Sunday, September 30, 2007

Internet Roundup I

I originally intended this blog to be a record of sites, essays, and articles I thought noteworthy.

Lately I have been using StumbleUpon to record more easily the good work others have done. This has led me to neglect posting here at Philokalia Republic.

So I have decided to post here every few weeks a roundup section of items recorded in my StumbleUpon blog. I hope this division of labor will prompt me to create more original content here without foregoing news of worthy stories elsewhere.

Here we go:

varenius contrasts a classic Christian carol with its neo-pagan ripoff:
"Good King Wenceslas", Christian version: The King and his page bring gifts to a poor man.

"Good King Wenceslas", Neo-Pagan version: The King and his page bring gifts to the woodland creatures.

Varenius also imagines some conversations from a biotech future.


How statutory rapists eliminate evidence:
"In "Jane Roe" vs. Planned Parenthood, a 13-year-old was sexually abused by her soccer coach. The coach, 21, posed as a "stepbrother" and paid for the abortion in 2004, using an I.D. that did not match the girl's name. It was not reported.

The girl's parents sued, saying Planned Parenthood did not notify them and helped the abuser conceal his crime. They say records will prove the abortion clinic fails to report rape as required by law."
Ruling Against Teen Looks Like 'Abortion Distortion'

Abortuary protesters sometimes note with gravity the repeated phenomenon of an older man escorting an obviously un-related, very young woman into the facility.


Jennifer Rorback Morse uncovers some statistical manipulation in sex education:

These figures cast new light on the debate over contraception education. The commonly quoted failure rates of 8% for the Pill and 15% for the condom are inflated by the highly successful use by middle-aged, middle-class married couples. Yet, the government promotes contraception most heavily among the young, the poor and the single. The "overall failure rates" are simply not relevant to this target population.

That the young and fertile are more immune to the effects of such methods is not surprising. That we expect them to use such methods effectively in irresponsible relationships and alcohol-fueled hook-ups is very surprising.


Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex on the anti-HPV vaccine being in some jurisdictions mandatory for young teen girls:
Just to put the massive but deceptive marketing of Gardasil into perspective, an inoculated child may be protected from 4 (70% of cancer causing) out of the possible 200 strains of the virus for a yet to be determined amount of time (4 years?) from a type of cancer which make up about 0.007 % of new cancer cases and 0.006 % of cancer deaths that occur annually in the U.S. In return for these modest benefits of Gardasil in 2007, there have been (1) 5 deaths, (2) 31 life-threatening adverse events, (3) 1,385 required visits to the emergency room with (4) 451 of the girls not having recovered as of July 2007 , (5) with 51 of the girls resulting with a disability

Though these warnings may originate from anti-vaccine activists merely finding another arrow for their quiver, Peter Hitchens explains why their objections deserve accommodation.


Euthanasia by a doctor in a New Orleans Hospital during Katrina.


Islam and Christianity blog by an Anglican missionary in the Middle East. I met the author at a ROFTERS meeting.


Corruption in the Legionaires of Christ aided by illicit and self-serving regulations:
Recently, Fr. Alvaro Corcuera, Director General of the Legion of Christ, has been discreetly visiting different legionary houses to explain to his religious the repeal "apparently ordered by higher authorities" of the secret vows, also known as the private vows.

There are two such vows. The first prevents a religious from criticizing any personal aspect of a superior, including his moral character. It also prevents him from listening to conversations in which a superior is being criticized.


Mark Stricherz explains Why the Democrats are Blue:
In this exceptional book, Stricherz shows why -- even today -- the Democrats are blue. He reveals how a group of secular professionals seized control of the Democratic Party, driving away Catholics and blue-collar workers. He shows how these secular liberals did nothing less than hijack a commission created at the 1968 Democratic convention, toppled the party bosses, created an activist-dominated nomination system, and built an affluent, secular base of support.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Georgetown's Flight from Judgement

