, November 20, 2006

Wikipedia vs. Human Nature

I often find criticism of Wikipedia more interesting than Wikipedia itself. Case in point, Jason Scott's speech on the Wiki project:

Jimbo Wales is a Randian Objectivist. This means that in his particular interpretation of that philosophical thought, he does not like to interfere, he likes to give general ideas, he likes to trust in people, and he likes that the truth, that the truth represents an honest objective entity that cannot be questioned. A is A. That is to say, if somebody says "this is blue", no amount of your stupid liberal whining is going to make it not blue. That's the theory behind that aspect of Randian Objectivism.

What he did with Wikipedia was, put forward a number of very simple credos: Wikipedia will have a neutral point of view; Wikipedia will always cite it's sources; Wikipedia will never be an original source of information; and then said: "Go with it."


When we look at something old (I'll leave it with this thought) when we look at something old, when you walk into an old church, when you walk into a place, and you find say a handrail, and your hand goes down, your hand goes down and touches the handrail. You do not find the hand rail up here, you do not find the handrail down here. This is because at some point, somebody who was a designer, who was an architect, looked at where human beings were, and put the handrail where human beings are, so that a hundred years from now, four hundred years from now you can still put your hand there.

That is an important design aesthetic, sometimes that is forgotten. Things where they forget that, for instance when language is written, which is full of hype and horror and whatever else, say in the 19th century talking about -- "oh, in the future airships will do this and there will be wondrous wires and you can..." -- those words are forgotten, they weren't designed for human beings, they were designed to sell a

When Wikipedia started out, Wikipedia was designed for an idea, a theoretical idea. An idea of human knowledge edited by everybody, with no idea of how human beings actually are. Over time, Wikipedia is becoming an accurate handrail, it's letting people now put their hand where it is, and it's not the place that I think Jimbo Wales expected it was going to be.

via Deep Furrows

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Against A Content-Free Legal Regime

A worthy article from Cardinal George:

Law and culture stand in a complex dialectical relationship. Neither comes first; neither comes last. Law contributes massively to the formation of culture; culture influences and shapes law. Inescapably, inevitably, law and culture stand in a mutually informing, formative, and reinforcing relationship. For this reason and many others, the liberal ideal of governmental .neutrality. on contested cultural-moral issues, allegedly leaving everyone free to pursue their own private visions of the good and thus attain personal fulfillment, is an illusion. It amounts either to nonsense, or it masks an ideology of social engineering.


Even by its absence, law can shape culture in destructive ways. The law.s refusal to interfere with the institution of slavery helped to establish and maintain a culture corrupted by an ideology of racial superiority and inferiority. The law.s refusal to protect the unborn similarly shapes and hardens a culture corroded by the treatment of
unborn human beings as nonpersons, lacking the right to life that for the rest of us is protected by law.

It is simply a myth to suppose that the retreat of law necessarily enhances freedom. The cultural structures people sometimes face in the absence of law can leave them anything but free. Is your teenage daughter truly free to engineer her own pattern of courtship? Can she call forth a corresponding attitude on the parts of the young men of her acquaintance who are potentially eligible to her as mates? How free is she to be the chaste young woman she should be and you want her to be? Would she not be freer in a world in which accepted understandings and expectations supported, rather than hindered, her natural desire to be treated with dignity by young men who present themselves to her as possible romantic partners?
Francis Cardinal George, "Law and Culture," Ave Maria Law Review(PDF)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nothing New Under The Sun

It appears that had a less user-friendly predecessor that is now nearly derelict. Ah, well, it's not like I was looking for a patent anyway.

The Ivy Life: Ross Douthat's Privilege

I never took the time to plug Ross Douthat's Privilege, an excellent memoir of his Harvard years. His glimpses into the world of the overclass are enlightening, and a bit disillusioning. Harvard, it seems, is hardly an academic juggernaut as far as its undergraduates are concerned. I was perversely pleased that Douthat and I share the same complaints of a superficial, unsystematic educational regimen, only I was fortunate enough to receive my education at perhaps a tenth of the cost at the University of Colorado.

