12.31.2008

The question you asked really goes back to the remark of the pope, that the major task of modern thought is to separate eschatology from science and politics as themselves claims to solve all of man's this-worldly problems and destiny. The "modern project," as Strauss critically called it, is really a form of inner-worldly eschatology that corrupts the real temporal meaning of this world.

So-called modern philosophy wants to argue that religion did not solve man's problems, so it would suggest by its own methods that transcendent issues that did originally arise from religion could be solved by modern secular means. The figure of Francis Bacon is prominent here. We should divert all our efforts to improving man's "estate." Added to this is an almost all-prevailing Rousseauism that insists that "structures" are the problem, not the souls of actually free men, as both Plato and Scripture told us. The fact is that no matter what the technology, the soul problem remains the same in every generation, in every regime. No reformation of the structure, of family, economy, or state will "cure" this inner problem, and if it could, it would simply mean that we are not free. The problem is not "medical" or psychological, but moral and metaphysical.

You mentioned "soft atheism" or "soft belief" as related to atheism. Actually, I think Nietzsche is right here. He was scandalized not because God did not exist, but because believers, who were supposed to act as if he did, did not so act. His disbelief is closer to scandal than to philosophy. But the other side of Nietzsche is a passion for the "what would it be like if it were true?" His famous aphorism, "The Last Christian died on the Cross," is nothing less than the plea of a utopian who is searching for ultimate being. He just cannot recognize it if its followers do not. Nietzsche can even be looked on as someone who wanted himself to be God, or at least to have His power to form all things anew. Nietzsche never really rejected "the last Christian."

Christianity, on the other hand, did not want to make men to be "like gods." It was content to leave them as finite and fallible men, but ones who needed hope, the possibility of repentance, and some source besides themselves on which to place their confidence. I think at bottom that Nietzsche, who is often considered to be at the bottom of modern atheism, is really at the bottom, as Walsh says, of the participation in being that violently reacted to the pseudo-metaphysics of modernity's philosophers, who, to go back to my comment on Aristotle, did think that politics was the highest science, and thus an eschatology.
-Fr. Schall

12.29.2008

America is a mission country

The New York Times tells the story of a recent influx of priests from Africa, Asia and Latin America. They come to fill the vocational void in American dioceases.

The lead paragraphs do a great job explaining why there is a shortage of priests in America:
OAK GROVE, Ky. — The Rev. Chrispin Oneko, hanging up his vestments after leading one of his first Sunday Masses at his new American parish, was feeling content until he discovered several small notes left by his parishioners.

The notes, all anonymous, conveyed the same message: Father, please make your homilies shorter. One said that even five minutes was too long for a mother with children.

12.26.2008

an analogy for thinking about Christmas

St. Augustine explains a little about what Christians mean when they celebrate Christmas:
"'The word was made flesh and lived among us' [John 1:14] When we speak, the word which we hold in our mind becomes a sound in order that what we have in our mind may pass through ears of flesh into the listener's mind: this is called speech. Our thought, however, is not converted into the same sound, but remains intact in its own home, suffering no diminution from its change as it takes on the form of a word in order to make its way into the ears. In the same way the Word of God became flesh in order to live in us but was unchanged."

12.25.2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

12.21.2008

12.20.2008

Advent

What is the best way to show that you are free? Do something you do not have to do.

This is much like God, for whom all of Creation is something he did not have to do.

12.12.2008

RIP Cardinal Dulles

From Whispers in the Loggia via National Review Online:
Word from New York brings the sad news that Avery Dulles SJ -- the celebrated convert, teacher, prolific author, first American theologian and US Jesuit elevated to the College of Cardinals, dean of American theologians and a giant of the age -- passed to his reward overnight.

Having suffered the ravages of a post-polio syndrome in recent years, the Navy vet and scion of a Washington dynasty was 90.

More as it comes in... may his brilliant soul rest in peace.

SVILUPPO: At 9.30, a statement from the Jesuits' New York province formally announced Dulles' passing; the cardinal died at 6.30 this morning in his room at the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University.

Funeral arrangements are to be announced shortly, and later today will see the release of the customary telegram of condolence from the Pope, whose respect for Dulles was especially significant.

12.08.2008

a reckless and unedited attempt at philosophizing about the media, Obama, and secular hope

With the prospect of the Obama administration on their minds, the media is abuzz with newfound hope. A new president has come to save the people from too many years of an oppressive and seemingly indifferent Republican president. We must understand that the media has spent these past years observing and cataloguing the all too many inadequacies, frustrations, tragedies, disappointments and pains of human life – so many of which seem to be caused by George Bush. Secular humanists all, they no longer have the stomach for such suffering. This man, this great man, surely will be able to alleviate our great burden. His Harvard education, finest in the world, will enable him to plan the plan to save all plans. If there are people losing jobs, they will find new jobs when Obama invests in infrastructure. The media already has the news story; haven’t you seen it? Criticism may come from “skeptics,” but the media is quick to point out this is not just “infrastructure”: it is the right kind of infrastructure, the infrastructure this country needs. This is infrastructure that will create jobs now, to save us from having to suffer from the consequences of George Bush very much at all. This is the politics of hope, and the media cannot get enough. They know that every interesting news story is a crisis. And for every crisis, there is a plan. There is a solution. Obama will give us deus ex machina, god out the machine. What is the machine? It is nothing but the coercive power of government. After all, this is the only way Obama can implement his plans. His power as a politician is power to control the government, not to control minds and hearts. The god here is security. Near the beginning of the Enlightenment, Thomas Hobbes gave us this new summum bonum, which could also be called freedom from the fear of violent death. It has come to mean freedom from all material suffering, freedom from having to live a life rightly ordered. We think we should have freedom to do whatever we want (as long as we’re not hurting anybody!) without any consequences. The media doesn’t see that this is what they want, but I insist that it if they were honest with themselves, they would admit it. The media wants Utopia, they want Heaven on Earth, and they want our politicians to usher it in. They should realize how dangerous a project theirs has proven to be.

12.05.2008

RJN on Walter McDougall on American Character

An interesting thought on American character:
Walter McDougall’s recent monumental history of America—in Freedom Just Around the Corner and Throes of Democracy—proposes that, of all the ways of describing the American character, the most apt term is “hustler.” He hastens to add that the term has both complimentary and pejorative meanings. With respect to the religion business, the pejorative seems somewhat more pronounced.
McDougall is an excellent historian from the University of Pennsylvania. His other book, "Promised Land, Crusader State," is perhaps the best summary of American foreign policy there is.

11.30.2008

in medias res

I thought I would let you all know that I am in between living spaces and still in the process of setting up a new internet account / computer situation. Regular posting will resume likely by the Christmas break. I wish you all a blessed Advent season!

