Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Apollo 8's 1968 Christmas Message

Forty years ago, broadcasting from lunar orbit, the astronauts William Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman read the first ten lines of Genesis in a live television broadcast.

Writing from the good Earth, forty years later, I too wish a Merry Christmas to you all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy days ahead

Looking at my posting statistics, I was surprised to find that 2008 marks the least active year for Philokalia Republic since its first year in 2002. There are perhaps a dozen half-finished posts in the queue and perhaps five dozen blog comment debates I’ve started but never completed.

I thank my long-time readers for continuing to patronize this blog, and I assure newcomers that more productive days lay ahead.

For friends, acquaintances, and strangers curious about my situation, I offer the following explanation in a spirit more of bewildered amusement than of self-pity.

My surprise healing two years ago was followed by an intense ear infection, a bruised facial nerve from a foolish attempt at pain relief, a jaw cramp, and later a full body cramp following an unwise decision to ignore my stiff body’s warnings and push a stalled car.

Adequate attention from medical professionals probably would have addressed this problem. Unfortunately, my complaints were ignored, misunderstood, or dismissed.

One year ago I was quite optimistic. This was in part because even minor advances made me feel like normality was in reach.

Feeling like a character in a Far Side cartoon, I fear my guardian angel has been baiting the Almighty into pressing the Smite button.

As it is, I have been stretching to the point of distraction with little benefit for the past year. I have only received competent expert attention in the past two months.

However, the immense improvement in recent weeks has left me cursed with the hope that 2009 will be my year of return to full-time work. Yes, right when the economy has tanked.

So I ask for your prayers for the New Year, that I may be free from spite and from stiffness, and that a redemption may result from this persistent, if minor, cross.

And again, I thank you for reading.

Friday, December 19, 2008

'Critical Thinking' is making us stupid II

Perhaps R.R. Reno and Patrick Deneen have been reading each other.

In his November entry Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking Deneen echoes Reno's concerns about that educational buzzword and its admirers.

Likewise lamenting critical thinking's self-exemption from critique, he delivers a reflection on the "Canon Wars" of the 1980s:
...those debates have been decidedly won by the party that was ultimately devoted not to an alternative curriculum, but to its absence. What was sought was not the abandonment of certain books in favor of certain other books, but the abandonment of the idea that there were normative standards or moral lessons that could be drawn from books at all. What was sought was the defeat of the idea of education that involved moral formation based upon an inherited tradition discoverable by inquiry and reflection encouraged by the reading of great books, and instead its replacement by an ideal of a free-floating liberated “subject” who was capable of “thinking critically” about any and all subjects except the basic presuppositions of what constituted “critical thinking” and associated substantive commitments.

As I see it, both Deneen and Reno suggest critical thinking is the preferred educational method of a simplifying globalist or careerist ideology:
“Critical thinking” is a form of intentional deracination and displacement. Its basic assumption is that students enter college or university with a set of under-explored moral commitments that they have inherited from the broader culture...

The implicit opposite of “critical thinking” is faith, understood as an unreflective set of commitments to pre- or anti-rational beliefs. An education in critical thinking takes on the appearance of contentless inquiry, but is in fact deeply informed by a considerable set of Enlightenment beliefs, including the effort to inculcate deracinated reason, a conception of the individual as a monadic “self,” antipathy to culture and religion, philosophical skepticism, a deep-seated materialism, and a devotion to a cosmopolitan outlook that permits one to be comfortable everywhere and nowhere in particular.


The charge to engage in limitless and even promiscuous forms of critical thinking runs up against a basic feature and aim of Catholic teaching: that there is a limit on what can be critically regarded.

Deneen, a professor of political science at Georgetown, goes on to examine the effects of "critical thinking" on Catholic higher education and its relevance to debates on academic freedom.

He also suggests how the concept can be redeemed through its self-application in, and not against, the context of a vigorous Catholic education.


For a less intellectual, more conspiracy-minded attack on critical thinking, there is Dealing with Resisters.

It is notable for its attacks on Rev. Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Church:

Don’t minimize the significant parallel between the school [of critical thinking] and the purpose-driven church. The words and phrases used by the two systems may differ at times, but the manipulative management methods and change processes are the same. Both fit into the “seamless” structure of the global management system. Both would agree that it’s okay to criticize and tear down the old ways of thinking and believing. But it’s not okay to criticize the global vision for a utopian future or the march toward solidarity in a new world order.

In the selective portrayal of this site, Warren is a "change agent" who has traded Christianity for managerial techniques.

This critic has a point. What kind of preacher gives this kind of advice:
When a human body is out of balance we call that disease... Likewise, when the body of Christ becomes unbalanced, disease occurs... Health will occur only when everything is brought back into balance. The task of church leadership is to discover and remove growth-restricting diseases and barriers so that natural, normal growth can occur.

Church growth advocates are indeed paralleling the personal growth advocates we see in education schools and daytime talk shows, not to mention the financial advice columns.

Behind all this "critical thinking" does there lurk the malign influence of the MBA?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

'Critical Thinking' is making us stupid

Back in September, Creighton University’s Prof. R.R. Reno lectured at the University of Colorado at Boulder, discussing how “critical thinking” can actually corrupt intellectual life.

Of course, this is counterintuitive on its face. What intelligent person doesn’t want to be a critic in some area of expertise?

But Reno, with depth and insight, subjected critical thinking itself to criticism.

He began his lecture by asking whether relativism is truly an affliction of academic life. Obviously not all standards are rejected. Excellence in sports and a modicum of ethical standards are widely acknowledged among all. The faculty judge and rank both students and peers by the standards of their specialty.

Yet these standards are not shared between disciplines. In part, this is because few generalists are capable of truly inter-disciplinary work. Further, the standards of one field of inquiry by nature cannot be the same in another.

This lack of communication helps to fracture intellectual life. This sometimes results in relativism, and other times in scientism.

In Reno’s telling, scientism is the order of the day. While the methods of science are fantastically powerful within its own domain, mistaken efforts at duplicating its success in other fields results in the decline of wisdom and any other integrating intellectual force.

One specialty of scientific reasoning is analysis—which we should remember literally means “breaking-up.” In applied science, nature is analyzed in order to be manipulated for the advancement of both research and economic profit.

“Critical thinking,” in Reno’s understanding, treats societies, persons and artistic works also as something to be analyzed and understood in terms of cultural, psychological, economic, and even biological processes. This places the student in a position of being a critical “master” of all cultures, rather than a participant in and beneficiary of a culture.

This position dovetails with globalist or careerist goals of emancipating people from economic poverty and common social restrictions by displacing indigenous cultures, including our own.

As Reno wrote in an earlier essay on the First Things web site:
"The basic existential thrust of postmodern cultural study is to relax the power of any particular culture over the minds of students. The goal is obvious. A Harvard man or woman is not to be a member of a culture. He or she navigates cultures. With a critical grasp of the factory of meaning, he or she sets about to oversee production...

“Will a person in a position of power who ‘reads’ his fellow man, rather than listening to what he actually says, end up manipulating rather than serving?"

(Worrisomely, this sounds like descriptions of President-elect Obama and many another politician: while appearing considerate towards an interlocutor’s objections, he will size her up and make conciliatory comments meant to please but also to silence, after which he will proceed to do what he already had planned.)

In his remarks at CU-Boulder, Reno said the poor state of critical thinking is a result of rejecting or twisting the virtue of docility, that is, the virtue of being easily taught.

If Reno’s critique is accurate, our system of education actually hinders people from being touched and enlightened by people, cultures, and works they wrongly presume already to understand.

While Churchill and Lincoln, to take two examples, are overly revered, too many students arrogantly act like the great men’s intellectual and political superiors simply because they can tell a story in which both figures are products of processes and biases beyond their own control.

This presumption extends to whole fields of academic study.

Under a malign form of critical thinking, ethics is re-envisioned as merely an evolutionary survival strategy, religion is discarded as a psychological eruption, and great art is sidelined as a product of oppressive, pre-critical societies.

For “critical thinking,” reverence is an obstacle to thinking. (Note the renaming of theology departments as departments of religious studies.)

Students of such a method, which is better called a style, find themselves sealed off from wisdom.

“Nearly two centuries ago, John Henry Newman saw that it was a conceit of the modern age that truth may be approached without homage,” Reno writes at First Things. “The mechanisms of critique destroy piety and in so doing diminish our capacity to love and obey truth once found. Moreover, as John Paul II pointed out again and again, responsible human freedom is not possible outside a more basic loyalty to the commands that can come to us only in and through culture.”

Can critical thinking be saved from itself? Perhaps not.

But the best form of inquiry begins with taking reality as a given, that is, as a gift. And as Hans Urs von Balthasar reminds us, one never receives a gift in a critical spirit.

Such an intellectual life is perhaps not an exercise in critical thinking, but so much the worse for critical thinking.

Docility in studies is far more compatible with thanksgiving, a word which some Christians will recognize in its Greek form: Eucharist.