Georgetown's quest to refuse funding for student internships at immoral organizations recently gave up the ghost. Georgetown political theorist Patrick Deneen ties this failure to our society's diffident habits of thought and action:
Judgment succumbs to those forces that Tocqueville rightly diagnosed as being at the heart of modern democracies: the rejection of distinctions and forms, the revulsion against discrimination and boundaries, the abolition of mediation and the eschewal of divisions. What can begin as the righteous opposition to unjust discrimination easily becomes indignation of all forms of distinction. Thus, the rightful rejection of laws against miscegenation becomes the rejection of laws that defend marriage of one man and one woman. The justified fight against racial discrimination becomes the crusade against any judgments that threaten our self-esteem, leading to a culture in which every child receives a trophy after the season and grade inflation is rampant (and these are hardly the most pernicious forms that this impulse takes). Tocqueville rightly predicted history would become the story of forces, rejecting the idea that history was made by great men and women; poetry would become populated by ordinary people, not heroes or models, an anticipation of the poetry of Whitman; and religion would become pantheistic, collapsing the divide between heaven and earth so that the sacred and the profane became one. He also told us that all political problems would become judicial problems, in the main because we would reject the messy realm of politics for the winner-take-all universalism of the courts.
There's More

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Fires of Savonarola's Florence

The ferocious energy of the Renaissance republic and its most famous preacher is expertly captured in Lauro Martines' Fire in the City. With patient understanding of his subject Martines describes to a modern audience the triumphs and travails of the Dominican monk Savonarola and the political energies which he channeled--energies which, in the end, destroyed him.

In Martines' sympathetic telling, Savonarola was a fierce patriot who in 1495 helped expel the Medici from power and strengthen the new republic formed in their wake. Though a lover of liberty, he nonetheless preached clemency for the allies of the exiled rulers when tyrant-hating vengeance waxed. He also countered oligarchic tendencies among the city's elite in favor of wider citizen participation. In foreign policy he embraced the invasion of the French King Charles VIII as the scourge of Florence's enemies and Italy's flaccid believers. He even did all this without holding formal political office.

Yet first in his priorities was church reform, universal in scope but with Florence at its center. Reform was much needed, to say the least. The Great Schism had weakened religious authority. The papacy was held by the simonious decadent Alexander VI. Bishoprics were collected like so many choice financial properties and ruled in absentia, badly.

Against this established venality the righteous Savonarola spoke. Two lines from his sermons display his driven power: "I want men to be illuminated by truth. I want to fight the whole world and win."

He had no tolerance for corrupt clerics. His early polemical poems were written long before his days in Florence. Titled De Ruina Mundi and De Ruina Ecclesiae, they will appeal to those tired of laxity in the Catholic scene who will find in Savonarola the under-represented rigorist flavor of anti-clericalism. He could be writing of present-day episcopal malfeasance when he declares:
Ah, look at that catamite and at the pimp,
Dressed in purple, frauds looked up to
By the common people and adored by the blind world.

Later he advises:
Avoid all those who put on purple.
Flee from palaces and ostentatious loggias,
Speaking to the few alone,
For you will be the enemy of all the world.

What enjoyment one finds in these passages should be tempered by the observation of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn: "After two hundred years of cheerful and ironic anti-clericalism the Reformation came after all, and destroyed the fabric of the Church in a number of nations."

Despite all this youthful talk of contra mundum, the monk avoided exclusive elitism in his Florentine ministry. At points, his thirst for justice and freedom and his significantly genuine patriotic piety captivated a vast portion of the city. His charisma shines through his recorded sermons. In one oft-used rhetorical device he converses with a fictional interlocutor:
-Oh, friar.... they say you are a heretic.
-Throw any low insult at me, but don't call me a heretic.
-They say you're crazy.
-Oh, now there you've said something beautiful. [As sinners] we're all a bit mad.
-Ah, but you've said the Church is a whore. O father, the Holy Church? What have you said?
-You're a fool ... go and do some more studying.

The pre-lenten Florentine carnival traditionally involved deadly rock fights among youths and debauchery among their elders. The monk's famous bonfires of the vanities attempted to subvert and redirect these energies towards spiritual renewal. Savonarola, believing their elders to be incorrigible, would send out groups of teenage boys and young men to collect "vanities" from the people. These collections, with few exceptions, were entirely voluntary. The collected dirty books, games, and luxurious clothes were then set ablaze in a vivid symbol of Lenten sacrifice.(This suggests a cheerful and productive activity for modern-day parish youth groups.)