In the meantime, I recommend reading The Political Teachings of Jesus. My initial impression was flawed because it was incomplete. While I think the first few chapters of the book stumble theologically, the subsequent chapters are very provocative and are an excellent New testament exegesis. Reading the book, one is struck by the profound unity and coherency of the moral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. By the end of the book, I found myself thinking that any merely human teaching would be somehow deficient, somehow incomplete; Jesus' teachings do not suffer this defect of standard human wisdom, and the book helps us to see that clearly, even if it is not its explicit goal.

In other news, Dracula is a highly entertaining read. I know next to nothing about the book, but I'm wondering if the novel is in part a critique of certain excesses of Catholicism?

11.28.2008

beauty

Beauty is one of the three foods of the soul, the three most vital human needs, along with Truth and Goodness. These are the three things we all want infinitely and absolutely. They are the three attributes of God that our very nature tells us about. They are the three ideals that raise us above the animals. Christians have succeeded, and are still succeeding today, quite famously in the first of these two areas. Christian philosophy is the most intelligent of philosophies, and Christian morality is he most holy of moralities. But Christianity no longer produces the world's most beautiful and arresting art. Modern man is not rejecting Christianity because it looks stupid or wicked but because it looks boring: dull, hokey, embarassing, "square," sissified, bland, repressive, platitudinous, preachy, dreary, "weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable." Its pictures are no longer moving pictures. They do not move hearts. The secular media makes the magic now.

...

Christ's beauty is a beauty that breaks our hearts. It is "no beauty we could desire" unless our hearts break first. Deep truth heals your mind, and deep goodness heals your will, but deep beauty wounds your heart.

Deep beauty hurts.
- Peter Kreeft in Envoy Magazine

11.26.2008

money from nowhere

"This current bailout, calculated only up to $4.6 trillion, has cost more than the following government expenditures combined: The Marshall Plan. The Louisiana Purchase. The race to the moon. The S&L crisis. The Korean War. The New Deal. The invasion of Iraq. The Vietnam War. NASA. All of those combined, in inflation-adjusted dollars, equal $3.92 trillion."
- Rush L.

11.22.2008

Change we can believe in

What is this change? Hillary Clinton! The New York Times informs us:
Hillary Rodham Clinton has decided to give up her Senate seat and accept the position of secretary of state, making her the public face around the world for the administration of the man who beat her for the Democratic presidential nomination, two confidants said Friday.
As time passes it becomes more and more obvious that the Obama administration is going to be... just like all the other Democratic administrations. Turns out the change we are supposed to believe in is really the federal government under the control of Democratic politicians. The Democratic campaign slogan should be: "believe in the power of the federal government to solve your problems".

11.21.2008

Classical Christian Education

I recently visited the Logos School, a classical, Christian school in Idaho. It was a great school, inspired by a 1947 essay, "The Lost Tools of Learning," by the English novelist Dorothy Sayers. She argued that there was something seriously amiss in modern education; we have, she said, “lost the tools of learning--the axe and the wedge, the hammer and the saw, the chisel and the plane—that were so adaptable to all tasks.” Instead, students learn an assortment of “complicated jigs,” specific, isolated knowledge, which have turned out to be very poor substitutes. We are failing in the “sole true end” of education, which is simply to teach men how to learn for themselves.

What set Sayers apart was her solution. Schools, she urged, ought to adopt “the mediaeval scheme of education…what the men of the Middle Ages supposed to be the object and the right order of the educative process.” At the heart of classical education is the Trivium, whose three parts are Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, in that order. Intended for the study of Latin, they actually instruct pupils in the process of learning. First, one learns the structure of language, grammar (hence, grammar school) “what it was, how it was put together, and how it worked.” Then dialectic, how to use language, make accurate statements, construct an argument and detect fallacies in argument. Finally, the pupil learns rhetoric, how to use language elegantly and persuasively. These steps—acquiring the building blocks of knowledge, analyzing how they are used, and constructing something beautiful and true from them—apply to all fields of study, not just language.

I've got more over on my education blog.

And here is the St. Crispin's Day speech from Shakespeare's Henry V.

11.20.2008

times, people, laughs

[friend](9:12:42 PM): ya I hate working
[friend] (9:13:00 PM): maybe i'll file unemployment like the rest of america
[friend] (9:13:20 PM): that why I have a better chance of breaking a guitar hero record
Zach (9:13:28 PM): people will pay to see that
[friend] (9:14:10 PM): and i'll do it while picking up and quitting smoking cigarettes every two weeks
[friend] (9:14:21 PM): and i'll write a book about indians
[friend] (9:14:43 PM): there are so many things I would do if I didn't work

11.18.2008

21st century dating

City Journal is a great magazine. "Love in the Time of Darwinism" is an insightful look into dating in a post-feminist age. Ms. Hymowitz explains her thesis:
The reason for all this anger, I submit, is that the dating and mating scene is in chaos. SYMs of the postfeminist era are moving around in a Babel of miscues, cross-purposes, and half-conscious, contradictory female expectations that are alternately proudly egalitarian and coyly traditional. And because middle-class men and women are putting off marriage well into their twenties and thirties as they pursue Ph.D.s, J.D.s, or their first $50,000 salaries, the opportunities for heartbreak and humiliation are legion. Under these harsh conditions, young men are looking for a new framework for understanding what (or, as they might put it, WTF) women want. So far, their answer is unlikely to satisfy anyone—either women or, in the long run, themselves.

Now, men and women have probably been a mystery to one another since the time human beings were in trees; one reason people developed so many rules around courtship was that they needed some way to bridge the Great Sexual Divide. By the early twentieth century, things had evolved so that in the United States, at any rate, a man knew the following: he was supposed to call for a date; he was supposed to pick up his date; he was supposed to take his date out, say, to a dance, a movie, or an ice-cream joint; if the date went well, he was supposed to call for another one; and at some point, if the relationship seemed charged enough—or if the woman got pregnant—he was supposed to ask her to marry him. Sure, these rules could end in a midlife crisis and an unhealthy fondness for gin, but their advantage was that anyone with an emotional IQ over 70 could follow them.
Check it out.

11.16.2008

de-divinizing Jesus

A few months ago a man named Tod Lindberg wrote an interesting-looking book titled, "The Political Teachings of Jesus". Quite unexpectedly, I have found the book to have many similarities with liberation theology. It's expressed purpose is to analyze the Teaching of Jesus Christ as if he were merely a man. The book ignores any investigation into his divinity and looks to explicate the profundity of his teaching that is available supposedly without considering his divinity.

My brief review is this: to ignore the question of Jesus' divinity is to misunderstand some of his teachings. Not all, just some. The book, so far, is a reflection of this principle. Lindberg gets many things right, and at times his writing "makes you think deeply," as Michael Novak says. But at times his writing demonstrates a misunderstanding of Christian teaching and the very verses he is drawing from. Not to mention that the last thing Christianity needs is another de-supernatural-ification, or attempt to understand Jesus without reference to his claim to divinity.