In this confluence, we see how religion does not oppose but assists intellectual inquiry. Rightly practiced, the worshiper’s docile openness to God can reveal self, man and the world to him.

Recall Jesus’ words in John 8: “You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free.”


While Reno’s advocacy for reviving the virtue of docility is certainly necessary, there are a few curricular changes which may better instill and nourish rational capabilities in students than our present system does.

First, students should be educated in grammar and language to increase their ability to express themselves and to understand others. Second, they ought to be educated both in recognizing logical fallacies and in correcting or rejecting bad logic. Third, they should be schooled in making and analyzing arguments, instead of learning how to dissect societies which they cannot yet understand.

Students must abdicate any presumptive position as a “master of culture” and become students of an actual tradition, rather than devotees of a cultural analysis of that tradition.

By an unintended coincidence, these curricular recommendations mirror the Trivium of the early European university. But this allows us happy clarity about in which actual tradition students ought to receive their education.


Reno’s CU-Boulder lecture was followed by some memorable interactions with the audience, a largely Catholic one which had gathered under the auspices of the Thomas Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought.

One young co-ed, self-professedly ill-equipped to wrestle with the content of his speech, asked Reno a general question about how students might bring passion to their indifferent campus.

“I think there is far too much passion as it is,” was the wry gist of Reno’s reply. “Aren’t you sick of people being in your face about everything?”

Another student question depicted the local Catholic parish as being a welcome outpost of certitude in the wilderness of college confusion. With gentle and sympathetic mockery, Reno rebuked this sentiment for its pretense.

Ridiculing the image of The Lone Torchbearer of Truth in a Cave of Darkness (while also confessing his desire to be such a torchbearer himself) Reno reminded the student questioner that he should acknowledge his own inner doubts and be wary of false certitude.

Reno brought students and others in the audience to recognize some flaws in the modern university while also guiding the youngest to shed their more naïve opinions. For an inaugural lecture, it is hard to ask more.

Friday, December 12, 2008

So Barack Obama calls up Gov. Blagojevich to ask him to spare the nation grief and step down.

“Yeah, I can resign…” the governor said. “But it’ll cost ya!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Newsweek embarrasses itself with 'biblical' gay marriage essay

Lisa Miller’s amateurish Newsweek opinion piece arguing for a Biblical basis for same-sex “marriage” has deservedly attracted much criticism. Miller’s essay, Our Mutual Joy was an easy takedown.

Representative of the quality of her argument is this passage: “It probably goes without saying that the phrase ‘gay marriage’ does not appear in the Bible at all.”

That “probably” is an unintentional, comical touch. The ancient Hebrews were more advanced than we are in this respect: they didn’t waste time tiresomely pondering whether a man and a man or a woman and a woman could marry each other.’s Mollie Hemingway penned two capable critiques, Sola scriptura minus the scriptura and What’s the Standard?

The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison also weighed in concerning Newsweek editor Jon Meacham’s vacuous remarks expressing his poor theology.

Courtesy of Baylor University’s Prof. Francis Beckwith, who notes other good responses, we find Rob Bowman’s solid critique at Religious Researcher.

Bowman particularly responds to Miller’s dismissive remarks about Leviticus.

Gay activists cite Leviticus with frequency and stupidity. Using analysis fit only for a bumper sticker, they cite the only passage they know: one which forbids shellfish.

Miller follows their shallow example, writing: “Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions. Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?”

Bowman responds:
In the very chapters condemning homosexual acts (in 18:22 and 20:13), Leviticus also condemns incest (18:6-18; 20:11-12, 14, 17, 19-21), adultery (18:20; 20:10), child-sacrifice (18:21; 20:2-5), and bestiality (18:23; 20:15-16). The texts condemning homosexual acts are sandwiched immediately between texts condemning child-sacrifice and bestiality in chapter 18 (18:21-23) and between texts condemning different types of incest in chapter 20 (20:12-14).

In the intervening chapter, Leviticus contains what used to be its most famous injunction: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18), quoted by Jesus as the second of the two greatest commandments (Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:31, 33; cf. Luke 10:27).

He charges that the main problem with Miller’s “stock objection" to Leviticus' teaching about homosexual conduct "is not that it pays attention to their context but that it does not pay sufficient, close attention to their context.”

Miller's appeal to the "length" of biblical passages as a measure of their authority is also sophomoric. The gravity of the acts under discussion was so obvious to their audience that the biblical authors would have had no need to go into the obscene details.

The journalistic take on Miller’s essay is also devastating.

“It is no exaggeration to say the piece was an embarrassment,” remarked’s Mollie Hemingway. She said pieces like Miller’s essay have helped make Newsweek “more or less the laughingstock of the journalism world.”

Referencing Miller’s essay, she accused Newsweek editor Jon Meacham of “trading journalism for hackery and propaganda."

"There was precisely no one provoked to think in any meaningful sense by that last cover story. People were simply provoked to drop subscriptions or otherwise think less of Newsweek. It didn’t engage the Scriptural arguments in favor of traditional marriage fairly or honestly. The only people who would even remotely enjoy that story or find it thoughtful are people who were already inclined to believe it.”

While Newsweek has acknowledged its critics, it remains to be seen whether it will provide a platform for a competent advocate of marriage as a union between man and woman.

As evidence this platform might not be forthcoming, we note comments made at the annual conference of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, held in Washington, D.C. in August.

There David Waters, editor of the “On Faith” blog which appears on the Newsweek web site, urged reporters to avoid prominent Christian leaders and focus only on “real people.”

According to the Culture and Media Institute, at the conference “the discussion quickly degenerated into a seminar on how journalists can ‘conquer’ the religion debate to advance the homosexual political agenda.”

Waters remarked:
I think, as journalists, our No. 1 obligation is obviously to the truth, and if we’re going to be about the truth then we have to fight and we have to fight for space and for time to tell the right story and to tell the real story, and I think the best way to go about that, at least I’ve found in my experience with my own reporting and with other reporters, is to take time and not go to the Pat Robertsons and the James Dobsons of the world but to find the real people who are really struggling with this issue.

People who are “struggling with this issue” are people of no clear opinion. Waters advocates shutting out those clearly opposed to his agenda, a plausible but wicked strategy. He would make the muddle-headed out to be moderates and reserve clarity only for his political allies in advocacy, who could then define the range of acceptable debate.

Another speaker at the conference, defrocked United Methodist minister Jimmy Creech, advised that journalists not make themselves “complicit” in popularizing the comments of religious leaders Creech considers to be “fringe” and “radical.”

Newsweek is quickly learning that there are real people who are not “struggling with this issue” and who don’t want to pay for predictable and poorly-argued religious opinions (which blogs provide for free).

Its future does not look bright.

Last year, the magazine cut its subscriber number guarantees to advertisers from 3.1 million to 2.6 million. Now the Wall Street Journal reports that Newsweek “could subtract anywhere from 500,000 to one million copies from its current guarantee of 2.6 million.”

They say money follows quality. Judging from recent events, Newsweek is missing both.

Newsweek's website has posted a response, awkwardly titled
No Case for Homosexuality in Bible, written by Joseph Bottum, John Mark Reynolds, and Bruce D. Porter. Will Newsweek publish this in its print edition?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Counting hate crimes, one year after the shooting stopped

This Tuesday marks the anniversary of the attacks on the Youth with a Mission dormitory (not three miles from my Arvada home) and New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Had Matthew Murray not been stopped by a security guard’s bullet, the number of victims slain could have reached the double digits.

Some of us went to church that Sunday evening wondering if the violence was over. “Could an unknown accomplice of the shooter be prepared to add Christian blood to Christian worship?” we thought to ourselves.

In the attacks’ aftermath, the killer’s self-pitying laments and his and Christian-hating rants posted to the internet attracted considerable media attention.

The media narrative soon focused upon his strict upbringing, too often granting prima facie credibility to Murray’s self-serving claims to have been warped in childhood by his Pentecostal parents.

A former roommate’s comments also helped media dismiss the gunman as mentally disturbed.

Last December I intuited that Murray’s reported claim to hear voices was meant to entertain himself and shock his peers. Reports that he claimed to have committed a sexual assault for “shock value” only confirm me in that opinion.

For those of us unable to ignore the attack as a mere psychological eruption, Murray’s own words linger.

“You Christians brought this on yourselves!” read one of his messages posted between attacks. Another declared “Christian America… this is YOUR Columbine!”

There is no question of his malice, and there is no question about whom it targets.

Thus it is disturbing to discover that Murray’s crimes were never classified as hate crimes in the reports of both the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the FBI. This despite the FBI’s definition of a hate crime as one that is motivated “in whole or in part” by bias against a religion or other protected categories.

Catholic News Agency quotes a sergeant at the Colorado Springs Police Department who said “I think that the general feeling [at the department] was that it was not so much bias but retaliation.”