Savonarola's popularity was not total. His efforts at moral reform provoked a backlash from among its targets. Street gamblers started accosting and threatening the zealous youths who had once driven them indoors. The wealthy hated the Savonarolan fashion police who would publicly deride and humiliate luxurious dressers. But his political and ecclesiastical opponents were the most potent of the friar's adversaries.

In June of 1497 his enemies finally secured an excommunication from the papacy. For months they had reported trumped up charges of heresy and misconduct, but they also merely repeated the man's heated attacks on papal corruption. Earlier the pope had wished Savonarola to defend his positions in person. Though a worldly man, Alexander VI seemed to fear the monk really was the prophet he claimed to be. Savonarola, who needed the protection of an armed guard in his home city, feared assassination if he were to leave his home turf. In an effort to reign in the recalcitrant frair, his monastery at San Marco was ordered to submit itself to the authority of another, more diplomatic, Dominican congregation.
This order was simply ignored, and it was only a matter of time before the papacy bowed to the anti-Savonarolan factions.

Yet even the excommunication did not end Savonarola. He denied the legitimacy of the punishment on the grounds it was based on fraudulent accusations. He began preaching again with even more anti-papal vehemence.

But his position weakened. Florence feared worsening tensions with the papacy and other Italian powers and severe domestic factionalism strained political comity. Savonarola was challenged by a Franciscan opponent to undergo a trial by fire in a city square. Though one of Savonarola's disciples had accepted the challenge and a great crowd gathered and prepared the site for the event, the great test of fire never took place. This abortive trial in some minds confirmed Savonarola as a false prophet. An angry mob beseiged San Marco, captured the monk, and turned him over to hostile elements in the city government. Accused of fraud and heresy, he was tortured. Savonarola, very intolerant of pain, soon accused himself of being a megalomaniacal fraud. He abjured all his extraordinary efforts as exercises in vanity. He and two fellow monks were hanged in May of 1498, and what vanities of their bodies remained were themselves immolated by fire.

See also: Daniel Larison's review

Monday, September 24, 2007

Experiments in Virtual Living: Law and Justice in Second Life

Second Life, the virtual world created by Linden Labs and a few hundred thousand users, makes for a living laboratory in political science. One nice essay examines the politics of Second Life, tracing its subsidized and well-regulated beginnings to its quasi-anarchic present:

There are no central regulatory authorities. You cannot file abuse reports for fraud. You have no way to know if someone is a known fraud or a reputable businessperson. Although word-of-mouth helps to spread the reputation, that’s all there is. There are also no taxes. And until very recently, there was no control on the kind of content that you could sell.

Some communities established, locally, a way to deal with frauds and abuse from either producers or consumers. On a mall, for instance, it’s customary to kick out a fraudulent merchant; but they’ll simply move to the mall next door, defame the previous mall owner, and business goes on as usual. There is no way to file a suit against someone. Consumers have no rights and no way to enforce them, even if they managed to band together to protest (which they do, but are mostly ignored); producers can be ripped off using several techniques, and they have no way to legitimately claim for justice.

If the technology and economy supported the effort, this situation would be a nice test case for the Libertarian dream of private law and justice committees.

Friday, September 21, 2007

"The Jeweler's Shop" On Stage

The Theophany Theater Company was recently in town to perform The Jeweler's Shop, a play written by Pope John Paul II when he was still Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow. The play explores love and marriage as experienced by three couples: one ends by a death, another by separation, and later the third begins with the betrothal of two children of these unions. All three couples visit a mysterious jeweler's shop whose magical rings and vatic instructions bracket these couples' experiences of engagement and marriage.

The Jeweler's Shop, I am told, is representative of the Polish nationalist movement which tried to preserve and extend Polish culture despite foreign domination. Originally meant for performance in small homes, the intimacy of the play can be adapted to larger venues only with difficulty. Theophany's performance did not transfer well. The actors were difficult to distinguish at a distance. Costumed in uniform black dress, their appearance evoked distracting comparisons to avant garde productions. Their delivery lacked significant dramatic energy, being over-reliant on the script and its author to carry the production.