Rather than substantiate this criticism with an example, I'd rather share something the book offers that was particularly interesting to me. The selection below demonstrates the strengths of Lindberg's style. He is talking about Jesus' notion of an "enemy"
What, then, does it really mean to "love your enemies," not just your neighbors? We might begin with what it means to have or be an enemy. Here, Jesus suggests that from the point of view of the old law, an enemy is someone you "hate," perhaps viscerally. We therefore have to begin with the notion of "enemy" as a relationship between two people, or two peoples, or two nations. What divides you from your enemy? And what do you have in common?

The easy answers are, respectively, "everything" and "nothing" To be in a relationship of enmity is to be in a relationship in which there are no ties of goodwill that bind you: no law, no "brotherhood," no neighborhood. There is accordingly no way you can agree on how to resolve the differences between the two of you. The only option each of you sees (assuming that both parties to the relationship of enmity are aware that they are enemies of each other) is to try to kill or force the submission of the other or to separate yourself by as much distance as possible if you fear the struggle that might ensue.

In truth, though, this is a misimpression, one that Jesus sets out to identify and correct. Note to begin with that, in most cases, enemies are aware of each other as such (and if not, one party will treat the other as something better than an enemy while the other pursues the relations between the two in accordance with the hidden or secret understanding of the other as enemy). But even a common understanding between two people that they are enemies is a common understanding between the two. They are not so radically apart as they might like to think.

Animals don't have enemies: The predator/prey relationship is different, even though we sometimes use terms like "natural enemies." To have an enemy is a matter of a person's understanding that someone is an enemy. We come back to that idea of "hate." The condition of enmity is precisely not "natural." If it were, how could we escape it? Generations of people would be doomed in perpetuity to a state of hostility.

Hobbes's "war of all against all" is one possible outcome, and it may be the initial state of relationships between people and a "state of nature" in the sense of the human condition before we encounter people who are willing and able to forge different principles according to which they will live. Nevertheless the Hobbesian struggle remains only one possible outcome. Others are possible as well.
So it's definitely an interesting read, but I think there is slight injustice done. I still think the best thing ever said about Christianity and politics can be found in Peter Kreeft's talk "Should the state take a stand on first things?". It solves just about every problem I've ever tried to deal with in an hour.
Check out Alan Jacobs' latest thoughts. It's good stuff.

11.14.2008

worth amplifying

Or at least posting it here will help me recall this beautiful story:
The Dominicans report that one of their own has helped convert one of Serbia’s most notorious abortionists into an advocate for the unborn. The whole story is worth reading, but the critical part involves the appearance of a certain Angelic Doctor:
In describing his conversion, Adasevic “dreamed about a beautiful field full of children and young people who were playing and laughing, from 4 to 24 years of age, but who ran away from him in fear. A man dressed in a black and white habit stared at him in silence. The dream was repeated each night and he would wake up in a cold sweat. One night he asked the man in black and white who he was. ‘My name is Thomas Aquinas,’ the man in his dream responded. Adasevic, educated in communist schools, had never heard of the Dominican genius saint. He didn’t recognize the name.”

“Why don’t you ask me who these children are?” St. Thomas asked Adasevic in his dream.

“They are the ones you killed with your abortions,’ St. Thomas told him.

“Adasevic awoke in amazement and decided not to perform any more abortions,” the article stated.

“That same day a cousin came to the hospital with his four months-pregnant girlfriend, who wanted to get her ninth abortion—something quite frequent in the countries of the Soviet bloc. The doctor agreed. Instead of removing the fetus piece by piece, he decided to chop it up and remove it as a mass. However, the baby’s heart came out still beating. Adasevic realized then that he had killed a human being.”
Via First Things

11.13.2008

Feministing points out the obvious

Namely, that Catholics are no different than the majority culture. In fact, they may be worse!

That's change you can believe in.

11.12.2008

Return of the Native Son

NH native son P.J. O'Rourke has written a wide-ranging column analyzing the election results. In his free wheelin', humorous and traditionally spunky style, he makes many great points.

I bet there is some push back on this point:
In how many ways did we fail conservatism? And who can count that high? Take just one example of our unconserved tendency to poke our noses into other people's business: abortion. Democracy--be it howsoever conservative--is a manifestation of the will of the people. We may argue with the people as a man may argue with his wife, but in the end we must submit to the fact of being married. Get a pro-life friend drunk to the truth-telling stage and ask him what happens if his 14-year-old gets knocked up. What if it's rape? Some people truly have the courage of their convictions. I don't know if I'm one of them. I might kill the baby. I will kill the boy.

The real message of the conservative pro-life position is that we're in favor of living. We consider people--with a few obvious exceptions--to be assets. Liberals consider people to be nuisances. People are always needing more government resources to feed, house, and clothe them and to pick up the trash around their FEMA trailers and to make sure their self-esteem is high enough to join community organizers lobbying for more government resources.

If the citizenry insists that abortion remain legal--and, in a passive and conflicted way, the citizenry seems to be doing so--then give the issue a rest. Meanwhile we can, with the public's blessing, refuse to spend taxpayers' money on killing, circumscribe the timing and method of taking a human life, make sure parental consent is obtained when underage girls are involved, and tar and feather teenage boys and run them out of town on a rail. The law cannot be made identical with morality. Scan the list of the Ten Commandments and see how many could be enforced even by Rudy Giuliani.
Also, yesterdays RCP page was a winner: from P.J. to Hitchens to Will to Brooks, etc.

11.09.2008

change we can believe in - i.e., collusion between government and big business

It seems one of the first functions of the new American government is to "save" businesses that under-perform. Or maybe just businesses that have powerful lobbyists in Washington D.C. Remember now that President-elect Obama and the Democrats ran on a platform of ending corruption and changing the atmosphere in D.C. They were supposed to go to Washington to send the lobbyists home. Well, so far, it seems they are acting contrary to their word. Here's an example of the type of policies we get with a Democratic President and Democratic Congress:
In a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) asked Paulson to "review the feasibility . . . of providing temporary assistance to the automobile industry during the current financial crisis."

The letter notes that Congress granted Paulson broad discretion to use the bailout money to "restore financial market stability. A healthy automobile manufacturing sector is essential to the restoration of financial market security," the letter continues, as well as to "the overall health of our economy, and the livelihood of the automobile sector's workforce."

If the request is granted, it would expand the federal government's role in private enterprise far beyond the financial sector. Critics have warned that a bailout of GM would attract a long line of other companies to Washington to argue that their survival, too, is critical to the economic health of the country. The move would push the Bush administration to decide winners and losers in yet another huge sector of the economy, and it would force President-elect Barack Obama to manage a complex restructuring of the ailing automotive industry.
Mind you, Congress has already given the automakers a $25 billion dollar loan. For those on the left who are worried about the collusion between government and business, you could not find a more unnerving example in these stories. Is this change we can believe in?

