Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Graham Greene's story of a failed Eucharistic desecration

The horrific actions of Paul Zachary Myers are shocking, but alas they are not new. You see, Myers' character was ably described and, to a point, explained in a short story written decades ago by Graham Greene: The Hint of an Explanation.

In the story a Catholic man, while discussing religion with the agnostic narrator, recounts his youth as an altar boy when the village atheist, a baker named Blacker, tried to bribe his ten-year-old self into providing a consecrated Host.

Greene captures in his art the qualities, or lack thereof, possessed by the vehement atheist. See his familiar-sounding description of Blacker:
"There was much more hate than love, poor man, in his make-up. Can you hate something you don't believe in? And yet he called himself a free-thinker. What an impossible paradox, to be free and to be so obsessed."

Even Blacker's words prefigure Myers' own:
"'What's the fuss? It's only a bit of bread' [Blacker said,] looking so longingly and pleadingly up at me that even as a child I wondered whether he could really think that, and yet desire it so much."

Tolle legge, take and read.

(Found via this comment at the blog What's Wrong with the World)

Christine Hefner: Playboy's Obama booster

The infamous Obama caricature on the cover of the New Yorker has attracted more attention than the essay it was meant to publicize.

That is a shame, because the story well explores Obama’s rise through Chicago politics and helps dispel the different notions that Obama is an otherworldly naïf or the idealist we have been waiting for. Essay author Ryan Lizza lays out Obama's political calculations and explains his contacts in enough detail to appeal to any budding political scientist.

This passage in particular shows how deeply sexual liberationism has embedded itself in the Democratic Party:
In electoral politics, operating in the world as it is means raising money. Obama expanded the reach of his fund-raising. Every network that he penetrated brought him access to another. Christie Hefner, Hugh Hefner’s daughter, who runs Playboy Enterprises from the fifteenth floor of a lakefront building, explained how it worked. Hefner is a member of a group called Ladies Who Lunch—nineteen Chicago women, most of them wealthy, who see themselves as talent scouts and angel investors for up-and-coming liberal candidates and activists. They interview prospects over a meal, often in a private dining room at the Arts Club of Chicago. Obama’s friend Bettylu Saltzman, a Ladies Who Lunch member, introduced Obama to the group when he was preparing his Senate run. Hefner, who declined to support Obama in 2000, was ready to help him when he came calling in 2002.

Not long ago, Hefner and I talked in her office; we were seated at a granite table strewn with copies of Playboy. “I was very proud to be able to introduce him during the Senate race to a lot of people who have turned out to be important and valuable to him, not just here but in New York and L.A.,” Hefner explained. She mentioned Thomas Friedman, the Times columnist, and Norman Lear, the television producer. “I try and think about people who I think should know him.”

While I think social conservatives are far too often exhorted to "change the culture" before attempting even defensive political action, here's a key example of how the erosion of cultural shame surrounding the pornography industry has crippled a political response. Were an aspiring Chicago politician to challenge obscene businesses, he would cut himself off from this powerbroker and her friends.

Further, it is naive to expect the pornography industry to make billions of dollars annually but never spend its money on politics. Any opponent of such a candidate could instantly attract a significant donation from the Caddish Businessmen's Association, almost by default.

The would-be crusader, finding that the lack of a financial interest in combating obscenity has hindered his campaign, must soften his stand or, having already cut himself off from certain elites, he now would have to rally much more local support than he otherwise would require.
Which do you think is the easier path?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Academic freedom means never having to say you’re sorry, P.Z. Myers thinks

P.Z . Myers’ encouragement of theft and desecration of the Eucharist over at Pharyngula marks a new low point in the Death Valley that is internet atheism.

Myers not only encourages his readers to disrupt religious services, a crime in many U.S. jurisdictions, he endorses using deception with vicious intent to acquire a consecrated Host.

Every priest, deacon, and extraordinary minister of the Eucharist presumes in good faith that those who present themselves to receive Holy Communion are Catholics in a state of grace. Myers carelessly sows distrust among those who have done him no harm.

His dishonesty calls into question his dedication to truthful inquiry. Academic freedom ends where blatant mendacity begins.