The writing itself is often provocative. At times the imagery flourishes into self-interpretation. In one scene an affianced couple stands outside a shop, contemplating each other in the store window:
[the shop window] became, however, a mirror reflecting us both-Teresa and myself. Moreover, it was not an ordinary flat mirror, but a lens absorbing its object. We were not only reflected but absorbed.

A lover's gaze upon himself and his beloved suggests the iconic nature of holy matrimony, which segues into iconographic theology. Rarely has such interrelated symbolism so echoed off a stage.

The soliloquy has but a small place in American film or theater but it frequents The Jeweler's Shop. Indeed the soliloquies are so many that at times the characters seem to have talked themselves into isolation from one another. On occasion this serves dramatic purpose, as when an abandoned wife futiley seeks comfort in a crowded village street, but at other places attentive staging must channel the solitude which was too prominent in Theophany's performance.

The speeches themselves often turn into philosophical asides. Observing two immature lovers, the everyman Adam states:
love carries people away like an absolute, although it lacks absolute dimensions. But acting under an illusion, they do not try to connect that love with the Love that has such a dimension. They do not even feel the need, blinded as they are not so much by the force of their emotion as by lack of humility. They lack humility toward what love must be in its true essence. The more aware they are of it, the smaller the danger. Otherwise the danger is great: love will not stand the pressure of reality.

Poetic imagery is lacking, to say the least. How is it that a play can tolerate such analytical ventures?

I suspect the oppresive state of 1960s Poland is one reason. Communist suppression of unofficial cultural events required that distinguishable artistic goals be concentrated into the power of one work. Archbishop Karol Wojtyla lacked the time and the flexibility of the free artist to explain and expand upon his vision. The playwright must do the work of criticism because few others will.

The play's confluence of aesthetic goals also includes the moral. The specialization of American society shuns the combination of education and entertainment. Such a union suggests the brightly-colored monstrosities of children's television. But didacticism is not necessarily an artistic sin. It is certainly a failure when a work of art teaches us something shallow or something wrong, so it is good for moviegoers that Hollywood usually shuns the didactic in favor of pure entertainment. Didacticism is also a risky tactic when advancing something the audience would rather not want to learn. The market pressures for mass appeal cannot afford any resentful patrons.

The effort to teach goes awry worst when one teaches something badly, and here performances of The Jeweler's Shop risk the most danger. The play is inescapably foreign. Its design for the house theater, its numerous soliloquies, its dramatic choruses, and its philosophic interludes have little appeal to action-loving American audiences. There are even a few rhetorical clunkers, as when one Chorus begins to speak of a wedding:

"The occasion is most beautiful, it evokes so many associations. We are looking only at what is!"
One hopes this is a fault of the translator.(*)

As much as a fifth of the audience at Theophany's performance ducked out at intermission. While one can excuse the players or the playwright by blaming the average American's taste, I think it is instead a sign that The Jeweler's Shop is a play fit only for the more academic or more adulatory sectors of American Catholicism. Written to compete with the bland socialist realism and the quasi-rationalistic Communist ideologies of its age, it can hardly challenge today's multi-billion dollar entertainment industry that stirs appetites for the spectacle and the sarcastic one-liner.

There is great potential for some budding playwright to remix this play for an American audience, as Christopher West distilled the pope's Theology of the Body for ease of understanding. Such a writer must unite the contemplative self-reflection of Wojtyla to an accessible story with characters and style more common to American performances. This effort will require considerable talent, but without it the best points of The Jeweler's Shop will remain trapped in a diamond uncut for its setting.

* On second thought, this line would work well when whispered in a home setting.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What Does John Milbank Know About Eric Gill?

Scott Carson examines Radical Orthodoxy and its rather conventional denial of traditional Christian sexual ethics. One selection from John Milbank caught my eye:

In just what way can there be a sexual path that is also a spiritual path? In a sense, this is a debate about human ecology, and it is notable that today, as earlier in the twentieth century, those who are "conservatively" critical of over-technologization and the exploitation of nature also tend to be in favor of a more positive attitude toward sex (D.H. Lawrence, J.C. Powys and Eric Gill, for example). Inversely, those who are more conservative, puritanical and legalistic about sex are often those who fully embrace technological modernity, the ruthless exploitation of nature and economic liberalism.