11.05.2008

Rush Limbaugh's advice

Rush is always good at moments like this:
Yes We Can! The reestablishment of principled conservative opposition begins today. McCain did everything the Wizards of Smart on our side told him to do, and he failed. Moderate Republicanism lost. Conservatism didn't.

Pearl of Wisdom: "I'm not against graciousness and being congratulatory towards President-Elect Obama, but the motivation for it troubles me greatly, as we seek here not to 'rebuild' the conservative movement, by the way, but to simply reestablish it and take it back from a bunch of frauds and pretenders who want to 'redefine' it."

This is what moderation got us: 20% of "conservatives" voted for Obama.

11.04.2008

election reflections

I wish President Obama the best. In all sincerity, I hope his presidency advances the common good. I pray most of all for the unborn children who will continue be killed unjustly because our Constitution does not protect their right to life. I pray for their mothers and everyone involved in such situations. And I pray President Obama has a change of heart. If he is truly a liberal, perhaps he will support expanding the community for which we are held responsible; perhaps he will grant civil rights to that currently dehumanized segment of our population, the class of unborn human persons. I have to at least have the hope.

For those who have supported President-elect Obama, I hope they maintain the same level of enthusiasm they exhibited throughout his campaign. I hope they pay attention to the news; I hope they read; I hope they become thoughtful, civic-minded citizens. Complacency and indifference are a great evil, and I hope President Obama is able to shake people out of it.

For those who share my sense of defeat, I implore you not to move to despair. Conservatives know that politics is not everything, and it is certainly not the first thing. While our country may suffer greatly, life's truly important battles are fought in the quiet of the individual soul. We must pray for the conversion of one heart at a time. Remember St. Augustine: "One loving soul sets another on fire". Let us continue this truly important work, remembering that in the end it isn't in our hands anyways.

11.03.2008

Conservatives into the woods

Ready for the inauguration of King Obama?

Here's a hint of what's to come:



Looks like a landslide Democratic victory. New Hampshire has, I think, no Republican Congressman left. What now?

Preparing for Obama

Michael Ulhmann:
Which brings us to Senator Obama, the least experienced major-party candidate for the presidency in recent memory, if not in all of American history. Despite his ideological proclivities, which are decidedly left-of-center, he has run a brilliant campaign, especially compared to the Republicans, who have yet to come up with an overarching, coherent argument for electing John McCain – except, perhaps, for fact that he’s not Barack Obama or George W. Bush.

Other than Democrat enthusiasts, a large segment of the public are clearly nervous about Obama, as well they should be. Four years ago, he was an obscure Illinois state legislator of undistinguished achievement. Before that, he was a community organizer in South Chicago, which is not exactly a familiar job description or one that (pace MSNBC’s Chris Matthews) sends a tingle up the leg of most voters. His three-year record in the Senate is likewise devoid of accomplishment, which is perhaps understandable inasmuch as he spent most of that time running for president. So what, precisely, are his qualifications?

Beyond his remarkably thin professional experience, his penchant for far left-wing nostrums is his defining characteristic. His campaign, with the cooperation of the mainstream media, has done a masterful job in hiding that from the public. But it doesn’t require an ideological brain surgeon to figure out where his head and heart will take him. His economic and social policies are radically redistributionist. (Why the Republicans failed to spell this out until a few weeks ago is beyond me). His foreign policy, at best, is incoherent and, at worst, dangerously naive. (Joe Biden wasn’t kidding when he prophesied that as president, Obama would be severely tested by America’s enemies.) On abortion, his views are brutally hostile to the most vulnerable members of the human species and, if he carries through on his promises, he will eliminate every last vestige of legal protection, not only for the unborn but for babies who survive abortion. (That McCain was incapable of pointing this out is perhaps the most appalling feature of a generally artless campaign.)

Notwithstanding all this, there is a better-than-even chance that the American people will elect this man to the highest office in the land. If so, we will not be able to say we didn’t know what was coming.

10.31.2008

the "ideology" of halloween

Here's a letter written to my college newspaper, dated today. It's a candid take on the relationship between feminism and morality, as well as the current atmosphere at college. It insists upon the right to dress however one damn-well pleases as being wholly consistent with feminism. In the process, it exposes many of the intellectual errors of radical-feminists. The letter follows:
I have a Women's Studies minor and a coconut bra.

This year for Halloween, I'm going as a midriff-baring hula dancer. However, I'm also going as what I've always been: a feminist.

Along with the proliferation of risqué costumes, you've probably noticed an increase in people speaking out against this clan of Playboy bunnies and short-short wearing referees. Not only are these criticisms guilty of stating the obvious, but they are also uncalled for. Given my belief in equality of gender and my interest in women's issues, you might think I'd be the first to show up downtown this year with a mission to personally demoralize all sexy kittens, naughty nurses and vixen vampires.

Having an attitude like this directly contradicts an ideology known as relative moralism. This belief system states that every individual is permitted to do whatever he or she wishes as long as it doesn't interfere with the well-being of anyone else. In keeping with this theory, unless one of the aforementioned sexy kittens physically assaults me this weekend, I have no right to remonstrate her and her fellow saucy Little Red Riding Hoods for their actions.

Last year, after a long night of Halloween festivities, I walked home from the last party of the evening at 7 a.m. It was a rainy Saturday morning, and I made the trek across campus in a Catholic schoolgirl outfit. To say that I received some judging looks is an understatement. But why? Later, when a friend of mine looked at photos of the night, she shook her head and said that I was promiscuous. Sure, I looked ridiculous by the light of the day, but both then and now I possessed healthy amount of self respect. I would never judge anyone for wearing an outfit I didn't care for, because I understand that we are not defined by the clothes we put on each morning and the costumes we wear each Halloween.

I have never chosen a Halloween costume because I felt that as a female I had nothing to offer society but my appearance. Though there might be people who feel this way, I'm sure that if you asked most girls about their decisions to be pirates with high heels, almost none of them would say, "Oh, I just felt like making myself into an object this year." Plenty of these girls, in fact, hold high G.P.A.s, respectable positions in campus organizations, and high ambitions about the future. They are also aware, however, that they are beautiful women, and they aren't afraid of being sexy and smart.

Sounds pretty feminist to me.
Why is it necessary to make this argument? Well, because other feminists disagree with her. On what grounds do these feminists disagree? Probably on the same ones I do: that some clothing makes it easier for others to think of women as objects, and that treating women as objects is wrong, really wrong, objectively wrong. Some "clothing" is not really clothing. It fosters an atmosphere of disrespect. And it degrades women and undermines their great dignity.

The catch is that the "ideology" that justifies wearing the risque costumes - moral relativism (her definition is a bit off but I'll take her to mean that morality is relative) - is the same "ideology" that justifies objectifying women. I think this proves that the "ideology" she espouses is deeply flawed, as all "ideologies" are. It also means her argument is flawed.

