Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How Teenagers Became Culture-movers

...the beasts!
one thing liberal (ie., individualist) ideology and market forces share is that they want us to never settle down. They're forever grinding what they encounter into ever-finer powders. So -- although we often think of "liberalism" and "market forces" as being in conflict -- in fact both of them conspire to make it hard to attain adulthood.

In other words, we've been turned into -- we've turned ourselves into -- perpetual adolescents because perpetual adolescents have no defences against the market, and in America market values triumph.
-Michael Blowhard

Defrocked Colorado Priest Convicted of Abuse

A Larimer County District Court jury today found former Catholic priest Timothy Evans guilty of sexual assault on a child.

Evans, 44, is the first Colorado Catholic priest to be convicted since sweeping allegations of clergy abuse surfaced nationwide in 2002, leading to broad reforms within the church.


Jurors found Evans guilty of two counts of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust. They also found him guilty of behaving in a pattern of abuse.

I have previously written of this convict's connection to my home parish. My grandmother was quite taken with him. Indeed, he was asked to say her requiem mass per her request. being preferred to the charismatic yet oleaginous Italian-American pastor. I particularly recall a story about Evans complaining about his playing second-fiddle to the man: "Everybody thinks he's so holy, but that's not true." Probably so, but such back-biting of his own superior evidenced Evans' own pride and vanity even then.

Though it is something of a cheap shot, I wonder how much the parish culture might have encouraged the unnatural liberties Evans took. For reasons unknown to me, Spirit of Christ has ended up on a list of gay-friendly churches. Before the last election, a pro-gay marriage editorial was smuggled into the bulletin by the JustFaith group, landing my parish on a list of churches supportive of gay marriage despite her orthodox priests. Lacking any consistency, the piece managed to invoke the words of then-Cardinal Ratzinger's letter Concerning Care of Homosexual Persons to support the latest liberation fad. This stunt successfully burdened the new pastor with the duty of reviewing the bulletin in addition to his other responsibilities. So much for the reputed maturity of the modern laity.

For a time, the daughter of a deacon parishoner who was a founding member of the parish was local contact for Call to Action. At present, there is a group for parents of gays and lesbians at the parish, though by itself that presents no reason to suspect untoward activity on their part. (In my parish's defense, it also hosts a Support Group for Sexual Abuse Victims)

As for Father Evans: what happens to child molesters in prisons is widely acknowledged and, at times, celebrated. I pray Evans will escape the violations he has inflicted on others, and that the just consequences he faces will aid his penance.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

2007 Gerard Manley Hopkins Conference This Weekend

Regis University is again hosting her superb conference on the work of religious poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ. Details are not yet on-line, though some information is here.

Atheist Praise For Chastity

Udolpho reviews Dawn Eden's The Thrill of the Chaste, pruning away the verbiage of self-righteous libertines:
How little we know our sexual selves, and how much less we know with each passing day as we are enjoined to accept ever more bizarre permutations of sexual love (or "love") as perfectly normal, perfectly healthy. There is somewhere in our fascination with all these permutations, most of which are useless except as fillips to a jaded appetite, evidence that we have completely lost sense of the place that sex has in a healthy life.

(the post contains a few obscenities)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Do Relativists Exist?

Robert T. Miller criticizes Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi's attack on relativism. He writes:

Just as a sociological matter, this should give us pause. Generally speaking, our society is more concerned with producing and responding to arguments than probably any other in the history of the world. Whether the issue is abortion or gay rights, tax policy or the trade deficit, global warming or third-world debt, everyone seems ready to adduce arguments in support of some position or other. In learned periodicals like the Journal of Philosophy or the Harvard Law Review, on the editorial pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, in the rough-and-tumble opinion journalism of National Review and The Nation, in the postings of bloggers and the ramblings of barroom blowhards, we find nothing but arguments about morals and politics. There are very few people—in fact, virtually none—who "a priori reject rational argumentation" in morals or politics.

Professor Miller is fortunate enough to frequent these learned circles where reasoning is habitual, even if imperfect. However, I think he has mistaken the bishop's attack on relativistic culture in general for an attack on academics and the higher-level punditry in particlar. Pop culture and the lower levels of the media are dominated by irrationalism and Pilatesque views of truth.

Miller does a service in Part II of his essay, examining those various schools of thought which can be mistaken for relativism. He claims the logical positivists, who "argued that sentences from domains of discourse such as religion, metaphysics, and morals were neither analytic nor empirically verifiable and so, under the verification theory of meaning, were literally meaningless," have had their views "thoroughly demolished" in the academy. True enough, but are we to believe that the positivists' evisceration at the hands of scholars has led to their impotence in the public arena? Is public reasoning dead to the fact-value distinction dead?