It is easy to criticize police officials for not checking the right boxes on a report after they’ve explored the mind of an aspiring mass murderer. However, had an ex-Muslim shot up a mosque while ranting about the evils of Islam, it is hard to believe his murders would not be classified as hate crimes.

In my view, hate crimes should not stand in their own legal category. Difficulties in establishing motive are obvious, while any necessary penalties may be assessed in sentencing based upon prosecutorial or judicial discretion.

But state and national statistics concerning bias crimes are used to understand good and bad trends in society. If we must have such statistics, we should at least insist they be minimally consistent. That’s the whole purpose of the FBI’s Unified Crime Report.

Minority groups such as Jews are understandably very vigilant about bias crimes. This vigilance is perhaps not shared by people from more popular denominations, who are more likely to dismiss various crimes as outliers rather than consider them a portent of something worse.

Local officers too might think with such habits. Are bias crimes against well-populated religious denominations more likely to be underreported because they are not “vulnerable” minorities? That’s a story in itself.

New Life Church has a national profile, but that doesn’t render it impervious to hate crimes. In fact, the prominence and the criminal antics of its disgraced former pastor Ted Haggard probably made the attacks more likely.

But Haggard should not distract us from those who died.

Murray attacked strangers who had nothing more than a religious affiliation in common. If Murray’s murders do not qualify as hate crimes, it is hard for the lay observer to say what would.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Scottish philosopher offers advice for U.S. social conservatives

A letter of advice to U.S. social conservatives comes to us from Prof. John Haldane, an analytic Thomist from the University of St Andrews. In his Letter to America on the Future of Social Conservatism, published at The Public Discourse, he warns social conservatives not to deceive themselves that Republican failures were not a cause behind their recent defeat in the election. Counseling social conservatives to work within both parties, his letter suggests weaknesses in the political manifestations of American social conservatism but is lamentably weak on specifics.

Haldane writes:
Some American conservative commentators have been eager to press the idea that rather than the Democrats winning the White House election on the strength of their candidates and policies, the Republicans lost the contest because of the defects of the McCain-Palin campaign. While this view has the comforting advantage of simply requiring a better communicator of unchanged positions in order to win the next election, such an idea is distorted to the point of self-deception. Viewed from afar, and I would think that viewed from nearby through a clear glass in broad daylight, it is apparent that voters chose the Democratic ticket on the basis of preferred policies. Voters were tired of what they regarded as a discredited administration led by a confused and ineffective executive that had drawn them into an unnecessary and costly war while yet neglecting domestic needs.

The war in Iraq is one area where Haldane sees conservatives as having supported a bad policy to the detriment of both the common good and their own political success.

He also strikes against the partisan habits of American politics:

Today we face a danger of oversimplifying the structure of political thought to the point of dividing policies between left and right, and then associating these positions with particular political parties. In truth, one may be a social welfarist or socialist and a moral conservative, or equally a free-marketeer or classical liberal and a moral radical: pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and aggressively secular.

He proposes as a model of complex political engagement the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, who criticized capitalism and opposed war crimes and usury while being steadfastly pro-life.

“While it would be wrong to abandon the political parties, it would be equally mistaken to side with one of them,” Haldane continues, adding “Those within a chosen party whose primary interest is pursuing electoral victory may prove fiercer enemies of one’s moral position than political opponents in other parties.”

All well and good. Republican social conservatives must account for, and correct, the ways in which the GOP near-monopoly on their issues has damaged their cause. What’s more, non-partisan social conservatism is necessary for its success.

However, as is common in essays against partisanship, there are considerable structural obstacles to Haldane’s recommended tactics.

There is a definite tendency towards monoculture within U.S. political parties particularly. Advancing within a party requires advancing the causes of fellow partisans on other issues. The American manner of coalition-building has helped produce a situation where most political pro-lifers are military hawks and proponents of the free market while economic progressives reliably preach moral liberalism, if not radicalism.

( An American pro-lifer can only with surprise observe the considerable intra-party debate in the UK Parliament in response to the proposed Human Embryology and Fertilization Bill. Even though its opponents were utterly defeated, they certainly made their voices heard. )

Perhaps as a reflection of coalition monoculture, American pro-life organizations are reliably partisan. Worse, these ill effects are repeated in the media. Aside from Nat Hentoff, has the United States any other pro-life left-wing columnist?

As Ross Douthat has argued, the thorough radicalism of Roe v. Wade removed the possibility of compromise on abortion in the United States, a compromise which under a different legal regime could be reached both between and within parties. Ideological activists filter out any liberal-minded social conservatives in the Democratic Party, while the remote possibility of overturning Roe has spared pro-life Republicans from the hard work of persuasion and practical action.

The situation is even worse on gay rights, where socially conservative Democrats face the wrath of those with the free time and the disposable income for political influence.

What essays like Haldane's require are plausible recommendations suggesting how these obstacles are to be overcome and how social conservatism can be advanced in the Democrats without weakening it in the Republicans, especially in the face of an elite and mass culture largely hostile to their cause.

Haldane offers other criticisms, both suggesting that Republicans’ prosecution of Bill Clinton for perjury helped degrade standards of public discourse and counseling Republicans from engaging in personal attacks on Obama.

Perplexingly, he claims opponents of Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin did not tend to depict them as bad people. It is obvious that he missed the many frivolous and debasing rumors spread by Democratic partisans targeting Palin, to the point that more reasonable criticisms of the vice-presidential pick were crowded out.

While it is likely that Haldane’s misunderstanding of Palin’s candidacy makes for his undue optimism about bi-partisan social conservative efforts, his letter deserves to be read by any concerned social conservative.

(Found via Patrick Deneen, who writes his own thoughtful comments)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Stanley Hauerwas to lecture in Denver

For Denver locals:

Professor-Author Stanley Hauerwas will deliver his lecture “Discipleship as a Craft: the Church as Disciplined Community” at 7 p.m. on Monday, November 17 at Bonfils Hall at the John Paul II Center, 1300 S. Steele St.

Tim Gray, president of Denver ’s Augustine Institute, says:

“This is a rare opportunity to listen to one today’s most influential Christian thinkers!

"There is no Christian speaker more exciting, in my mind, than Stanley Hauerwas.

You won’t be disappointed!”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Open learning courtesy of Yale

Yale, putting a fraction of its endowment to good use, has launched the Open Yale Courses web site.

Containing free video and audio files of professors' lectures, the site is the answer to a technologist's dream of cheap, high-quality education for everyone with an internet connection.

Right now I am working my way through Prof. Stephen B. Smith's Introduction to Political Philosophy. Like my PoliSci professor at CU-Boulder Thad Tecza, Smith earned his doctorate at Chicago University and displays all sorts of crypto-Straussian habits.

Other promising offerings in the Liberal Arts include Prof. Donald Kagan's Introduction to Ancient Greek History and Prof. Amy Hungerford's The American Novel Since 1945, which presents two lectures on Flannery O'Connor's disturbing novel Wise Blood.

Unfortunately the science classes are of more limited availability.

But it's ungrateful to complain now that anyone can audit a semester of Ivy League courses.

Addendum: provides links to 100 other open lectures at Harvard, MIT, and other prominent universities.

Is the embryo one of us?

The rapid march of technology has outpaced our ethical judgment. We have blundered into a confusing world of in-vitro fertilization, human cloning, and embryonic stem cell research. We ask ourselves: what is the human embryo, and how should we treat it?

Into this disputed realm strides Colorado's Amendment 48, which would grant legal personhood to every human being from the moment of fertilization. Whatever the merits and flaws of the proposal, it certainly presents us with an occasion to look at the ethical problems our society has ignored in its pursuit of worthy goals like increasing knowledge and inventing new medical treatments.

Who counts as a person in our society? This isn't some egghead's question above our pay grade; it's a vital topic of political life.

People have the bad habit of denying other people's personhood, ignoring their moral status as creatures whom we should respect. Different societies across time have refused legal protection to people based on criteria like race, sex, or disability.

Proving that somebody who is excluded should instead be included in society can be a difficult task, especially in the case of early human life.

Many people defend the personhood of each human being from the moment of conception by appealing to religion, often Christianity specifically.

This religious argument is nothing to be ashamed of, as religion is perhaps the best way to communicate to all men the content and the gravity of our complicated moral world. However, this kind of argument leaves out people who lack the same kind or the same level of religious commitments.

Fortunately a non-religious case can be made for the ethical worth of the human embryo. Professors Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen have made that weighty case both in their many magazine columns and in their 2008 book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. (See this excerpt in the Jan. 26 Denver Post)

While the promises of science ask us to look forward, we must not forget to look backward as well -- backward, that is, to the point at which we each came into being.

In Embryo, Professors George and Tollefsen begin with the story of Noah, who was saved from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when rescuers retrieved the container that contained his embryonic self from a flooded New Orleans hospital. His embryo was later implanted into his mother's womb, and Noah was born sixteen months after his rescue.

Noah's continuous existence since his laboratory conception is proven in a chapter which rivals a biology textbook in detail, ably recounting the conception and the intricate development of the human embryo.