All this said, I'm sure the author of this letter would agree with me that objectifying women is wrong. So I think this is just a bit of confusion and the attempt of one person's conscience to rationalize their behavior.

What do you think?

10.29.2008

death

"And as for death," she said, "why, Bardia there (I love Bardia) will look on it six times a day and whistle a tune as he goes to find it. We have made little use of the Fox's teaching if we're to be scared by death. And you know, Sister, he has sometimes let out that there were other Greek masters that those he follows himself; masters who have taught that death opens a door out of a little, dark room (that's all the life we have known before it) into a great, real place where the true sun shines and we shall meet-"

C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Stanford on Aristotle

The principal idea with which Aristotle begins is that there are differences of opinion about what is best for human beings, and that to profit from ethical inquiry we must resolve this disagreement. He insists that ethics is not a theoretical discipline: we are asking what the good for human beings is not simply because we want to have knowledge, but because we will be better able to achieve our good if we develop a fuller understanding of what it is to flourish. In raising this question—what is the good?—Aristotle is not looking for a list of items that are good. He assumes that such a list can be compiled rather easily; most would agree, for example, that it is good to have friends, to experience pleasure, to be healthy, to be honored, and to have such virtues as courage at least to some degree. The difficult and controversial question arises when we ask whether certain of these goods are more desirable than others. Aristotle's search for the good is a search for the highest good, and he assumes that the highest good, whatever it turns out to be, has three characteristics: it is desirable for itself, it is not desirable for the sake of some other good, and all other goods are desirable for its sake.

Aristotle thinks everyone will agree that the terms “eudaimonia” (“happiness”) and “eu zên” (“living well”) designate such an end. The Greek term “eudaimon” is composed of two parts: “eu” means “well” and “daimon” means “divinity” or “spirit.” To be eudaimon is therefore to be living in a way that is well-favored by a god. But Aristotle never calls attention to this etymology, and it seems to have little influence on his thinking. He regards “eudaimon” as a mere substitute for eu zên (“living well”). These terms play an evaluative role, and are not simply descriptions of someone's state of mind.

- The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Aristotle
Oh Stanford. Aristotle thinks everyone will agree with him? That's unreasonable, so that can't be Aristotle. Aristotle would probably argue that everyone reasonable would agree with him. This, clearly, is a much more reasonable argument.

In other news, I'm very tired.

10.26.2008

the benefit of the doubt

The following may be a bit preachy. But I think it is a worthwhile bit of practical knowledge that I know I have to work to habituate. Maybe you're in the same boat, or maybe you've already perfected the art.

Say you are having a spirited conversation about the best way to apply moral principles to public life. Further stipulate that in the course of this conversation someone say something that you do not understand, something that offends you. Perhaps it evokes deep-seated unpleasant feelings and memories. What is the proper way to respond to such a comment? I submit that you must first make sure you understand what the other person is really trying to say. Ask them to clarify. Then, after you truly understand the intention of their remark, you can properly judge whether it actually deserves the response you were initially inclined to give.

This is commonly called giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Assume that your interlocutor is arguing in good faith and did not mean to offend you. It helps to makes our conversations civil and facilitates real communication. Someone smart once said that most of what we take to be disagreements are really just confusion. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt helps to resolve that confusion so that real true disagreement, if it exists, can be brought to light.

10.23.2008

put this on your ipod and listen to it

Peter Kreeft on The Catholic Vote. A MUST listen for Catholics. I was surprised at both the scope and the force of his argument; I originally thought he would be more reserved in his judgment of the situation. I thought wrong!

10.22.2008

against abstractions

Wilfred McClay has an excellent piece in today's First Things. Highly recommended. Here's the intro:
We have a chronic problem in America with abstract words. We cannot do without them, since they are carriers of our highest ideals and aspirations: “justice,” “democracy,” “dignity,” “liberty.” But it is for precisely this reason that we should beware of them, and treat them as precious commodities, not to be wantonly profaned or corrupted. The use of such words—or of words such as “change” or “hope” or “promise”—play an essential role in most acts of cultural sleight of hand.

That caution is especially appropriate in a modern democratic culture, and so it is not surprising that Tocqueville had a keen awareness of it. “Men living in democratic countries, then, are apt to entertain unsettled ideas, and they require loose expressions to convey them. As they never know whether the idea they express today will be appropriate to the new position they may occupy tomorrow, they naturally acquire a liking for abstract terms.” The chief virtue of an abstraction, he observed, is that it is “like a box with a false bottom; you may put in it what ideas you please, and take them out again without being observed.”

Such words can thrill and intoxicate, even as their meaning is made to expand beyond all bounds, and inflate into something genuinely dangerous, or at any rate something different from, and perhaps even deeply antithetical to, their original meaning.

Which of course puts one in mind of the 2008 presidential election, and particularly the Democratic nominee, whose rhetoric is invariably referred to as “soaring”—a word used admiringly by people who have evidently never thought much about the word’s dictionary meaning: “a mode of flight in which height is gained by using warm air that is moving upwards.” This is likely to be true of the rhetoric of any effective democratic politician. But Barack Obama’s campaign is so high and lifted up by abstractions that older means of propulsion, a wing and a prayer, seem crawlingly terrestrial by comparison.

Closer examination discloses that there is nothing very new going on here, only a fresh exemplification of the principle Tocqueville put forward so lucidly. A case in point is Obama’s use of the word promise, a frequent visitor to his rhetoric over the years, and the dominant theme in his Democratic nomination acceptance speech, “The American Promise.”
Ok, I lied. The intro plus a lot more of the good stuff.

internet absence

I've started a new job and at present it calls almost all of my time. I intend to update on the weekends if I can. I miss all the philosophical conversations, but people need to eat.

10.20.2008

McCain burger

This guy is awesome. All of his videos are great, more or less. Check them out:

10.18.2008

saturday night

And now for something different. A local amusement park has a ride called the Frisbee. It was far and away the best ride I have ever been on - exactly the right amount of horrifying. It feels like jumping off of a bridge, only over and over and over again, while simultaneously spinning in circles.



The company that makes this thing says this of the ride:
- Sensational giant swing movements combined with thrilling spins
- Impressive visuals offered by the ride
- Gondola swings 90ƒ up to the horizontal position
- Moments of weightlessness possible for all passengers
- Change spinning direction of disc for added thrill
- Especially well suited for attractive decoration and theming ideas
- Passengers experience forces of up to 4gs!
- Proven technology and a very stable construction make it absolutely safe
Now I'm no amusement park enthusiast but this thing was absolutely crazy and a lot of fun. A video of one of these things in action is available here.

10.17.2008

For those who have eyes to see

Neuhaus today:
What in the last several decades came to be called the “culture wars” runs very deep, and there is no end in sight. Nobody who cares about this constitutional order can be happy with our present circumstance. Politics is supposed to be about persuasion, deliberation, and decision-making through the process of representative democracy. It is not supposed to be warfare conducted by other means. And yet it is hard to suppress the impression that we are two nations in conflict. The alignments are not always clear-cut and there are overlappings on some issues, but the general picture is evident to all who have eyes to see.