Hardly. Scarcely a newspaper edition leaves the presses without including some confused appeal to the old standbys of positivism.

The greater distance I gain from the common newspapers and the television, not to mention my college days, the more and more relativism seems like a negligible phantom, and attacks on relativism begin to seem like time-wasting debunkings of ghost stories told around the campfire. Yet such escapes are transient.

Though relativism as a systematic doctrine does not, and indeed cannot exist, the sensibility is still rampant. By attacking this cultural theme, Crepaldi proves himself more attuned than Miller to the tiresome background noise of our day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Colorado Business Blogs

The Tech sector has been driven by "angel investors," well-moneyed men who swoop down upon a budding business venture to nurse it into success with capital, connections, and advice.

Two of them are blogging from Colorado: 5280 Angel and Colorado Startups.

I discovered both through the Stumbleupon toolbar, which combines the lethargy of channel-surfing with the surprising world of social bookmarking. I'm quite indebted to Stumbleupon for driving thousands of visitors to my very minor venture into the world of webapps, semi-fluent.com

Monday, March 19, 2007

Douthat on the Horror Novel

Indeed, insofar as King has a theology, it involves an Almighty who wills not only sacrifice but also suffering and death to serve a larger purpose that's beyond any mortal ken. Such a God is awesome and cruel all at once, with no interest in answering to his creatures-even if many of King's characters react with appropriately Joban outrage to his demands. "He can't take them all and leave me!" wails David Carver, the preteen prophet from Desperation, when it becomes clear that his whole family will die at the demon's hands while he is required to live. "Killer God," a woman screams in The Stand, when Mother Abagail delivers God’s demand that her husband go out into the desert unarmed to confront their adversary. "Killer God! . . . Millions-maybe billions-dead in the plague. Millions more afterward . . . Isn’t he done yet? Does it just have to go on and on until the earth belongs to the roaches? He's no God. He's a daemon, and you're His witch."


Nor is King's God disposed to handle every supernatural flare-up. He coexists with a multitude of lesser powers, and he allows most of them more or less free rein. Not only ghosts and demons are loose in King’s post-secular landscape but also a Who’s Who of stranger spiritual influences, some benign and some malignant, some distinctively American and some very much Old World. In Rose Madder, there’s Circe and the Minotaur; in Insomnia, the three Fates, spinning, measuring, and cleaving away; in Pet Sematary, the Native American Wendigo. And then there is the host of quasi-mythic beings that King himself invents, from the dizzying cast of his Dark Tower saga to the unearthly Long Boy, which haunts the visions of a writer and his wife in last year's Lisey’s Story, fixing them with "the hideous pressure of its insane regard." Writing in Books and Culture several years ago, Susan Wise Bauer complained that the willingness of King's God to tolerate these lesser rivals-and his insistence that his human surrogates take them on-made him "an undemanding fellow" who outsources the hard work to human beings "and then desperately hopes they can pull it off." King’s Almighty, she suggested, "is much like Rabbi Kushner’s God-creative, good, well-meaning, but limited."

But, if anything, the opposite is true. King's God isn't a well-meaning weakling, holding our hands and hoping things turn out OK; rather, he's so far above the various adversaries, from Tak to Randall Flagg, that the possibility of their winning passing victories concerns him not at all. The demons are a means to chastise and test a struggling humanity, not a threat to God himself; they are the potter's wheel on which King's characters can be broken without placing God's providence in doubt.

This is questionable theology, but it is genius as a literary move and a perfect solution to the problem that God's omnipotence poses for dramatic tension in a supernatural novel.

Ross Douthat, Stephen King's American Apocalypse

One of the better pop-culture analyses I've read.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Words from Higher-Ed Cynics

Some delightfully satirical lines from a multiple-book review on elite universities, "Scandals of Higher Education":
I'm sorry for what my people did to your people
It was a nasty job
Please note the change of attitude
On the bumper of my Saab.


"In the transformed world of what was once an old boys club, "feminism," he[Walter Benn Michaels] writes, "is what you appeal to when you want to make it sound as if the women of Wall Street and the women of Wal-Mart are both victims of sexism."