From conception, the embryo acts in a way quite different from the sperm and egg whose union created it, but quite similar to the organism's behavior later in life. Studies of the embryo show its self-directed growth and its continuous bodily unity as it matures. In George and Tollefsen's view, this is evidence that the embryo is itself a human being, who is a human person.

An obvious reply to this claim states that the capacity for, say, consciousness, only begins with the formation of brain structures weeks into an embryo's development. Since only conscious organisms can be persons, a critic might argue, the embryo can't be a person.

But this argument raises objections. For instance, people who are asleep or in comas lack consciousness, but we don't deny that they are persons. The consciousness of infants is in some ways more limited than that of animals, but obviously we consider infants to be persons too.

The authors of Embryo also claim such critiques about consciousness and personhood untenably split the body from the person, in a theory they call "person-body dualism."

In ordinary life we sense that the person and the body are intimately united. When we cut a finger, we say "I am hurt," not "my body is hurt." If we claim that the person somehow enters the human body at a time after its conception, we have to think in that latter, counterintuitive way.

Instead of accidental characteristics like possessing a state of consciousness, the authors argue that a human being has a set of essential "capacities" that are in development at the embryonic stage but still merit calling that being a "person."

As law professor Richard Stith suggests, imagine taking a priceless picture with an old Polaroid camera. Its photo produces a full image after minutes of waiting, but that image is present within the developing photograph since the click of the camera shutter. Destroying such a photograph still destroys that worthy image, even though we can't yet perceive its full nature.

In a similar way, the human embryo is a person even at its beginning, which is our beginning. As George and Tollefsen write, embryos aren't "potential lives," they're "lives with potential."

(Cross-posted to

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kraft im Recht: Metternich on political philosophy

The blogger Deogolwulf has posted to his blog what he claims to be the first complete English translation of Prince Metternich's Political Testament.

The text itself is directed to historians, advising them which archives are pertinent to the statesman's deeds and giving them a few autobiographical notes.

"I made history and therefore did not find time to write it," Metternich says, offering a few reflections on the French Revolution and Napoleon and the Revolutions of 1848.

Yet he also discusses political science, taking as a starting point his adopted motto "Strength in Right" (Kraft im Recht). He praises political gradualism and ordered liberty while condemning ideology and revolution.

"I have always regarded preconceived systems as the product of leisured heads or the outburst of emotional minds," he writes.
"Not in the struggle of society towards progress, but rather in progression towards the true goods: towards freedom as the inevitable yield of order; towards equality in its only applicable degree of that before the law; towards prosperity, inconceivable without the foundation of moral and material peace; towards credit, which can rest only on the basis of trust — in all that I have recognized the duty of government and the true salvation for the governed.

I have looked upon despotism of every kind as a symptom of weakness. Where it appears, it is a self-punitive evil, most intolerable when it poses behind the mask of promoting the cause of freedom."

His remarks on Montesquieu's system of checks and balances are of interest to any student of the U.S. Constitution. He calls it
...a conceptual error of the English constitution, impractical in its application, because the concept of such a balancing is rooted in the assumption of an eternal struggle, instead of in that of peace, the first necessity for the life and prosperity of states.

Those who complain about the "divisiveness" of American political debates, just before they realize the relative insignificance of these disagreements, should recognize that the object of their dislike is in fact the proper functioning of the country's constitution.

Metternich continues: "Without the foundation of order, the call for freedom is nothing more than the striving of some party after an envisaged end. In its actual use, the call inevitably expresses itself as tyranny."

This is quite the antidote for free-floating cries of "Freedom."

Upon reflection, we see the defense of order is not merely institutional conservatism. Rather, it is at root an exercise in contemplation.

The single-minded man of only one principle may dismiss the need for both general wisdom and concrete knowledge, as he holds his principle may be applied universally by anyone regardless of her circumstances or personal quality.

Those who counsel our monomaniacal friends to curb such enthusiasms lack this nescient luxury of fanaticism.

The narrowly principled reformer must only know his principles. These may be listed in a brief manifesto without significant distortion, like constants set for a computer program. Contrariwise, the defender of the present order must perceive and praise the many goods targeted by the would-be revolutionary.

An opponent of feminism could find herself defending a multitude of concrete habits and customs: the patronizing behavior required from polite men on dates; the ban on women in combat; the benefits of unequal pay in the workplace.

A proponent of feminism must only defend and assert one idea, an intangible often left undefined in relation to any ideal or real order.

It is little wonder why traditional conservatives applaud the Permanent Things. They have so many things to consider.

When 'pro-choice' is anti-abortion

Noting Tony Campolo's comments at the Democrats for Life Town Hall concerning the number of Americans divided between the pro-life and pro-choice camps, we noted:
some of the “pro-choice” people referenced by Campolo don’t approve of legalized abortion in most cases, while some of the pro-lifers make exceptions of their own.

A new Knights of Columbus survey backs this contention.

CNA reports:
Only 15 percent of self-described “pro-choice” respondents favored unrestricted abortion throughout a pregnancy. About 43 percent of pro-choice respondents said abortion should be restricted to the first trimester and 23 percent would restrict abortion only to cases of rape, incest, or where the mother’s life was in danger.

Significantly, CNA says, only 15 percent of self-described “pro-choice” respondents favored unrestricted abortion throughout a pregnancy, the status quo under Roe v. Wade. Among the overall population, only eight percent favored that position.

(Unfortunately, the Knights' survey does not examine whether self-described pro-life people have views more consistent with the label they choose for themselves. This is an intelligence failure which leaves weaknesses unexamined.)

When 23 percent of self-described pro-choice voters sound like compromising Republicans, it is clear that the anti-abortion coalition is not as broad as it could be.

Early pro-life leaders likely chose their label in an attempt to set a positive, non-adversarial tone like that perceived in the label "anti-abortion." Perhaps the word choice was meant to distinguish them from the "wrong kind" of abortion opponents, especially the violent ones portrayed on "Law & Order."

This move of rhetorical self-satisfaction has drawbacks, as when people begin to think of "pro-life" as outré. Ask such a person "How pro-life are you?" and they could respond very equivocally as they distance themselves from stereotypes. Ask such a person "How anti-abortion are you?" and you might get a concrete answer on which to base a discussion.

The abortion debate is being obscured by its labels. Pro-life candidates and their publicists need to remind the electorate how radical Roe v. Wade is and how conflicted the pro-choice side is.

When a vigorous pro-life candidate describes his consistent stand in his campaign literature, he must do more than consider his acceptability to his base. Rather, he must propose actual legal reform.

Failed Colorado Senate candidate Pete Coors' 2004 political position paper is an exemplar of the tendency merely to signal support.

"I have a fundamental belief in the sanctity of human life. I am opposed to abortion," Coors explains there.

That was his entire statement on the issue.

Not very helpful. Its lack of explanation even fosters doubt about whether the man is only "personally opposed" and therefore not interested in political action on the issue.

In his present campaign, Sen. McCain only describes Roe as a "flawed decision," without explaining the flaws for the reader's benefit.

What is needed in these position statements is a minimal effort at voter education and coalition building. A candidate should add something like this:
Roe v. Wade was a bad decision. Did you know Roe v. Wade and related Supreme Court decisions legalize almost all abortions throughout all nine months of a woman's pregnancy? This is a case where the court is out of touch with America.

More than sixty percent of Americans, many of whom consider themselves pro-choice, favor allowing abortions no more often than in cases of rape, incest, and a danger to the mother's life. Another 24 percent favor banning abortions performed later than the first trimester of pregnancy.

If I am elected and Roe is overturned, I pledge to work to bring our laws and the outliers of the American medical profession into line with our standards for protecting human life in its earliest months. While I personally believe abortion should be prohibited in all but the most extreme cases, I will gladly reach out to those who believe otherwise to enact anti-abortion legislation that 84 percent of Americans would favor.

The eight percent of people who favor the Roe status quo have been allowed to misrepresent the national consensus for too long. May the truth come out.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The issue that must not be reported

Catching CNN during a lunch break yesterday, I witnessed their coverage of a McCain town-hall meeting. One man asked McCain:
Well, first of all, thank you both for all you're doing for our country. I wanted to ask you about -- about the issue of abortion, and specifically about the debate a couple of nights ago. The moderator cleverly never brought this -- the question up.

And with the debate coming up again, I would ask if you're going to find a way to bring the subject up, even if it's not asked about, because I firmly believe it's an issue which you have the advantage.

Now that's an interesting question.

Before McCain answers, we find that Tom Brokaw isn't the only one trying not to bring this question up.

CNN's Kyra Phillips interrupted, speaking over McCain's unheard reply:
John McCain campaigning in Waukesha, Wisconsin. You can still watch this live, if you want, at He's talking about your money and his pledge to bring it back.

McCain was about to talk about something besides our money, but CNN wouldn't let him.

After talking over McCain's answer, Phillips then speaks about the National Debt Clock,
concluding: "Dr. Deepak Chopra and Reverend Franklin Graham up next to talk about how our economic crisis could be a spiritual awakening for all of us."