Daniel Mitsui expands on just how positive Eric Gill's sexual attitudes were. Those wishing to preserve what remains of innocence should not read it. Suffice to say, Gill obtained gratification from his dog and frequently violated his own daughters. He matter-of-factly records these events in his diaries. One does not become more exploitative than that.

One is left wondering if Milbank is simply ignorant of Gill's perversions, which were not revealed until 1989. He could even believe the contorted thesis that Gill's artistry is utterly disconnected from his personal debaucheries. An admirer's powers of self-deception are legion.

Another possibility is far worse: he really is so satanic that he approves.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Francis Beckwith on Secular Reason

Francis Beckwith, professor and Right Reason blogger, lectured at CU-Boulder to a surprisingly large Friday night audience. His speech, "Bioethics and the Pluralist Game," examined the failings of some of the commonplace arguments used to shut down ethical and legal objections to secular liberal policies. Though his inaugurating speech was more academic than the typical undergradate could handle, it bodes well for the new lecture series sponsored by the St. Thomas Aquinas Institute.

Beckwith's arguments were solid, and I particularly enjoyed his analysis of the oft-claimed need for political reasoning to be secular:

[Robert] Audi offers another principle that may be employed, the "secular reason requirement." It goes like this: one has a prima facie obligation not to advocate or support any law or public policy that restricts conduct unless one has and is willing to offer adequate secular reasons for advocacy or support.

...this principle requires, without argument, that the citizen's reason be secular. But "secular" is not a relevant property of a reason that is offered in support of a conclusion that an advocate is advancing. For instance, the terms "true, false, plausible, implausible" are adjectives that we apply to reasons to test the property relevant to its purpose as part of an argument. A property is characteristic had by something. So for example one can say "the dog is brown," which means the dog has the property of brownness. However, if one were to say "the set of all even numbers is brown," one would be saying nonsense. Numerical sense cannot have the property of color.

But reasons, like dogs or numerical sets, are things that can only have certain types of properties. Just as a dog cannot have the property of a rational number, and a numerical set cannot have the property of "blue," "valid," or "tall," a reason cannot be secular. For "secular," like "tall," "fast," "stinky," or "sexy," has no bearing on the quality of the reason one may offer in an argument to advance a particular public policy or point of view.

Suppose one believes the conclusion that unjust killing is morally wrong, and offers two reasons for it. The first reason is "the Bible prohibits unjust killing," and the second reason is "the philosopher Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative prohibits unjust killing." Most people would call the first a religious reason and the second a secular reason, because the first contains the name of a religious book, the Bible, and the second contains a non-religious principle, the Categorical Imperative. But how do the terms religious and secular add or subtract to our assessment of the quality of the reasoning?

If one, for example, has good reason to reject the authority of the Bible, then that good reason about the nature of the Bible is the good reason for rejecting that reason. On the other hand, if one has good reasons to believe the Bible is a better guide to moral philosophy than Kant's Categorical Imperative, in that case one ought to conclude that the first is a better reason than the second.

But again, how do the properties of "religious" and "secular" affect such a judgement? At the end of the day, reasons are weak, strong, true, or false, but "religious" and "secular" are not relevant properties when assessing the qualities of reasons a person may offer as part of her argument.

In practice, this requirement of secular reason functions as a hindrance for properly understanding the bioethical issues addressed and the positions held by Christian citizens.

To label an argument "religious" or "secular" is not to speak the language of logic but the language of anthropology or sociology. This tactic, widespread and often unconscious in use, tries to change the topic of the discussion from the argument itself to the category of person who is making the argument.