But who besides aspiring intellectuals goes to college for an education? Douthat's depiction of Ivy League social life is the real meat of the story. His visits to posh parties at the Harvard clubs, those supreme social networks, reveal both Douthat's reverse snobbery and his outsider's anxious craving to enter the inner sanctum as if one who belongs there. In his accounts of such events he is self-consciously nolens volens, covetous of high privilege while feeling he should really be disdaining the shows of the elite.

Douthat does not gain a club membership(which seems to have done no harm to his journalism career--he now writes for The Atlantic Monthly), but the rigors of high society are evident throughout the book. The mix of competitive upper-middle-class meritocrats and spendthrift scions can be poisonous. One rising college star, a young woman from flyover country, manages to compete with the old money on campus only by embezzling one hundred thousand dollars from a university theater troupe to fund her lavish parties.

Yet that campus socialite's fall is in Douthat's view symptomatic of far deeper problems at Harvard. While the old elite at least recognized their place at society's peak was somewhat accidental, the meritocracy has no such humility. Meritocratic culture encourages a sense of ruthless entitlement since it "indoctrinates its students in a religion of success, and seduces them, oh so subtly, with the promise that what they have is theirs by right of talent." And elsewhere: "The modern elite's rule is regarded not as arbitrary but as just and right and true, at least if one follows the logic of meritocracy to its unspoken conclusion." Though this ethos is subconscious, it is reinforced by the lack of acknowledgment that their careful grooming begins even in infancy with the privileges of wealth: selective schooling, private tutoring, and family networks.

The mores of this elite are libertine, but its members are too careerist to let such a lifestyle ultimately interfere with their personal advancement. Though the scare tactics of sex ed are less effective on the less well-to-do, for the overachievers of the Ivy League the prospect of a ruined future among the powerful is fearsome indeed. Douthat writes: "we don't get pregnant young or married too early, we don't get STDs, we don't have abortions--though we find it comforting to know that we always could, if it came to that." The consequences of such licentiousness among the less fortunate are known to the privileged only in the increased opportunities for charitable(and resume-padding) service work among the shattered families of America.

The educational system only reinforces this collapse of values. Even when truth is a criterion, "the only absolute truth that the upper class accepts these days is the truth of the market." Postmodern fads in Harvard's history and English departments have crippled the response of anti-capitalist progressives, and this is not entirely a good thing. The professoriate's patina of skeptical philosophy can only extend so far among the wealthy, and, as Douthat says, this outlook "amounts to a tacit acceptance of capitalism's ruthless insistence that only science is important, only science really pursues truth, because only science has tangible, quantifiable, potentially profitable results."

But Ross Douthat's book is not entirely glum. The active and inquisitive student can actually find a decent education at Harvard. So, too, can he even find professors who don't contemn undergraduates as a hindrance to their research. There's even some outright comedy: Douthat relates an anecdote about skinny-dipping with the aged William F. Buckley, Jr., and afterwards talking politics, whiskey, and cigars aboard his yacht.

The very mention of Buckley, the conservative movement's last patriarch, prompts comparisons to Buckley's debut book God and Man at Yale. Buckley was eccentric enough to believe that his 1950s Yale was sidelining Christianity, patriotism, and sound education in favor of agnostic, anti-American scholastic trifles. Buckley's focus on the now-faded Christian sympathies of the American academy deserves a follow-up.