Cut to commercial.

Polls often claim to show what issues Americans are really concerned about. Perhaps well-informed respondents merely echo the editorial priorities of the newsroom.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

At the DNC: The Faith Caucus

The Democratic National Convention was a great experience for me and for the city of Denver, though many of its consequences for the Democrats won’t be known for years.

The Sunday the convention began, I was informed that Catholic News Agency's credentials application had been approved after we were wait listed following an initial denial.

Hurrying downtown, I collected my credentials. Clueless about what to do with them, I felt like a dog who had finally caught the car he had been chasing. I certainly missed many freebies because of this ignorance.

With little time to plan, my editor and I decided the Faith in Action Forum, held the Tuesday and Thursday of convention week, could yield some quality stories.

We were not disappointed.

Most of the "Faith Caucus" panels were hosted by Sojourners editor and Evangelical pastor Rev. Jim Wallis, who told several jokes and sometimes even quoted Catholic social teaching.

At one point DNC Chairman Howard Dean made a surprise appearance at the Faith Forum.

Saying the party had acted as if “we mustn’t talk about religion,” he said “I think we’ve made a lot of progress for the last couple of years... I am thrilled to be in a party that no longer cedes the faith community to the Republican Party.”

He made the standard non-committal remarks any public figure makes about religion. Talking about how religions in the United States put aside their differences to unite, he echoed the standard neoconservative empty boasts about the U.S. being a “universal country.”

Would that we were a provincial nation instead!

Dean’s words were not the language of a society that recognizes its limits. Constrained by the secularist wing of the Democratic Party, his rhetoric could not place the United States “under God.” Indeed, his tone implied the United States herself was that Higher Power.

His short talk, which alternated between unconscious hubris and appealing platitudes, charged that Republicans pretend the United States is a mono-religious country. The diversity of the Democrats, he suggested, means the party must talk about religion in a different way.

To this, one might reply that while the Republicans may pretend there is more religious unity in the country than there really is, they do not pretend very well or very hard. Their religious references are generally bland and reactive to the latest secularist advance. Their rhetoric rarely translates from opportunistic vote-seeking into substantive action, as they too must strike a balance between Evangelical Christians, conservative Catholics, secular elites, and non-religious libertarians.

As for the Democrats, they often pretend there is far more religious diversity than there really is. Their idea of diversity is formed by the creedal melange of the college town or the big city, rather than the suburbs or the rural areas where religious belief is generally split between Christian denominations and the congenial unchurched.

(The Democratic leadership is also perhaps swayed by its religious minority donors. For instance, if it is correctly reported that more than half of Democratic presidential giving comes from Jewish contributors, strict Church-State separationism will dominate the party’s ethos regardless of that position’s wisdom or popularity.)

Obviously, Dean would not criticize the obnoxious secularism of certain party activists. Alas, such activists have done more than anyone else to help the Republicans play identity politics. Both Republican pandering and secularist pushiness have swayed Christians and others rightly disgusted by the licentious and impious path the Democratic activist leadership has taken.

Generally speaking, the faith panelists themselves were of very high quality, speaking as people desirous to inform, rather than merely persuade. Unlike the Senators I observed at other caucuses, the speakers rarely relied on slogans or flattery.

Perhaps the quality of a speaker is inversely proportional to his or her need to appeal broadly.

Diving into policy, Prof. John DiIulio and Rabbi David Saperstein discussed the future of faith-based initiatives. While there was nothing untoward about their discussion, it is quite clear that Democratic policymakers are pondering how to co-opt faith-based initiatives for their own political ends. The abolition of the programs was not considered, and speakers made foreboding, terse references to new non-discrimination regulations under an Obama administration.

Such regulations could include “anti-sexist” measures for charities run by churches of an all-male clergy, rules that would prevent charities from preferring their own coreligionists for leadership positions, and those predictable culture war issues which can be cast in the legal language of anti-bias.

Just as Bush’s critics warned, his program has become a tar baby for civic-minded religious groups.

Nonetheless, the speakers at the Faith in Action forum were far more concerned about the ability of politics to co-opt religion and “mute the prophetic” than mainstream Republican Christians have appeared to be. Rev. Otis Moss, Jr. quoted the remarks of his mentor, Martin Luther King, Jr, who said that the church ought to be neither servant nor master of the state, but rather its conscience.

“We should never allow the state to dwarf our witness,” Rev. Moss said.

One panelist discussed the surprising and saddening issue of modern slavery, claiming that there are between 50,000 to 100,000 people who are treated as slaves in the U.S. each year. When the enslaving conditions of sex trafficking, abused immigrant labor, and pure human meanness are considered, that number is too believable.

Two other panel speakers discussed how to reduce the numbers of abortions. There, it became clear to me that injunctions to seek “common ground” on the abortion issue are often just methods of avoiding the debate about whether or not the country is perpetrating a grave injustice.

“I’m tired of all the shouting on this question,” panel host Rev. Jim Wallis said. “The shouting has to stop. Let’s find some common ground.”

Yet the debate is precisely over who deserves to share the common ground of the community. When we let highly trained medical professionals fatally assault the unwanted unborn at the request of their distressed mothers, we have already declared that such people do not count.

One can’t deny human solidarity in one breath and plea for unity in the next without glaring inconsistency.

Certain Republicans have often hoped their party can poach socially conservative African-Americans away from the Democrats on moral issues. A few speakers from the Faith in Action panels would give those in the GOP some hope, as when one African-American Democrat rose to speak.

“I am a pro-life Democrat, and I like to think there is room for me in this party,” Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner said, receiving scattered applause. She argued that African-Americans care about the “sanctity of life” and the “sanctity of marriage,” adding “and they want to be in this party!”

Daydreaming Republicans should remember her closing words: they want to be Democrats. At the same panel Rev. Romal Tune noted with perplexity how he had once read a Family Research Council pamphlet that didn’t mention poverty among its moral issues. At another panel, it was obvious that prison reform and prisoner rehabilitation is a vital issues to this Democratic constituency.

Facing the prospect of their young men being sent through the hellholes of the American prison system, where they risk further moral corruption, rape and AIDS, it’s obvious that abortion is not the only life-or-death issue for the African-American community.

Let us remember that a lack of health care, too, appears to be a mortal threat for those on the borders of economic security.

Groups with such concerns are never going to vote for a party sternly dominated by anti-welfare and law-and-order policymaking.

Further, Republican daydreams place the interest of party over the public good. It is good for social conservatism to have representatives in both parties. Indeed, that presence is a prerequisite for any eventual return to a national consensus on such issues.

Worse, when social conservatives act as Republicans first, they risk ignoring threats to their philosophical allies in the other party.

For instance, there was an under-reported conflict between Democratic African-Americans and the Democrats’ LGBT faction, resulting in a lawsuit against the DNC.

At the linked page, DNC Chair Howard Dean testifies in the suit: “I wanted equal representation for gay and lesbian Americans, and I wanted to achieve it in a way that wasn’t offensive to the history of the civil rights movement.”

This likely means socially conservative black Democrats have taken offense at certain activists’ tactless insinuations that such loyal Democrats are the segregationists and Klansmen of the present because of their opposition to gay rights. It is a common conflict; earlier this year one black woman was even fired from her university employer for writing an article which took exception to the gay rights/civil rights analogy.

While I have not thoroughly investigated the matter, apparently the DNC delegate rules now include affirmative action provisions favorable to the impolitic but effective LGBT crowd. Democratic delegate quotas for youth and women precipitated the demise of the New Deal Coalition, and any similar rules privileging sexual lifestyle activists will further prevent the revival of that coalition’s better surviving elements.

These rule changes had been opposed by many African Americans, yet I doubt this conflict was prominent in the Republican social conservatives’ echo chamber. It seems to have been covered most in the gay press, which shows a deep animosity against African-American Pentecostal minister and DNC CEO Rev. Leah Daughtry.

Rounding out my listing of Faith Caucus stories, I should mention that Pepperdine law professor Douglas Kmiec was a panelist. He tried to explain how a pro-life Catholic like him ended up supporting Obama, and briefly discoursed on the Catholic vote. Kmiec’s position is further described in a below post on the Democrats for Life Town Hall Meeting.

The close of the faith caucus prompts the question: why have a faith caucus at all?

Though the African-American community is more accustomed to clergyman politicians than other groups, most churches don’t want ministers to become political delegates. A Machiavel could with reason see the caucus as an effort to train tame preachers as counterparts to prominent Evangelicals on the right.

However, these ministers are also community leaders. Perhaps like the Holy See’s observer mission to the United Nations, their access to the party may at best advance issues of mutual interest and provide still other avenues to inform leaders of community problems.

One obvious application of the Faith Caucus is to temper, rather than conceal, the acerbic atheism of some party regulars.

Yet some Faith Caucus members themselves think such an effort could be a threat to party unity.