We are two nations: one concentrated on rights and laws, the other on rights and wrongs; one radically individualistic and dedicated to the actualized self, the other communal and invoking the common good; one viewing law as the instrument of the will to power and license, the other affirming an objective moral order reflected in a Constitution to which we are obliged; one given to private satisfaction, the other to familial responsibility; one typically secular, the other typically religious; one elitist, the other populist. These strokes are admittedly broad, but the reality is all too evident in the increasingly ugly rancor that dominates and debases our public life. And, of course, for many Americans the conflicts in the culture wars run through their own hearts.

No other question cuts so close to the heart of the culture wars as the question of abortion. The abortion debate is about more than abortion. It is about the nature of human life and community. It is about whether rights are the product of human assertion or the gift of “Nature and Nature’s God.” It is about euthanasia, eugenic engineering, and the protection of the radically handicapped. But the abortion debate is most inescapably about abortion. In that debate, the Supreme Court has again and again, beginning with the Roe and Doe decisions of 1973, gambled its authority, and with it our constitutional order, by coming down on one side.
Notice how Neuhaus does not paint a picture of the culture wars within a liberal/conservative or Republican/Democrat binary framework. I point this out because no serious thinker on the right has ever said that all Republicans are good and all Democrats are bad, contrary to the opinions of some.

the consequences of '08

When Obama wins, the country really will change. If you are an Obama voter, are you really sure all of the ways it will change will be for good? A great Wall Street Journal article today spells out the consequences:
If the current polls hold, Barack Obama will win the White House on November 4 and Democrats will consolidate their Congressional majorities, probably with a filibuster-proof Senate or very close to it. Without the ability to filibuster, the Senate would become like the House, able to pass whatever the majority wants.

Though we doubt most Americans realize it, this would be one of the most profound political and ideological shifts in U.S. history. Liberals would dominate the entire government in a way they haven't since 1965, or 1933. In other words, the election would mark the restoration of the activist government that fell out of public favor in the 1970s. If the U.S. really is entering a period of unchecked left-wing ascendancy, Americans at least ought to understand what they will be getting, especially with the media cheering it all on.
They proceed to go through all the significant policy changes to come: increased taxes to support the new health care system, more regulations for the business environment, the absolute codification of abortion policy, restrictions on free speech ("Fairness doctrine") and who knows what else.

Obama is mellifluously eloquent. He has a way of answering every side of any question he's asked: he says everything that everyone could want to hear and he says it so nicely! The danger is that, because of this eloquence, no one really knows what exactly it is he is going to do as President. He stands not so much for particular policies but for a disposition, the disposition of change, which of course is subject to change itself(?). Beyond this vague and vacuous platitude, he also espouses a generally unwavering commitment to the governmental control of all aspects of our lives. Government with Obama is not limited by anything personal or private. After all, "the personal is political".

The consequences of this philosophy are two. Less freedom and with less freedom, less democracy. Democracy's difficult to sustain and tolerate anyways, seeing as how it accommodates people who disagree with you and you don't always get what you want. Change will be easier with a King.

10.16.2008

Twelfth Night?

Now, I'm no Shakespeare scholar. In fact I'm quite the philistine, hardly being acquainted with even a small selection of his corpus. But I am working to improve my situation. This Friday me and my fiance are going to see a production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. In an attempt to prepare myself, I've read through the play. Shakespeare plays with gender roles and offers what seems to be a simple love triangle story that resolves itself in a humorous way. But other than that, I can't seem to get much out of the play. I did not notice any especially profound insights or passages that were extraordinary in greatness, but I think this is because I do not have the eyes to see such things if they are indeed there. SO that brings me to my question: Is anyone familiar with Twelfth Night? If so, could you explain the particular greatness of this play, or at least point me to someone who could?

**Turns out Harold Bloom has some very helpful essays in his work Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Mr. Bloom has informed me that the play is about the abstract and possibly arbitrary origins of love. That is, the play skewers those who would be "in love with love", rather than actually in love with a person. Light dawns over marble head!

a manly liberty, but prudent

I flatter myself that I love a manly, moral, regulated liberty as well as any gentleman of that society, be who he will; and perhaps I have given as good proofs of my attachment to that cause, in the whole course of my public conduct. I think I envy liberty as little as they do, to any other nation. But I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to any thing which relates to human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which some gentleman pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing color, and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind. Abstractly speaking, government, as well as liberty, is good; yet could I, in common sense, ten years ago, have felicitated France on her enjoyment of a government (for she then had a government) without enquiry what the nature of that government was, or how it was administered? Can I now congratulate the same nation upon its freedom? Is it because liberty in the abstract may be classed among the blessings of mankind, that I am seriously to felicitate a madman, who has escaped from the protecting restraint and the wholesome darkness of his cell, on his restoration to the enjoyment of light and liberty? Am I to congratulate the highwayman and murderer, who has broke prison, upon the recovery of his natural rights? This would be to act over again the scene of the criminals condemned to the gallies, and their heroic deliverer, the metaphysic Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance.

When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see a strong principle at work; and this, for a while, is all I can possibly know of it. The wild gas, the fixed air is plainly broke loose: but we ought to suspend our judgment until the first effervescence is a little subsided, till the liquor is cleared, and until we see something deeper than the agitation of a troubled and frothy surface. I must be tolerably sure, before I venture publicly to congratulate men upon a blessing, that they have really received one. Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver; and adulation is not of more service to the people than to kings. I should therefore suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France, until I was informed how it had been combined with government; with public force; with the discipline and obedience of armies; with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue; with morality and religion; with the solidity of property; with peace and order; with civil and social manners. All these (in their way) are good things too; and, without them, liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and is not likely to continue long. The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: We ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations, which may be soon turned into complaints. Prudence would dictate this in the case of separate insulated private men; but liberty, when men act in bodies, is power; and particularly of so trying a thing as new power in new persons, of whose principles, tempers, and dispositions, they have little or no experience, and in situations where those who appear the most stirring in the scene may possibly not be the real movers.

- Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, pp. 5-6

10.13.2008

humanity without limits

The enlightenment myth of infinite progress has not yet died. This assertion of mine is based largely on ancedotal evidence and the general impression I get from the cultural and political commentariat. It is commonly held that things are getting better or they will get better in the future. Peter Kreeft calls this the religion of progress; or, the belief in change for change's sake. I think it's a fair description of a common mindset of those on both the left and the right.

One reason this mindset is so pervasive is because the of the free economy. The massive creation of wealth gives us the false impression that humanity has no limits. An important part of conservatism, then, is to remind people that mankind does indeed have limits, and that the idea of a limitless humanity is a dangerous cultural poison. (I am using the word free here in a sense that means this: our economic actions are no longer under the control of some state or social organization that limits who we can do business with. They are also generally free from excessive taxation.)