When this rhetorical shift takes place in jurisprudence, it suggests an implicit assumption that a certain type of people is in charge. Arguments are judged not on their merits but on whether they cater to this ruling type. The need to justify the rule of the secular tribe doubtless partially motivates the fervid insistence that the United States is a secular state.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Demise of the Constitution

The last time the left tried legitimately to amend the Constitution was with the ERA. It failed, but it didn't matter because the courts read it into the 14th Amendment in rulings such as the VMI decision. No one is bothering to propose an amendment to guarantee a right to same sex "marriage." Instead, it's taken as a given that the courts will eventually add this amendment by fiat. Instead, conservatives are trying to amend the Constitution to stop it. So we've come full circle from what our Founders intended. Instead of requiring super-majorities to change the Constitution, it's now expected that it will change automatically in a liberal direction unless conservatives can get super-majorities to keep it the same.
Tim W. at View from the Right

Though there is a list of largely symbolic proposed federal constitutional amendments, only conservatives and libertarians appear to care enough about such things to make amendments part of a unified campaign platform. That appearance is itself dubious. Any serious amendment fight would be protracted and a career-ender for many politicians from divided districts and so would never happen.

The Constitution continues to be a figurehead.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Alasdair MacIntyre on Video

The video archives at Notre Dame's Center for Ethics and Culture is another fine resource. I was happy to see MacIntyre lecture, especially since he is a better speaker than he is a prose stylist. He discusses the compartmentalization of life required by so-called pluralism, wherein standards of action in one area of life simply do not translate into other areas of life.

Other videos look very promising.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Pocket Deity for Ethical Living and Self-Esteem

"Moralistic-therapeutic deism" is a mouthful. It is a habit of thought which exploits the typically American impulse towards self-improvement and revises traditional religious thought and practice to that end. Its god is distant, invoked only to solve some personal problem. Its heaven is well-populated and its hell, if it exists at all, is vague and only for Hitlerian levels of evildoers. This mindset reduces religious ethics to being nice and happy while living a safe and productive life spent thinking warm and fuzzy thoughts about self and universe.

It's also apparently a major religious influence among youth today, no matter what their denomination.

Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton spent time with American teenagers, collecting their reflections and opinions about religion and God. It is hardly surprising that the teens were unsophisticated. However, the language they used was that of therapy and self-help. Truth, sanctity, and sacrifice were of little importance. Rather, religion was for most of these youths an instrument of personal self-realization.

Christian Smith sums up his work in the twelve-page essay On "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" as U.S. Teenagers’ Actual, Tacit, De Facto Religious Faith(PDF).

The Revealer also provides an overview:

Smith and Denton’s most significant contribution to our understanding of American teenagers’ religious and spiritual lives begins when the authors attempt to explain why teens believe what they believe -- in a sense, why they are so conventional. The authors first identify the social contexts in which adolescents live and believe, starting with a discussion of therapeutic individualism, a set of assumptions and commitments that "powerfully defines everyday moral and relational codes and boundaries in the United States." Personal experience is what shapes our notions of truth, and truth is found nowhere else but in happiness and positive self-esteem. In religious terms, according to teenagers, God cares that each teenager is happy and that each teenager has high self-esteem. Morality has nothing to do with authority, mutual obligations, or sacrifice. In a sense, God wants little more for us than to be good, happy capitalists. Smith and Denton elaborate: "Therapeutic individualism’s ethos perfectly serves the needs and interests of U.S. mass-consumer capitalist economy by constituting people as self-fulfillment-oriented consumers subject to advertising’s influence on their subjective feelings." And to be good, happy capitalists, we should be good, unless if being good prevents us from being happy.

It is to be hoped against experience that this attitude is a passing phase of unstudied youths. The loss of religious vocabularies must result in an impoverishment of religious thought itself.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Cardinal Arinze to visit Arvada Parish

To my surprise, he will be speaking at a conference at my home parish. From the Denver Catholic Register:

Cardinal Francis Arinze is coming to Denver. The cardinal, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Vatican City, will celebrate Mass and deliver the keynote address at a stewardship conference next month.

Spirit of Christ Church in Arvada will host the Sept. 20 conference titled, “Eucharist, Nourishment for the Christian Steward.” In addition to Mass and the cardinal’s keynote address, the conference will include breakout sessions and a roundtable discussion. Opening remarks to the conference will be delivered by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.