Addressing one panel, a questioner pondered how “principled secularists” would react to a growing faith caucus, worrying that the party itself could be fractured by secularist reaction.

“It’s a sad commentary that religion is such a scary word,” one speaker answered, promptly blaming his theological and political opponents of the Religious Right for religion’s bad reputation.

This blame-shifting is a mistake. Rebuking irreligion of the type represented by the reprehensible Amanda Marcotte is a basic part of social hygiene. Fanatical secularists have a culpable ignorance of religion that should be excused and tolerated even less than the damaging excesses and obscurantism of Evangelical populism.

One would like to think that such rebukes go on in private, as the operative rule at a party convention is the Eleventh Commandment paraphrased: “never speak ill of a fellow partisan.”

But to speculate on whether such actions are ongoing tempts one to judge by one’s hopes, rather than by one’s observations. Until Democratic leaders begin turning the Bill Mahers and the P.Z. Myerses into Sister Souljahs, we will have little evidence of progress.

Also at the DNC:

Faith Caucus

Women's Caucus

LGBT Caucus

Democrats for Life Town Hall

At the DNC: The Women's Caucus

The Women’s Caucus meeting held the final day of the Democratic National Convention proved newsworthy.

There, several speakers exhorted the crowd to encourage women to run for office. Obligingly, several young women in my social circles have been asked whether they have considered doing so. As the ladies in my social circles tend to be disgruntled conservative Democrats, the Women’s Caucus leaders would regard many of them to be the “wrong kind” of women, but they should be more careful about what they wish for.

Women’s Caucus speakers’ rhetoric about the advancement of women provides an appetizing irony in retrospect, considering the hostile reaction to the GOP’s selection of Gov. Sarah Palin one day later.

One asserted that women bring “different perspectives.” Certainly, Palin was not the difference she had in mind.

Speakers lamented how many more women were seated in foreign parliaments as compared to the U.S. former Vermont Governor Madeline Kunin told how she saw how many women were in Rwanda’s parliament and asked a female parliamentary leader why this was so. “For the survival of our children” was her touching reply.

The former governor’s remarks that women need to agitate “for the survival of our children, and children all over the world” patently clashed with speakers’ repeated support for that certain “women’s issue” which will be discussed below.

Howard Dean made another appearance and provided a gem quote for an unscrupulous reporter. Mentioning how the Democrats’ electoral woes were aggravated by hostile secretaries of state, he quoted the old saying “It doesn’t matter who votes, but who counts the votes.”

“We count the votes now,” he added, stating his belief that the Democrats will use this power for good.

With such a potent sound bite, it’s amazing Republican media outlets did not exploit it as a potential “Macaca moment” to score easy political points. Though politicians are not known for honoring self-imposed limits on debate, perhaps there is an unspoken bipartisan agreement against combing convention speeches for political gain.

More likely, media businesses which report such items don’t get press credentials at the next convention.

A few speakers endorsed Barack Obama with a noticeable deficit of enthusiasm. The tensions between the Clinton and Obama camps were referenced by continual exhortations to party unity.

“Hillary supports Obama and so do I” said Governor Kunin. “We have to reach out to our sisters who pause between saying those words!”

The tensions peaked just before Michelle Obama took the stage. At that time, the protesters showed up:

About a dozen women waved these signs in relative silence, protesting the absence of Hillary from the ticket. They were tolerated for far longer than the anti-abortion protesters who showed up before Sen. Boxer's appearance. Finally, Hillary's women were escorted out. One person was particularly incensed that she, a woman, was being thrown out of the Women’s Caucus.

Michelle Obama’s speech was lackluster. Her delivery was so reliant on her notes that both photos I took of her show her glancing down.

She did provide a suitably bizarre remark to base a story upon, saying of her husband:
He’ll protect a woman’s freedom of choice, because government should have no say in whether or when a woman embraces the sacred responsibility of parenthood.

Sanctity of parenthood trumps sanctity of life, I guess.

My reportage was apparently the only story carrying this quotation. The exclusive even attracted the attention of NewsBusters.

Needless to say, abortion was a major topic of discussion and a major focus of my coverage.

Right before Sen. Barbara Boxer was to speak, about a half dozen women ranging from middle-aged to elderly moved to the stage and opened their shirts to reveal T-shirts reading “I regret my abortion.”

As if performing an exorcism, the audience then loudly chanted “Obama! Obama!” as security escorted the protesters out.

Sen. Boxer effectively repeated many talking points, but was otherwise uninteresting.

Taking the lead from Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen, she started declaiming hypothetical criminal sentences for women who seek abortions and the doctors who provide them. As noted here, National Review responded to this point a year ago, noting how abortionists and their clients were treated in law, with much harsher penalties only for the former.

The fittingly surnamed Rep. Louise Slaughter attacked conscience protections for medical professionals who won’t involve themselves in abortions.

Bizarrely, she categorized such conscientious refusals as a violation of the Hippocratic Oath’s phrase “do no harm.” Of course, that oath forbade abortions until its opportunistic revision in recent decades.

More accurately, Slaughter suggested that abortion was the prerequisite for the creation of the feminist professional classes.

“It was the right to control our reproductive systems that made it possible for almost all of us to achieve our own dreams which our parents had paid for,” Rep. Slaughter said.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor made much the same argument in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey.

Pro-lifers generally aren’t socially aware enough to realize how significantly our society relies upon abortion as backup contraception. Without abortion, casual sexual relations would have to cease, yet casual sexual relations are now almost normative. Both male and female professionals are severely tempted to abort the child they have conceived because a child does not fit into the careerism for which they have prepared their lives.

They have been taught since kindergarten that they can do anything they choose if they apply their talents and work hard in the right career. In the context of abortion, we know what “doing anything they choose” often means.

The “me-tooism” of pro-life feminists such as Sarah Palin does not inquire whether the preferable aspects and results of feminism could only come by trampling upon the corpses of the unborn.

It is chilling to think that even admirable pro-life women may be unknowingly promoting the careerism, the egalitarianism, and the revolts against motherhood and fatherhood which both sustain and require the United States’ abortion regime.

Also at the DNC:

Faith Caucus

Women's Caucus

LGBT Caucus

Democrats for Life Town Hall

At the DNC: The LGBT Caucus

As one who is occasionally optimistic about the state of the Democratic Party, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Caucus was disillusioning for me. I found that the newest faction of politicized sexual liberation is well-organized, well-funded, and willing to use raw power when it can.

Even so, it was surprising how some speakers played to the melodramatic stereotypes attributed to their members. Caucus Chairman Rick Stafford flatteringly but falsely declared the caucus the “best dressed” at the convention. His announcement that Ben Affleck had donated 25 VIP badges for the Starz Green Room prompted some attendees to bolt to the distribution like teenage girls in the throes of Beatlemania.

One actor from the X-Men movie, I believe it was “Nightcrawler” Alan Cumming, also put in an appearance and was acknowledged by the chairman.

Monday marked not only the first caucus, but also the birthday of Stafford.

Relieved at the opportunity to show charity towards a faction I hold in such low regard, I was happy to join in singing “Happy Birthday.”

The happiness was fleeting.

As I mentioned before, Colorado multi-millionaire Tim Gill described to the caucus his strategy for removing critics of his sex life from the political class. He targets any critics of gay rights at the state legislative levels, marshaling donors via Gill Action Fund mailing lists and so preventing his opponents from replenishing their talent pool.

Further commentary on Gill may be found at YourHub, where I note that every time Gill says “bigot” one may read the word “critic” without loss of information.

Gill's comments were also under-reported, finding mention only in the Rocky Mountain News but not in the Denver Post.

However, the likable GOP shill Hugh Hewitt linked to the story.

The LGBT caucus itself, whose Monday acts were reported here, claimed 274 members, about 6.7 percent of the 4,049 total. Speakers gleefully claimed that the number may not be accurate since more and more delegates were “coming out.”

There were a few allusions to the new changes to the DNC rules, though little that an outsider could understand.

Say what you will about the caucus, they sure know how to exploit multiculturalism. They claimed about one third of their 2008 caucus is composed of youth and about 40 percent were described as “people of color.” One speaker welcomed the changes from past convention caucuses, which he said had been “almost entirely white.”

Caucus speakers spoke of how necessary it was for caucus members to install themselves in the leadership of the other minority caucuses, showing they are well-positioned to cement their hold on the Democrats.

A minority LGBT is a diversity chimera whose identities may shift as politics demands. Further, the caucus adds to the power of the ethnic spoils system of affirmative action, identity politics, and anti-discrimination lawsuits. If they perceive other benefits, self-interested minorities may actually ally with and be co-opted by the LGBT caucus and its issues.

As people who are generally childless, LGBT caucus members have much time to sit on multiple committees and they have money on hand for political endeavors. Further, their sexual liberationism allies them with the dissolute, heterosexual college-educated youths who, secular and single, also have disproportionate influence in the Democratic Party.