Though Douthat, a Catholic like Buckley, mentions both God and Man at Yale and Harvard's religious atmosphere, or lack thereof, his treatment of religion as such is too cursory. Considering the graduates of his alma mater adflicta are now dealing with the highly religious problem of militant Islam, perhaps a second book is in order.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

We [Americans] were a fellowship of "the Book" and took all government and political philosophy--even the Constitution--to be practical and unworthy of mention in the same breath with Holy Scripture. Politics might, within reason, be tested against revealed truth. But we never imagined more than a tangency for the political and the sacred?never a holy beginning or conclusion by politics.
-M.E. Bradford, quoted by Daniel Larison

Monday, November 13, 2006

Jean Duchesne on Christian Cultural Renewal

I've already recorded Jean Duchesne's remarks on European Muslim Demographics. He also spoke eloquently about cultural penetration and the paucity of Christian creativity:
The problem for us, if we take for a moment a more realistic view, is not that what we believe is not said, because we [do] say it. The problem is rather why it is not heard. Is it not heard because, I would say, not enough people repeat it. And when I say people, this is absolutely accurate, because everything is not repeated enough. In other words, we do not have enough media power. When I say media, that does not mean television programs. That does not mean shouting[?] in the blogosphere. That means what can we do for other people, and under the cross, to reflect, to reclaim, what we know is the truth and the mystery of Christ. my opinion, the real question is how to make sure that the Christian vision of the world, the Christian ideals, are not only expressed directly, as a matter of personal testimony, but is really present, even if it half-explicit, even if it is downright implicit, in the works of art, the cinema, music, museums, etc. In other words, the culture has changed a lot, and my question is, what are we doing to use that culture?

We know already that our testimonies are both necessary and insufficient, and we also know that our traditional specific media, the Catholic media, are necessary and insufficient. The problem for us is to get out. This is not a question of good will, it is not a question of money, even, it is a question of creativity. And I think that praying for a renewing and the refining of the presence of the Christian mystery in today's culture, taking on the means it currently uses, prayers for that intention are perhaps a priority.

Duchesne's speculation that a lack of repetition might impede the progress of Christian belief reveals that in some sense Christian conversion and aedification is often the result of a habit. If true, the Christian message is being blocked out not only by willful sin, but also the white noise of commerical society, its Hericlitean flux of words, imagery, and ideas. When the phrase "Jesus saves" is outnumbered by phrases like "Jesus was a New Age hippie," "Jesus was a fine teacher," and "Jesus was killed for being a political revolutionary," the static obscures the signal. The falcon cannot hear the falconer.

The iconography en masse of our age induces habits at once hyperactive and superficial. It creates an antipathy towards contemplation and, in spite of the intense regimentation of modern life, renders ordered living most difficult. A habitual consideration of the person of Christ becomes even more arduous than it was in less saturated times.

Duchesne's analysis also suggests plenty of problems in the Evangelical Ghetto and its would-be Catholic imitations(this means you, LifeTeen). Rather than having, for instance, a coffee shop where Christian claims are implicit and taken for granted in the atmosphere, the current trend is to put up a microphone for the born-again yesterday, play subtlety-impaired Christian music, and tarnish the Lord's name by using it in your shop name and logo. Such derivative ventures suggest that the Christian imagination has been usurped by mere imitation.

Call it the mimetic captivity of the church. As Hank Hill noted, "Can't you see you're not making Christianity better, you're just making ________ worse?"

Don't start up a new coffee-shop or a rock band. Invent the next coffee-shop phenomenon or the newest innovative musical style. Create something beautiful for God and, like a good Catholic, baptize it in its infancy. Make secular people(like the megachurch-coveting Daily Kos) look enviously upon your cultural works and institutions. Render secular art the domain of inauthentic knock-off artists. Make certain non-Christians prissily sniff at the Christian subtexts, as some Christians now sniff at subtexts in the secular media even while admiring that media's artistic prowess.

Most of all, forget the Next Big Thing of the Moment. You should be too busy generating good ideas to notice.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pornifying the Innocent

Throw the Borat in the Stocks, in the Stocks.

And those South Park guys, too. They give censorship a good name.

As I was reading the article, I suspected the actor Cohen would be mistaken for an American. Yep.