Some sections of Ross Douthat's Privilege cover similar material as this essay. In both accounts, the elite university is a meritocrat's Potemkin Village festooned with diversitarian iconography and financed by Brideshead-level prodigality.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Against Dogmatic Relativism

Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi has written a little essay on Public Reason and the Truth of Christianity (FR Mirror) examining relativism, secularism, and religion. A few choice excerpts:

Relativism, unfoundedly dogmatic, views religions as unjustified beliefs. Because it does so in an unfounded manner, it cannot demonstrate it, hence it simply "believes it." Relativism "believes" that religions are unfounded, thus they cannot be compared. In other words, it believes that religions have nothing to do with reason and truth. Then all religions are dogmatic, in the trivial sense of the word, i.e. in the sense of "accepted without evidence" (just like relativism, but relativism does not seem to be aware of that).

In the current relativistic vulgate, in fact, the word dogma generically and superficially means "something that is accepted without evidence and thus in a dogmatic manner." Just as philosophical relativism deprives religion of a true public role, the corresponding religious relativism deprives religion from playing its public role. As we will see better later, the public role of reason and that of religious faith either stand together or die.


Only when man has lost sight of the ability to know what is good and what is true, then all offers of salvation become the same. If we do not have any standards of right living, then all religions are the same. If the standards for right living are relativized, man remains trapped inside religions.


It is also clear that the political power that seeks to organize society according to reason not only cannot relate to all religions in the same way, but should also cherish its obligations to the true religion. Of course, if the political power is based on the relativistic democracy, it will not feel any obligation in this regard. Relativism, in fact, can only express a procedural public reason. When the truth is replaced by the decision of the majority, culture is set against truth. The relativistic presumption leads to the tearing up of people's spiritual roots and the destruction of the network of social relationships.

Relativism regards all religions as equivalent. It does so because it is incapable of engaging in a public critique of religions because for relativism common good cannot be rationally identified. By doing so, it precludes the possibility for the true religion to religiously support what men do to attain the common good. Here, too, we see a negative spiral. Relativistic democracy produces religious relativism and this strengthens ethical and social relativism.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Social Darwinism Learned at Darwin's Feet

Over at Commonweal, another writer delves into the unseemly side of Darwinism:
In 1912, in his presidential address to the First International Congress of Eugenics, a landmark gathering in London of racial biologists from Germany, the United States, and other parts of the world, Major Leonard Darwin, Charles Darwin’s son, trumpeted the spread of eugenics and evolution. As described by Nicholas Wright Gillham in his A Life of Francis Galton, Major Darwin foresaw the day when "eugenics would become not only a grail, a substitute for religion, as Galton had hoped, but a 'paramount duty' whose tenets would presumably become enforceable." The major repeated his father’s admonition that, though the crudest workings of natural selection must be mitigated by "the spirit of civilization," society must encourage breeding among the best stock and prevent it among the worst "without further delay."

Leonard Darwin’s recognition of his father’s role in the formation and promotion of eugenics was more than filial piety. Though Charles Darwin usually preferred the savannas of research to the sierras of philosophic speculation, he was a main player in the "transvaluation of values," including the advancement of theories every bit as hard and merciless as Nietzsche’s. Adrian Desmond and James Moore in their 1991 biography, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, make clear that natural selection was intended as more than a theory of life’s origins. "'Social Darwinism' is often taken to be something extraneous, an ugly concretion added to the pure Darwinian corpus after the event, tarnishing Darwin’s image," they write. "But his notebooks make plain that competition, free trade, imperialism, racial extermination, and sexual inequality were written into the equation from the start-Darwinism was invented to explain human society."
Peter Quinn, The Gentle Darwinians

The distinction between the good "gentle Darwin" and the evil, science-twisting social Darwinists is not so clear as pop-science hagiography often claims. Alas.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Exporting "Creative" Cultural Destruction

For the majority of the airtime on Radio Sawa (50 minutes of the hour) and Radio Farda (the two 24-hour radios in Arabic and Persian), America is represented by everyone from Eminem, to J. Lo, to Britney Spears in the fight against terrorism. (If you find this hard to believe, you can listen in on their websites.) Why at a time of utmost gravity, would the US government do something like this, especially when no other successful international broadcaster, like the BBC, has?


Radio Sawa’s progenitor, media mogul Norman Pattiz, while still serving his Clinton-appointed term on the BBG in 2002, told The New Yorker that "it was MTV that brought down the Berlin Wall."


In October 2002, the new and now still serving chairman of the BBG, Ken Tomlinson, approvingly quoted his Naval Academy graduate son: "her (Britney Spears’) music represents the sounds of freedom."

Winning Muslim Hearts with Eminem