At times, it was especially obvious how much the Democrats had changed. Nancy Wohlforth of the AFL-CIO addressed the caucus on Wednesday, trying to muster support for labor. Her pandering was blatant, going so far as to endorse “trans-inclusive” anti-discrimination legislation.

Yet her audience’s reaction generally ranged from indifference to rudeness. About four dozen caucus members, media, and guests were mulling about near the entrance to the ballroom, chatting as if no one were speaking. This peeved me to no end, not only because I was trying to record the session on a voice recorder, but because it was to my mind a clear affront to the Democrats’ blue collar past.

Wohlforth’s remarks received the applause of perhaps one-fourth of the delegates. The response was so tepid that a few attendees in the back engaged in frenzied, over-loud handclapping with the futile hope of inspiring a widespread response.

None came. They were saving their fawning adulation for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Thinking how my Democratic forebears would respond to the rise of the LGBT Caucus was nauseating. Caucus speakers’ allusions to a Wednesday party sponsored by the Stonewall Democrats prompted in me yearnings for a renewed Vice Squad.

At the entrance to the Wednesday meeting somebody was handing out free packs of “Gay Republican” playing cards. Fearing them to be pornographic, I declined, which was not the best example of journalistic instincts.

(Fortunately, a Google search reveals, the card decks only describe, not depict, the unnatural acts of GOP partisans.)

On Monday, Chairman Stafford made a particular point of praising one speaker as the “best dressed person here,” which was again unfounded flattery. As I observed from the rear of the ballroom, the person was dressed in a drab brown business dress with wide shoulders and ugly glasses, looking like a character from a bad eighties movie.

Later, as this person conversed with someone near me, I realized he was that queer sort known in current parlance as “transgendered.” His dress’ broad shoulders masked those of a man.

Another example came before me on Wednesday when, still puzzled over that blatantly false “best dressed” description, I noticed a homely woman with frizzy blonde hair, a pea-green skirt, and an ugly blouse with a rainbow butterfly-like pattern set on a black background.

Yes, he was another one.

Even I could tell this person had the fashion sense of an insensate male. I have better sartorial taste than transgendered DNC delegates. Who knew?

As the song goes, “Dude Look Like a Lady,” but not very well.

It seems male to female transgendereds are mockeries, a man's idea of how a woman should look, somewhat like the way a porn star or a Playboy Bunny are distortions of femininity. So, too, will same-sex marriage parody and distort the real thing.

Yet these wannabe walking parodies are now an influential element in a once great party.

How saddening.

Also at the DNC:
Faith Caucus

Women's Caucus

LGBT Caucus

Democrats for Life Town Hall

At the DNC: Democrats for Life Town Hall Meeting

The Democrats for Life Town Hall took place on Wednesday of the DNC week at the Hotel Monaco.

The room was small and had a seating capacity of perhaps sixty. Here is a picture taken from the second-to-last row:

Sadly, many of the seats were taken not by delegates but by media. E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post was present, as were Jonathan Last, Jim Antle, Tim Carney, and a few other journalists from conservative publications.

Perhaps this shows conservative journalists, or rather the readers they serve, are saps for the quixotic and compromised struggle of pro-life Democrats.

Three other seats were occupied by known locals, John Wren and his friend, plus a woman with the Colorado Catholic Conference.

Jonathan Last’s column contains a sad joke:
Another reporter saw me counting [attendees] and asked how many anti-abortion Democrats were in attendance.

"All of them," I replied.

Before this cozy audience, speakers made an unseemly fuss about Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.’s speech to the DNC the previous evening in which he voiced disagreement with the party line on abortion. His two sentences were hardly compensatory for the speech his father, Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, Sr., was barred from giving at the 1992 DNC.

Here’s what the junior Casey said:

“Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion,” he said. “But the fact that I’m speaking here tonight is testament to Barack’s ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him.”

Not impressive, that.

Also voicing much happy talk about how the new Democratic platform was so committed to reducing abortions, speakers’ gratitude for Casey’s speech sounded desperate, like that of a beaten wife who sees in one kind word from her incorrigible husband a sign of his sure reform.

The politicians who spoke included Tennessee Congressman Lincoln Davis, North Carolina Congressman Heath Shuler, and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.

Lincoln Davis’ remarks showed good political sense.

If Democrats continue to have only a “stark contrast” with the Republican platform, he said, “I think we start losing.”

There is “too much work to be done” to allow abortion to be “the one issue that takes us down,” Davis argued.

Also noteworthy is their view of the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which the priority-skewed Obama has pledged to push through Congress in his first act as president. The bill would reportedly remove all restrictions on abortion, including restrictions on partial-birth abortion and federal funding for abortion.

While Republicans have cited FOCA to stir up concern among their captive pro-life contingent, they rarely consider its likelihood of passage. Rep. Shuler said he did not see FOCA passing the House and Rep. Davis was confident it was not going to pass.

Sen. Bob Casey, the man of the hour, discussed the Pregnant Women Support Act and proposed supplying nurses or health care practitioners for pregnant mothers to provide health care advice and counsel.

He also admitted the DNC platform language on abortion “wasn’t good enough for me.”

Both Casey and pro-life Obama-booster Doug Kmiec had to address Obama’s most infamous statements on abortion.

Regarding Obama’s “punished with a baby” comments, Casey said the statement was “poorly articulated” and “didn’t reflect what he was trying to convey.”

He added that he believed Obama was trying to describe the crisis situation that afflicts some young women during a pregnancy.

Obama also notoriously commented at the Saddleback Church forum that deciding when a baby gets human rights is “above my pay grade.”

Fortunately, Doug Kmiec reported at the Faith Caucus that he himself informed Obama that he thinks that decision is within his pay grade.

However, Kmiec similarly described Obama’s words as an occasion of misspeaking and not the most “felicitous” of statements.”

For a candidate so praised for his eloquence, these repeated misstatements on abortion indicate a particular confusion, perhaps even dissimulation, on Obama’s part.

Other Democrats for Life town hall speakers included Colorado State Senator Debbie Stafford, a former Republican, who discussed the role of domestic violence in abortion cases. She described the sickening cases where a woman undergoes an abortion due to pressure and even abuse from her lover or where a man is threatened by a pregnant woman who uses the possibility of an abortion to punish and harass him.

Rev. Clenard Childress, pastor of the New Calvary Baptist Church in Montclair, New Jersey, rebuked the use of the cant saying that Democrats are great for the born, but Republicans only respect life from “conception to birth.”

“But because someone failed the first nine months, but then they do better the next nine months… does that make your failure justified?

“I don’t understand the analogy. Yes, I hear it all the time. ‘What about after the baby gets here?’

“Well if I need a grant, if I need an education, if I need help, I first have to get here,” he countered.

Rev. Childress also discussed the damage abortion is doing among African-American women, who disproportionately seek abortions.

“There’s too many women hurting,” he said, focusing upon the pro-life Democrats in the audience. “And the ethnic group that is hurting the most is the one that supports your party the most.”

Several non-politicians at the Town Hall provided commentary on policy proposals to reduce the numbers of abortions.

There, the results of a Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good study were presented, reputedly showing what policies affect the abortion rate.

Further, Vince Miller, a professor of theology at Georgetown University, argued that programs aimed at reducing abortions would help people “think like Democrats” by emphasizing how constructive governmental policy can help people in their daily lives. He also landed a few blows in his attacks upon the individualism of Republicans and their reduction of “values voting” to “expressions of identity” detached from concrete results.

Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University and member of the DNC platform committee, was the most provocative of the policy hounds.

“It’s fine to finance Planned Parenthood on the one side,” he asked, “but shouldn’t there be government funding for counseling centers that want to in fact help women, and counsel women, who want to bring their pregnancies to term?

“Shouldn’t there be financing on both sides if we’re going to have ‘parallel of choice’?”

This is a very seductive position that could end up being very destructive to either or both sides of the abortion debate. By linking crisis pregnancy center funding to funding for abortion clinics, pro-lifers could be given a perverse incentive to vote for more abortion clinic funding to help crisis pregnancy centers.

Campolo cited statistics claiming that 43 percent of Americans are pro-life, but 51 percent are pro-choice. This somewhat conflicts with Rep. Davis’ statistic that seventy percent believe abortion takes a life.

There is a degree of selectivity concerning which surveys one decides to cite. For all we know, some of the “pro-choice” people referenced by Campolo don’t approve of legalized abortion in most cases, while some of the pro-lifers make exceptions of their own.

Ought a survey ask whether people support overturning Roe v. Wade, the extremely permissive details of which are unknown to many, or ought a survey ask how strict abortion laws should be? Ought the survey focus its questions on the woman, her unborn child, or her abortionist?

Some pro-life Democrats may end up publicizing the survey results most pessimistic about anti-abortion sentiment, simply to provide rhetorical justification in support of their favored social programs. Worse, they may cite these statistics to be good partisans who justify not pressing for “divisive” legislation which restricts abortion.