Perhaps no one expresses this danger better than Wendell Berry, especially in his latest essay on this very subject. It is titled "Faustian economics: Hell Hath no limits". I think it gives a great outline of the kind of cultural changes that are going to need to occur in the coming years.

What does he recommend?
To recover from our disease of limitlessness, we will have to give up the idea that we have a right to be godlike animals, that we are potentially omniscient and omnipotent, ready to discover “the secret of the universe.” We will have to start over, with a different and much older premise: the naturalness and, for creatures of limited intelligence, the necessity, of limits. We must learn again to ask how we can make the most of what we are, what we have, what we have been given. If we always have a theoretically better substitute available from somebody or someplace else, we will never make the most of anything. It is hard to make the most of one life. If we each had two lives, we would not make much of either. Or as one of my best teachers said of people in general: “They’ll never be worth a damn as long as they’ve got two choices.”

To deal with the problems, which after all are inescapable, of living with limited intelligence in a limited world, I suggest that we may have to remove some of the emphasis we have lately placed on science and technology and have a new look at the arts. For an art does not propose to enlarge itself by limitless extension but rather to enrich itself within bounds that are accepted prior to the work.
Vague indeed, but it does give us at least a basic orientation.

It is significant to note, I think, that Mr. Berry does not offer a political plan for reorganizing society, that is, a plan that involves the use of the coercive power of the state. The essay is a call for individuals to change their lives. This type of commentary is very important I think, and its importance may be underestimated by certain libertarian-types.

Cross posted at American Catholic

10.11.2008

the end of democracy?

What is called when unelected officials in robes make a state's laws?

Oh yeah, an oligarchy?

10.10.2008

Catholic perspective on abortion no. 7,300,283,376

This seems to have been passed over... Bishop Robert Vasa on voting for a pro-choice candidate:
Bishop Vasa explained the notion of proportionate reasons, saying, "The conditions under which an individual may be able to vote for a pro-abortion candidate would apply only if all the candidates are equally pro-abortion."

He added: "And then you begin to screen for the other issues and make a conscientious decision to vote for this pro-abortion candidate because his positions on these other issues are more in keeping with good Catholic values." In that case, he said, "It doesn't mean that you in any way support or endorse a pro-abortion position but you take a look in that context at the lesser of two evils."

Speaking of politicians with a pro-abortion stand he said, "When we have someone who has that stand on a disqualifying issue, then the other issues, in many ways, do not matter because they are already wrong on that absolutely fundamental issue."

Only when taken to a level of insanity could a 'pro-war' candidate be considered on par with a pro-abortion candidate in the Bishop's view. "If we had a candidate in favor of a war in Iraq in which we decimate the entire population and we kill as many civilians to impose as much terror on everybody as possible to make sure . . . If that was in opposition to a pro-abortion person then I'd have a real conflict of conscience because you'd have a direct and intentional killing of innocent persons on one hand and the direct and intentional killing of persons on the other hand, said the Baker Bishop.

"But we don't have that issue with capital punishment, we don't have that issue with the war in Iraq we don't have that issue with the present Administration," he added.

publicity stunts

Crankycon on fire today. Get this guy a job at National Review, eh?.

10.08.2008

false apology syndrome

A really interesting post from Amanda Shaw. Have you met anyone that feels very badly about things that have happened in the past, that he/she may have not been responsible for?
False Apology Syndrome is a way of judging others to avoid judging ourselves–of shrugging moral responsibility. It fosters a perpetrator–victim mentality: “For what can I do wrong to compare with the wrongs that my ancestors suffered at the hands of your ancestors? How dare you even mention it, you hypocrite!” For that matter, what could I do wrong to compare with the wrongs my ancestors committed? I must say, it’s a reassuring mode of thought.

But as Dalrymple makes sure to add, “I am, of course, sorry if you disagree.”
Strikes me as reasonable. We will do almost anything to avoid looking at ourselves honestly (myself included).

here's a complicated question, I think

Are all "oughts" obligatory? That is, when we make a judgment about a particular thing we should do, is it always obligatory? I don't think so. Policraticus said that this is a contradiction because all "ought" statements are obligatory. Maybe he's right? I wrote this in response to his claim:
I’d say all “oughts” where are knowledge is complete and authoritative are obligatory. In other cases, most especially political cases, not all oughts are absolutely obligatory because we can’t do everything at once and our knowledge is often incomplete.

For example, in the case of the dogmas of the faith, we have greater certainty and “truer” knowledge than we do in many other areas of knowledge. Our knowledge comes from Divine Authority and therefore it is more certain, and it is also totally binding because it comes from that Most Authoritative of sources.

In the case of a political opinion, our knowledge is less certain because it is not part of revelation. We have to make judgments ourselves, based upon incomplete knowledge and our own conscience. There is still an “ought” involved with the question - we are trying to answer the question “what ought we to do?” - but the answer is not so certain, therefore what we need to do is not necessarily certain, and therefore not necessarily obligatory.
I’m not sure that makes any sense but it’s an interesting question, I think. Or maybe I'm just missing something very basic.

10.07.2008

thoughts on homeschooling

I am undecided on the question of homeschooling. But I'm very much interested in it because God willing I will be a father someday. Reading First Things today, I find an article that speaks to one mother and father's experience. They write of being more or less forced into homeschooling because of the deficiencies of the current educational fancies operating in American schools. In the process, they articulate what sounds to me like a very appealing educational philosophy:
Home education as the Millmans understand it is about offering children a level of moral and intellectual agency that a school setting cannot provide. “For us,” they write, “education means a kind of growth and development that seems to have no constituency within the school system.” Though they don’t belabor their Christian identity, the very language they use—truth, virtue, freedom—is a vocabulary too mined with a given set of values to be of use even, it increasingly seems, in private schools where egalitarian ideals and “who-are-we-to-judge-ism” are offered as a counterweight to upper-class guilt. Even to think about ideas like truth, virtue, and freedom in large terms is to step outside the institutional conversation, with its overriding concern for what can be quantified. By contrast, in homeschooling, “what matters is not getting the child to produce work but, rather, getting the child to become a fully free and actualized human being.” If homeschooling represents an assertion of the parental right to influence how a child perceives reality, in the Millmans’ view the real point of this kind of education is to develop a person with the clarity to discern what is real. Learning, then, is less about amassing a certain body of knowledge than about cultivating the habit of asking questions and seeking true answers.
This idea, that education should be both moral and oriented to the truth is not a new one. Before John Dewey's educational pragmatism really took hold in American schools, this philosophy of education being about virtue and truth was dominant. It really is unfortunate that we've replaced Aristotle with Dewey, and I think it is a good thing that homeschoolers can correct for this mistake made by the teachers of our teachers.