Luca, who now refers to Baron Cohen as to the 'ugly, tall, moustachioed American man', even though the 35-year-old comedian is British

Can I get a "Videtur Quod," a "Sed Contra," and a "Respondeo" vintage?

Aquinas Napa Valley Wine via Right Reason

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jean Duchesne Speaks Against Steynian Panicmongering

Jean Duchesne, French theologian and religious thinker, recently lectured at the Archdiocese of Denver. An advisor to cardinals and a significant force behind the theological journal Communio, his opinions are most worthy of consideration. Duchesne's lecture(now available in .MP3) is supposed to be posted soon on the ArchDen website, so I will discuss more about his excellent and lively speech later.

In the Q & A period, one audience member asked about the future of a Muslim-controlled France. Obviously, she was a reader of Mark Steyn whose prognostications of demographic implosion enjoy popularity in conservative circles.

Monsieur Duchesne replied:

Let us be serious. One of the greatest disservices we can do to ourselves is to overestimate Islam in every respect. Currently, since Marxism was easier to define, it was easier to know. Approximately eight percent of the European population is of Muslim origin. If you go by the same standards, eighty percent now are Christians. So there is a great variety within the muslim world. And so please, don't forget one thing: What does Islam mean? Islam means war!

If two Muslims get together, you can call the ambulance. In Iraq, anywhere, there is no unity. So the idea, you cannot, it is wrong, it is simply to panic, to consider that Islam is the global[?] unity with Osama Bin Laden sitting as chairman of their political bureau.. No, absolutely not. But still a number of Muslims are being integrated, and that is not always good news. They're just simply secularizing.

On the other hand, on many issues, we Catholics find ourselves hard to acknowledge we find ourselves saying the same things as the Imams concerning [jobs?] abortions, euthanasia, and other things. So there are things, not everything and anything, that are progressing. And if simply becoming an observant Muslim can save a young man from the French suburbs from yielding to the temptations of violence, drugs or pornography or both, where is the problem?

Once more, there is no such thing as organized Islam coming to take power in Europe. What many see, of course, is demographics. Well, you know, it will take time before eight percent of the population becomes forty percent.

And then, again, to cite another number out there, Islam, in the majority if we look at the current trends, will, fortunately or unfortunately I don't know, have been integrated with the secularized, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Though his accent and the quality of the recording prevented me from recording the rest of the answer verbatim, its gist was that Islamic countries usually require police states simply to avoid anarchy, and that police state, not Sharia, would be the threat of a large, activist, strife-ridden Islamic population in Europe.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


"The way I personally was treated by the leftist poetry world in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq is one of the things that helped convince me to support the war."
-Jody Bottum

Globalizing Commercial Hyperbole

Zenbei ga naita -- literally, "the entire United States wept." [The phrase] means nothing important.

One might be moved to wonder how the above expression could possibly take on such an unrelated meaning. After checking the blogs, your reporter came up with this explanation: When many U.S. films open in Japan, they are accompanied by posters claiming that American viewers were moved to tears. But the such films have little emotional impact on viewers here. So Japanese filmgoers have learned, apparently, to disregard such promotional claims as largely meaningless.
via Language Log

Monday, November 06, 2006

Anti-Marriage Radicals Pushing For Gay Marriage

Three months ago, radical polyamorists signed and published a document pushing for their agenda, Beyond Same-Sex Marriage.

I promptly forgot about that statement until today, when I discovered via Eve Tushnet that NRO's Stanley Kurtz has written two responses to this document: Part I, Part II

A sample:
Bronski said that he and his fellow family radicals were tired of being treated like "skunks at a garden party" for honestly owning up to their radical reasons for supporting gay marriage. Bronski then told the story of a radio appearance in which his conservative opponent had claimed that gay marriage would "change society as we know it." Instead of denying it, Bronski agreed with this family traditionalist that gay marriage would indeed provoke a broader cultural transformation, adding that this was a good thing. "That afternoon," Bronski recalled, "I received a barrage of e-mails from marriage equality supporters complaining that I had committed a major faux pas and should not do media on the issue of marriage again unless I was willing to state the "official" marriage equality line, which is that gay marriage is about nothing more than equal rights for couples who love one another."