His deception also renders untrustworthy any of his complaints about “death threats.” Even if he is receiving angry threats from seventeen-year-old zealots and albino Opus Dei monks, it is not a stretch to believe that some of his readers, having absorbed Myers' lesson that deception is noble in the service of their cause, are penning their own hoax missives in hopes of stoking the controversy.

It is doubtful Myers will post any Catholic’s intelligent, well-written reply. It is a cheap trick of bloggers and newspaper columnists to take outrageous and indefensible stands and then report only the most outrageous responses from their most illiterate critics. This makes the original writer appear to be the voice of reason in the eyes of his own naïve supporters.

This is a lucrative tactic if one is paid on the basis of internet traffic.

This is not, however, a method productive of worthwhile public debate.

Not that there is reason to believe Myers thinks his atheism needs to be presented for public debate. Otherwise he would not be endorsing such Propaganda of the Deed.

He has lost his sympathy for his religious opponents, which is why he is so vile to them. This is to be expected, since he sneers at the Man who said "Love your enemies..."

But let’s imagine an analogous situation that might prick what’s left of Myers’ conscience. Say there is a nationwide chain of public reading libraries which freely make available to the public cheap copies of Darwin’s Origin of the Species and Myers’ friend Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. The library’s only caveats are that the books must be treated with respect and may leave the library only rarely and not without the authorization of the librarian.

Along comes Enoch Emery of the Church of Christ without Christ, whose blog reaches thousands of readers each day. Emery incites his enthusiasts to enter the library and hide a free copy on their person. “After smuggling it out,” he has ordered them, “burn it on YouTube while shouting claims that Darwin and Dawkins are Nazis who have no place in good society! Or send them to me at my office, and I'll do it for you!”

(Come to think of it: will Myers be accepting stolen Hosts mailed to his university office address on the grounds of academic freedom?)

Surely Myers cannot claim outrage would be unjustified at such an incident. Surely he would not see limited restraining force from the library staff as a just means to keep the library open and functioning.

Because of Enoch Emery’s fanatics, the library has to clamp down. Even though the economic costs of what is lost are nominal, the intangible costs are great.

Rather than focus on their own reading, the staff must scrutinize new visitors. Anyone who resembles an Emeryite falls under suspicion of the staff. Every time a book is successfully burned, the staff become more and more hostile to outsiders. Library patrons inundate Emery with complaints.

Suppose further this Enoch Emery then claims that such hostility, which he and his allies have encouraged, is further justification for more book burnings.

Is this bit of imaginative sympathy beyond Professor Myers?
I am not calling for Myers to be fired. Unlike Francis Beckwith, however, I think his university colleagues and his superiors at the University of Minnesota Morris and need to rebuke him, with disciplinary action if necessary.

Myers’ support for public dishonesty is unprofessional and undermines the prerequisites for academic inquiry. His endorsement of disrupting religious services is an unjustified threat to civil peace. Myers needs to be reminded of the standards of society.

His readers sure won't do it for him.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Bloggers' Progress

My congratulations to Daniel Larison and James Poulos for being mentioned in David Brooks’ most recent New York Times column.

Brooks characterizes them as part of a group of “young and unpredictable rightward-leaning writers,” most of whom
… did not rise through the official channels of the conservative or libertarian establishments. By and large, they didn’t do the internships or take part in the young leader programs that were designed to replenish “the movement.” Instead, they found their voices while blogging.

An analysis of the effectiveness of the conservative/Republican “feeder system” could be entertaining to read. A movement that takes young people from the imbalanced ideological hothouse of the undergraduate life and throws them into a think tank or a congressional office similarly lacking in flexibility can’t expect to produce many competent and broadly interested critics like those Brooks praises, not to mention future leaders.

I’d like to think Larison’s and Poulos’ advance elevates me to the second tier of the national discussion merely by virtue of their respective blogs’ welcome permalinks to Philokalia Republic.

Alas, such status must come from this blog's own quality and productivity. Happily increasing work commitments and continued physical rehab have hampered my contributions here, though I have several “almost done” works to be added in the coming weeks. Curious readers may peruse my StumbleUpon Log for clues about my recent thoughts.

Happy Independence Day.