Campolo’s sharpest criticism blamed the churches for not doing enough:

“The churches, the synagogues, and the mosques of America have not been able to convince their own constituencies on this issue.” Legislation and political action is “asking politicians to do what churches have failed to do.”

Too gleeful abortion advocates often note, sometimes even with sound evidence, that the abortion rate among Catholics is reportedly equal or in excess to that among non-Catholics.

At any rate, it is too high.

If a deacon, priest, or bishop preaches (or does not preach) against abortion only out of consideration for political effects, he is not addressing the root.

Rather, he must treat abortion as a temptation some in his congregation have faced, are facing, or will face. In our own pews are young men and women contemplating whether to abort: the youth group’s popular young man who is heading to a prestigious out-of-state college or the young woman who helps with the daycare could be facing that temptation without spiritual counsel.

Perhaps their parents, even the ones who attend daily Mass and sit on the parish council, are considering pressuring the pregnant girl to do the deed.

Such youths or their parents may have already lost their horror of such a sin. Exhorting them to vote pro-life is secondary to exhorting them not to go to the clinic.

And what, then, can the Democrats for Life do?

Other than run interference for Obama, bash Republicans, and pass one or two social programs, not very much. It can be hoped that a well-placed pro-life Democrat may help appoint as federal judges a few “Bob Caseys of the bench,” though Mark Stricherz tells me he is skeptical of this possibility.

The judiciary, not to mention the law school, needs moderate or conservative Democrats as anti-Roe critics who lack the “Republican baggage” but can perhaps check the Democrats’ cultural radicals whose overreach consistently helps the GOP and hurts the country.

I would be remiss if I did not include Tim Carney’s political analysis written for CNA during the convention.

To my regret, I only met Carney briefly at the town hall meeting. I didn’t even have a chance to tell him I liked his book.

Carney, a journalist with the Evans-Novak Report, remarks on the reaction to Biden’s selection as VP, discusses Doug Kmiec’s support for Obama, writes of Casey’s DNC floor speech and examines the Democrats’ abortion platform.

Also at the DNC:
Faith Caucus

Women's Caucus

LGBT Caucus

Democrats for Life Town Hall

Thursday, September 25, 2008

An implicit schism?

Michael Brendan Dougherty, writing at the promising new site Culture 11, considers why there has not been a schism in the U.S. Catholic Church in his short essay A Schism Deferred

At first the question appears unwarranted. Though one still hears of “AmChurch” in traditionalist Catholic magazines, there is no organized impetus for a split.

Dougherty helps explain why.

Liberal Catholics, he writes, “find their most powerful allies in the hierarchy of the Church... the New York archdiocese alone has over 110 different offices, with some organs of Church bureaucracy dedicated to immigrants, others to diversity, and others still to the promotion of social justice.”

One could add that liberal Catholics of an activist bent also find congenial ground on colleges in the Catholic tradition.

It should not be said that all liberal Catholics are heretical. But those who are must ask themselves: why break away from an institution when we already run it?

“Conservatives, political and theological, tend to be an insurgent force in the Church, establishing new institutions rather than occupying old ones,” Dougherty points out. Just as political conservatives left the media and the academy short of conservatives by establishing their own think tanks and journals (admittedly sometimes because establishment hostility forced them to do so), new conservative or orthodox Catholic groups and journals sometimes leave the established chancery bureaucracies, the charitable foundations, and the Catholic universities to the liberals.

Perhaps they are content with their own fiefdoms of uniformity.

I had taken solace that dissenting groups like Call to Action are aging and powerless. Under Dougherty’s analysis, we see that such groups are merely superfluous. Their needs for networking and information-sharing are served by the faculty lounges or the national conferences for liturgists or catechists. Dissenting ideologies are all the more effective in these organizations when they have become taken for granted.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Democrats for Life talk policy and politics at the DNC

(A mix-up at CNA meant this story wasn't entered for timely publication, so I am publishing it here)

Denver –

Self-professed pro-life Democratic legislators, candidates, and other speakers addressed a Democrats for Life town hall meeting in a Denver hotel last Wednesday during the Democratic National Convention (DNC). During the meeting academics and policy experts stressed the need to find “common ground” with pro-choice Democrats and advocated programs they believed would “dramatically” reduce the abortion rate.

One speaker even argued that abortion reduction programs would help people “think like Democrats.”

Kristin Day, President of Democrats for Life, introduced the town hall.

“The debate regarding the legality of abortion has gone on for far too long,” she told the audience of more than sixty guests and journalists.

“But we all agree that we can do more to decrease the abortion rate by preventing unintended pregnancies, but also by providing support for pregnant women.”

Speakers included Alexia Kelley, co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Vince Miller, a professor of theology at Georgetown University; and Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University.

They were joined by several politicians and other speakers, including Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.

Kelley began the town hall meeting by summarizing the findings of a national abortion study commissioned by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to address a “dearth of data” on how economic and social support affect the abortion rate.

According to Kelley, the study found that women under the poverty level are four times as likely to seek an abortion as women living at three hundred percent of the poverty level. Three fourths of women who seek abortions cite childcare, job or school as a factor for pursuing an abortion.

The study argues that “better-targeted policy” would help reduce the abortion rate. “Robust nutrition support” for women and children correlated with a 37 percent lower abortion rate, while states with higher male employment had a 29 percent lower abortion rate. Family caps on economic assistance increased the abortion rate, as did Medicaid funding for abortions.

Parental consent laws and partial birth abortion bans were not found to have a significant effect on the abortion rate during the study's time period.

Based on 2003 data, the study projects that removing caps on income assistance and removing Medicaid funding for abortions could lead to 300,000 fewer abortions per year.

Vince Miller discussed both practical and theological concerns, claiming that abortion reduction is not simply voter outreach. It is additionally a set of political proposals that gets voters to “think like Democrats” by emphasizing how constructive governmental policy can help people in their daily lives.

Turning to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Miller charged Republicans with applying “significant editing” to the document to support their political views.

He said that, though the encyclical laments in conservative fashion the “cultural crisis of relativism,” it also criticizes a “social context of profound individualism” in which, in John Paul II’s words, “individuals, couples and families are often left alone with their problems.”

“There are situations of acute poverty, anxiety or frustration in which the struggle to make ends meet, the presence of unbearable pain, or instances of violence, especially against women, make the choice to defend and promote life so demanding as sometimes to reach the point of heroism,” the Pope continued, going on to encourage the advancement of “effective family and social policy.”

Including comprehensive abortion reduction policies in the Democratic platform, Miller said, was a “monumental achievement,” though he conceded that their language is the “language of the negotiation table” and requires “positive policy proposals.”

He charged Republicans with eroding “the notion that government can do anything,” saying they have “carved out one area of government activity, the so-called ‘values issues’ of abortion and same-sex marriage.” However, the delay of the Republicans’ victory on those issues has seen “values voting reduced to expressions of identity.”

Alluding to Democratic efforts to present themselves as equally religious to Republicans, Miller said abortion reduction proposals are not an opportunity for Democrats to say “we have values too,” but rather the proposed programs enable voters to think through the “difficult question” of connecting their moral concerns to “concrete policy.”

Tony Campolo, who served on the platform committee, said platform struggles in the weeks leading up to the convention were “intense” because, in his view, “I don’t think we’ve done a very good job educating people that we don’t have to be enemies, that we can work together.”

“It’s fine to finance Planned Parenthood on the one side, but shouldn’t there be government funding for counseling centers that want to in fact help women, and counsel women, who want to bring their pregnancies to term?

“Shouldn’t there be financing on both sides if we’re going to have ‘parallel of choice’?”

Campolo said that “parallel of choice” is going to be a phrase increasingly used to argue for balance between policies presuming abortion is a valid choice and policies that encourage women to carry their child to term.

Arguing that his inclusion on the party platform was a deliberate indication of the diversity of viewpoints, Campolo exclaimed: “We are not a monolithic party, we have various points of view, and we want to be a party in which those various views are articulated.”

Campolo said he was chosen for the party platform committee by Howard Dean because Dean thought the pro-life point of view needed representation.

“He chose me because I screamed at him, literally, on one occasion, about this matter. And he said to me ‘You need to be on the platform committee, because the party needs to have this value system incorporated into the platform.’ And that’s how I got on the committee,” Campolo explained.

Campolo cited statistics claiming that 43 percent of Americans are pro-life, but 51 percent are pro-choice.

“The churches, the synagogues, and the mosques of America have not been able to convince their own constituencies on this issue.”

The Republican Party, Campolo alleged, in fact believes most Americans are pro-choice and while it professes pro-life stands, its members will not overturn Roe v. Wade if most Americans are actually pro-choice.

By relying too much on legislation and political action, he said, pro-lifers are “asking politicians to do what churches have failed to do.”

Summarizing a conversation with Bill Clinton, he said: “If we have a pro-life president, America moves to the left. If we have a pro-choice president, America moves to the right.”

“So I’m thinking,” Campolo added, “if we have a pro-choice president, we’ll be moving in the right direction.”