Kurtz analyzes the self-censorship of the radicals and their cynical alliances with earnest, if deluded, pro-gay marriage liberals out to tame homosexual relationships.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The historical logic of torture?

I think it's actually wrong to say that the recent efforts to abolish the right of habeas corpus and to legalize torture are driven by fear; that would be more understandable. What's more frightening is the idea that the people who propose these policies believe there is some kind of historical logic that justifies them. Once you start down that road, you can justify anything.
Joshua Foa Dienstag

I'm unclear what historical logic Dienstag has in mind. The optimistic logic of happy talk? I've focused almost entirely on fear as an explanation of pro-torture, anti-habeas corpus policy. I haven't seen democratization or "anti-islamofascist" sentiment per se invoked to justify such action.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Euthanize conscience, and the rest will follow

Forbes Turns a Critical Eye on Microcredit

But skeptics counter that women borrow from other sources to repay the loans. That often means resorting to moneylenders--or loans from friends and family--to pay back the microloan and vice versa, trapping them in a cycle of debt.

I have been wondering why men were never the targets for microcredit loans. Apparently the movement is also pushing Western-style feminism, which of couse backfires:
This means that microcredit's other goal--to empower women in highly patriarchal societies--isn't always achieved, either. In Tumkur, a city outside Bangalore, a group of women received $30 loans. They stood in a circle, placed their hands on the money and pledged to use their loans to launch businesses. But afterward, each handed the money to her husband, and the men started the businesses. Since the women are responsible for repaying the loan, they suffer the consequences if their husbands squander the money.

I don't see why microcredit activists need to tack on to an economic development program a merely decades-old Western feminist ideology of empowerment. If the women are giving the money to their husbands anyway, why not focus on shaping the men into responsible patriarchs rather than attempting to start futile cultural revolutions?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Yet Another Banal Atrocity

via FR, news from Miami:
A woman identified by Operation Rescue in their October 23 report as Ms. Betty Rojas informed police that a child had been killed by "a doctor" by drowning after being born alive.

18-year old Sycloria Williams, told police that she had arrived at the facility July 20 for the second half of a late-term abortion. She says she gave birth to a living baby girl while sitting in a recliner in the facility's recovery room. Ms. Williams told police that she had watched her daughter moving and gasping for air for approximately five minutes.

The warrant says that the staff "began screaming that the baby was alive." Then, "Ms. Belkis Gonzalez cut the umbilical cord, threw it into a red bag with black printing. Ms. Gonzalez then swept the baby, with her hands, into the same red bag along with the gauze used during the procedure."

Eight days later, police found the body of the child which Rojas had informed them had been treated with a caustic chemical and left in the heat of the Florida sun to accelerate decomposition in a possible attempt to dispose of the evidence.
Daniel Larison is Wise.

Evangelical Bigwig Ted Haggard Accused of... Ew...

Update: Haggard admits some charges true
Ted Haggard of Colorado Springs' New Life Christian Church has been accused by a male prostitute of using the latter's services. Little time for a post before bed, but here are some of my comments interspersed with other information and commentators.

In addition to Amendment 43, the marriage amendment, there's also a domestic partnership initiative on the Colorado ballot, Referendum i. Some Denver media people are spinning this story as a blow against the marriage amendment and in favor of ref. i.

I don't know if this cheerfulness is anything other than wishful thinking on their part, but I'm no Evangelical. As a Catholic, Haggard's advocacy has flown under my radar.

In the sad event that these allegations prove true, here's something to keep in mind:

"The teachers of the law (the scribes) and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So, you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach" (Matt. 23:2-3)

Is Haggard the driving force behind his church? I'll keep him, his accuser, and his congregation in my prayers.

A Freeper in Haggard's congregation has stated:

1. Pastor Ted's temporarily stepping down is the procedure for any Pastor accussed of a serious moral breach. It does not imply guilt.
2. An outside body will investigate the truthfulness of these allegations.
3. Very curious timing again, very late October surprise.
4. Satan is alive and well and wants to win. He will smear, lie, attack and destroy what he can. Why would he not attack an effective man of God.
5. The truth will come out.

Several weeks back on the Rocky Mountain News' Inside Denver Blog, one Colorado lefty wrote:
Churches need to be careful this year. I am not personally participating (although I agree with the stance behind it), but there are groups that are planning on infiltrating Church services and recording any unethihcal speech that may put in danger the organization's tax exempt status.

He was talking about the marriage amendment advocacy. Though I generally find allegations of conspiracies unconvincing, I wouldn't be too surprised if busybodies like this guy's friends try to generate a hoax story, or seek out truly damaging information on any and all of their opponents.

The cynical hairsplitter in me suggests that Haggard is not really a hypocrite if the allegations are true, because his alleged acts were bisexual, not homosexual. The prostitute's allegations also include meth use. Crazy story before election time.

A few more cross-references:

Haggard accused of anti-Catholicism

A reflection suggesting that some pastors might highlight the sins of Sodom so they don't have to address adultery, etc. among their congregations.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Government Thuggery in Hungary

Three cases of atrocities deserve special mention. An MP used a moment of calm between the police and the crowd. Waving his ID identifying him as a parliamentarian he went to the policemen. They looked at the ID and beat him up. A fractured bone, a bandaged head ? he has a memory loss ? and an arm in a cast were the price he paid. The second case is that of a priest. He tried to calm the parties. The police got an order to club him. One cop exclaimed ?but he is a priest!? The more so, let him have it, was the answer. In at least one case a whole volley was fired on and into a Red Cross rescue van and its crew that was loading the injured. TV showed several scenes documenting atrocities. In a typical one a man holding a flag stands alone in a street. He is tackled by four men. Heaved over on the side walk a mass of police pounces to beat and kick him. Understandably TV crews got special attention manifested in the form of rubber bullets. A Polish crew located the beaten Jesuit and tried to interview him. Riot police ordered them to leave as they had no permit. The Poles meant that in an EU-country one does need a permit. Most revealingly the police retorted: ?there is no EU here.? The statement of fact raises a good question: where is the EU, where is the otherwise so easily outrages international press?
George Handerly, Brussels Journal

The Evolution of Natural Law

Amy Welborn notes that The New York Times reports that Marc D. Hauser, previously mentioned here for his research on ethics and neuroscience, has just released his new book Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong.
The moral grammar too, in Dr. Hauser's view, is a system for generating moral behavior and not a list of specific rules. It constrains human behavior so tightly that many rules are in fact the same or very similar in every society ? do as you would be done by; care for children and the weak; don?t kill; avoid adultery and incest; don?t cheat, steal or lie.

Like Dr. Hauser, I see potential for a fruitful dialogue between the biological sciences and ethics, especially natural law ethics.

However, I am unsure how science can reclaim such discoveries as authoritative. The NYTimes summarizes: "The moral grammar evolved, he believes, because restraints on behavior are required for social living and have been favored by natural selection because of their survival value."

If we grant that our moral sense is the accumulated, accidental, and unplanned result of the evolution of our ancestors, can a Darwinian natural law ethics be particularly binding? It's like an ad populum appeal to a population spread out across millions of years. The anti-traditional default position of modern liberalism discourages people from holding fast to the fixed customs handed down by their parents. Why should they adhere to the fixed urgings passed down from their ancestors' biology?

Besides such philosophical questions, there is also the danger that such valuable work will be compromised by the "anti-speciesist" stands now found among many academics. Take this introductory paragraph from the NYTimes:
Primatologists like Frans de Waal have long argued that the roots of human morality are evident in social animals like apes and monkeys. The animals? feelings of empathy and expectations of reciprocity are essential behaviors for mammalian group living and can be regarded as a counterpart of human morality.

Such forms can be hitched to an anti-humanist ideology, deriding the special consideration for humans. Some of these thinkers allege that if a moral sense is found among the "dumb beasts," that's just one more blow against humans' putatively prideful place at the center of their universe.

First, this ignores the group-selection claims of Professor Hauser. As chimps privilege chimpkind, humans treat their own better than another species.

But second, I wish to attack the idea that the discovery of a moral sense among animals somehow cuts down mankind.

Certain forms of Cartesianism, especially pop-Cartesianism, are hostile to any implication that there is a physical basis for mental actions. They treat animals as mere res extensa, lacking the capacity for thought. One story goes that Descartes, while deriding the state of animals, kicked a goat to drive home his point.

This Cartesian sensibility has quite influenced modernity, and has perhaps aggrandized mankind by treating the human species as angels incarnate rather than glorified mud. It is to God and to his chosen saints, rather than nature, that contains Cartesians' moral exemplars.

I suggest that the place of animals throughout Christian and even pagan lore frees us from thinking, like pop-Cartesians, that any kind word for animal ethics thereby enables the anti-humanist crowd.

Think Aesop, the ant and the grasshopper, the fox and the grapes. Ancient and medieval writers had few qualms about treating animals as moral exemplars, sometimes even their moral superiors. One of the Desert Fathers even said: "A dog is better than I am, for he loves and does not judge."

Also recall the imagery of the pelican, who in past times was believed to rend its own flesh to feed its children. This was taken not even as a mere moral exemplar, but as a symbol of Christ's crucifixion and the Eucharist. Because of the sacramental nature of creation, even an ethics that includes ancient primates for its early models can be redeemed.

Referendum I: Potential Club Against Religious Freedom

Catholic Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs writes:
Colorado employment law now provides a cause of action against "employers" that "discharge . . . or refuse to hire a person solely on the basis that such employee or person is married or plans to marry another employee of the employer." The statute states that "spouses" can bring a claim for violation of this Act. Referendum I redefines "spouses" to include "domestic partners."

Now, while some employers will not care if one employee joins another in a domestic partnership, others do care ? deeply. Most church-related employers in Colorado, for example, teach that sexual activity should be limited to the marriage of one man and one woman. If Referendum I passes, it will jeopardize the freedom of religious communities, guaranteed by the First Amendment, to engage like-minded persons to advance a community?s religious beliefs and mission.

Some may argue that the problem is small because religious organizations are exempt from the definition of "employer" under the Colorado Spousal Discrimination Act. But church-related employers already know that this exemption will very likely be attacked and may be lost if they cooperate with government by providing faith-based social services supported by government funding. One potential and particularly devious effect of Referendum I will be to force religious organizations participating in charitable choice programs to surrender their freedom to hire only those workers who hold the same religious and moral convictions.

Though I appreciate the bishop's focus on the referendum, I have to ask what church employers are doing employing active homosexuals in the first place. Perhaps it is the same magnanimity which permits the employment of divorced and remarried people, but it is still an oddity.

Additionally, Bishop Sheridan's focus on the effects of the law uppon church-affiliated organizations, but neglects to mention the considerable impact upon lay Catholic employers who run putatively more secular businesses. Such laymen's freedoms are certainly imperiled as well, and they deserve a defense too.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Alasdair MacIntyre on the University

From a Catholic point of view the contemporary secular university is not at fault because it is not Catholic. It is at fault insofar as it is not a university.


whatever pattern of courses is taken by an individual, it is unlikely to be more than a collection of bits and pieces, a specialist's grasp of this, a semispecialist's partial understanding of that, an introductory survey of something else. The question of how these bits and pieces might be related to one another, of whether they are or are not parts that contribute to some whole, of what, if anything, it all adds up to, not merely commonly goes unanswered, it almost always goes unasked.
The End of Education, Commonweal, October 20, 2006

via First Things

Beowulf on Tape

Michael Drout has finished a commercial recording, to be released sometime in the future.

Recorded Books will be publishing the Beowulf reading later this year, bundled in a special offer for one of their programs that hasn't been completely decided yet, but I retained the rights to sell it on its own, and I'm working right now to put together some kind of inexpensive and interesting package. I did a short lecture on Beowulf as well that goes before the reading itself, and the entire thing takes up three CDs.

I shudder to think what an Old English scholar thinks an inexpensive price is for an audio edition of Beowulf.

Smart Lefty Warns Against Alienating TradCons

In recent decades that kind of authentic conservatism has not been much in evidence. It has been displaced by a "movement" version that is politically expedient and cynical to the core. Movement conservatism is really market worship that embraces the disruption of traditional mores and values so long as corporations are making money in the process. It channels the truly conservative impulse into a few red-meat issues - abortion, gays, school prayer - that pose no threat to the corporate moneybags who bankroll the Republican party.

Most leftist writers are tone-deaf to these distinctions. They sneer about "conservatives" the way right wingers sneer about them; and in the process they do their adversaries a favor. Ann Coulter is to conservatism what she is to chastity. She is a screaming polemical Jacobin; and the same goes for most of the Right Wing crew. To call them "conservatives" just helps keep their act going, at the very time it is starting to fray.
-Jonathan Rowe, reviewing American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia

via Mark Shea.

One of Mark's readers objects to Kirk's condemnation of automobiles as "mechanical Jacobins." Here's my fleshed-out response:

Considering the car was and is enabled by huge government subsidies of a possibly unsustainable road and highway system, what is all that conservative about it?

Highway construction demolished the least organized, most vulnerable ethnic neighborhoods and promoted rootless commuter life in their place. Automobile-designed cities rendered most difficult the lives of those limited only to their own two feet. No longer were churches, schools, stores and jobs within walking distance or at worst within the range of public transportation. The rise of the car made poverty more expensive than it had been in more pedestrian times.

Note how the relations between the sexes changed with the advent of the car: two teens drive off on a date, get away from the folks, away from snooping eyes... Well, let's just say the automobile is the technological foundation of a promiscuous and resolutely immature youth culture.

In a phenomenon also related to youth culture, the car radio shaped music. The medium favored simple, repetitive sounds which could be heard above the roar of the motor and the wind. Subtleties, lyrical complexity, and attention spans suffered. Personal, local talent found itself swamped by the mass-produced mediocrities of the music industry.

The car is the vehicular equivalent of the remote-controlled satellite TV: one has too many choices of destination to commit to any one place. The variety of neighborhoods encountered and the lack of time for any of them encourages superficial comparisons and merely cynical criticism. Automobile culture is a prime generator of unfounded discontent.

In a final burst of crackpottery, I now suggest that we might even be better off with horses: at least a good horse can get a drunk home safely.

(And in answer to certain petty responses: yes, I'm a hypocritical, tiresomely self-conscious car driver)

Dude, Where's My Deity?

Perhaps massively multi-user Wikis have promise after all. They can generate this great sendup of Liberal Christian Theology.

via Mark Shea

On The Torments of God's Love

via Pontifications:
As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God's love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful. That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.
-St Isaac of Nineveh

as I recall, Dostoevsky's Father Zossima said much the same thing in The Brothers Karamazov.

Referendum I Fiscal Concerns Getting Noticed

The Rocky Mountain News reports on the financial costs of the same-sex domestic partnerships initiative. The numbers on both sides are questionable, but at least it highlights how dubious were the figures of the official financial impact statement.

I have previously discussed the initiative's prospects as a Moocher's Dream, and though I forwarded my comments to the Colorado Family Action organization I do not know if I helped influence this strategy.