The only objection I have to homeschooling concerns the natural socialization that occurs in a school environment. This involves, I think, not just learning social norms from peers, but also from sources of authority that are not mommy or daddy. I think this is an essential element of education that I am not sure homeschooling can provide, at least in the same capacity and extent.

Obviously this critique is more or less effective depending on the style employed by the parents who choose to homeschool. Some homeschooling students will find themselves ever occupied with social activities and challenges. There are also a large number of homeschooling organizations that are providing the types of activities that may be difficult for homeschoolers to get involved in otherwise.

Basically I think homeschooling is not the ideal. It's something we do when we're desperate, because the education system is so bad.

Schall on political leadership

If you don't read Fr. James Schall, well, I suppose you should. I know of no greater teacher of politics and human affairs. His latest column at InsideCatholic is worth highlighting. He addresses the important subject of political leadership:
Among the classical authors, the common opinion was that a democracy would eventually choose as a ruler a tyrant who promised them what they wanted. Then he would subject them to what he wanted. The American founders understood this problem, which is why they founded a republic, not a democracy.

Plato said in his Seventh Letter: "The more I reflected upon what was happening, upon what kind of men were active in politics, and upon the state of our laws and customs, and the older I grew, the more I realized how difficult it is to manage a city's affairs rightly." It is, indeed, the most difficult of all the human occupations of this world.

Politics is about who rules and for what purpose. It is not a "science." It is dependent on character and practical wisdom. "Such wisdom is concerned not only with universals but with particulars, which become familiar from experience, but a young man has no experience, for it is length of time that gives experience." These are Aristotle's words.

What is a leader? He is a prudent man who can, in an actual city, make decisions for the temporal common good of citizens who, by their characters, are already choosing their membership in one or other of the two ultimate cities, the City of God or the City of Man.

newsflash!

My first post is up at American Catholic. I think it makes at least 25% sense.

10.06.2008

American Catholic

I'm happy to announce a new commentary website titled American Catholic. As you might surmise from the title, the website will look at American politics from a Catholic perspective. I have been graciously asked to contribute some material, and I expect to cross-post my posts that deal principally with politics and Catholicism.

Stop by if you are interested in a provocative but thoughtful and civil conversation.

10.05.2008

Cardinal Rigali and the FOCA - or, critiquing Vox Nova on respect life Sunday

Policraticus says faithful Catholics can only abstain or vote third party this November. Indeed, he suggests Catholics who vote for John McCain or Barack Obama "do not really believe some issues are non-negotiable" - quite an insult, not to mention a miraculous feat of soul-reading. Putting that aside for now...

I think he is dangerously wrong. If Catholics allow Barack Obama to be elected, his first act as President will be to sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), effectively codifying Roe v. Wade in our federal law. What do the Bishops say about the FOCA?
Today, however, we face the threat of a federal bill that, if enacted, would obliterate virtually all the gains of the past 35 years and cause the abortion rate to skyrocket. The "Freedom of Choice Act" ("FOCA") has many Congressional sponsors, some of whom have pledged to act swiftly to help enact this proposed legislation when Congress reconvenes in January.

FOCA establishes abortion as a "fundamental right" throughout the nine months of pregnancy, and forbids any law or policy that could "interfere" with that right or "discriminate" against it in public funding and programs. If FOCA became law, hundreds of reasonable, widely supported, and constitutionally sound abortion regulations now in place would be invalidated. Gone would be laws providing for informed consent, and parental consent or notification in the case of minors. Laws protecting women from unsafe abortion clinics and from abortion practitioners who are not physicians would be overridden. Restrictions on partial-birth and other late-term abortions would be eliminated. FOCA would knock down laws protecting the conscience rights of nurses, doctors, and hospitals with moral objections to abortion, and force taxpayers to fund abortions throughout the United States.

We cannot allow this to happen. We cannot tolerate an even greater loss of innocent human lives. We cannot subject more women and men to the post-abortion grief and suffering that our counselors and priests encounter daily in Project Rachel programs across America.

For twenty-four years, the Catholic Church has provided free, confidential counseling to individuals seeking emotional and spiritual healing after an abortion, whether their own or a loved one's. We look forward to the day when these counseling services are no longer needed, when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law. If FOCA is enacted, however, that day may recede into the very distant future.
Oh and by the way, McCain does not and will not support the Freedom of Choice act. What can the good Cardinal be telling us, then? It cannot be that we must abstain from voting, which would certainly constitute allowing the FOCA to happen. It also cannot mean voting for Barack Obama, who will be the key proponent of this legislation. This statement cannot be read as anything but an implicit denunciation of the Democratic candidate for President.

I understand Catholics who say they cannot vote for either candidate. It is true that McCain supports a non-negotiable moral evil: embryonic stem cell research. This should give us great pause. We need to pray McCain has a change of heart. We need to call and write his campaign. We need to argue persuasively against this great evil so that he hears us and changes his mind. But democratic politics is not the same thing as moral philosophy. Catholics in a democracy are obligated, I think (as do some Bishops), to limit evil as best we can. This is something the Kansas City Bishops recently taught in a letter to their parishioners. The section on limiting grave evil is worth quoting in its entirety:
Limiting Grave Evil

In another circumstance, we may be confronted with a voting choice between two candidates who support abortion, though one may favor some limitations on it, or he or she may oppose public funding for abortion. In such cases, the appropriate judgment would be to select the candidate whose policies regarding this grave evil will do less harm. We have a responsibility to limit evil if it is not possible at the moment to eradicate it completely.

The same principle would be compelling to a conscientious voter who was confronted with two candidates who both supported same-sex unions, but one opposed abortion and destructive embryonic research while the other was permissive in these regards. The voter, who himself or herself opposed these policies, would have insufficient moral justification voting for the more permissive candidate. However, he or she might justify resorting to a write-in vote or abstaining from voting at all in this case, because of a conscientious objection.

In 2004 a group of United States Bishops, acting on behalf of the USCCB and requesting counsel about the responsibilities of Catholic politicians and voters, received a memo from the office of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, which stated: “A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

Could a Catholic in good conscience vote for a candidate who supports legalized abortion when there is a choice of another candidate who does not support abortion or any other intrinsically evil policy? Could a voter’s preference for the candidate’s positions on the pursuit of peace, economic policies benefiting the poor, support for universal health care, a more just immigration policy, etc. overcome a candidate’s support for legalized abortion? In such a case, the Catholic voter must ask and answer the question: What could possibly be a proportionate reason for the more than 45 million children killed by abortion in the past 35 years? Personally, we cannot conceive of such a proportionate reason.
This is a rewording of John Paul II's authoritative teaching in Evangelium Vitae:
In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects. EV 73
It is clear that Policraticus is wrong to say that a Catholic cannot vote for John McCain or Barack Obama. In this way he is misleading Catholic voters.

We should also keep in mind that the threat of embyronic stem cell research is negligible given the recent advances made in the science. Furthermore, Obama is more enthusiastic about this type of research than is McCain.

I understand people who do not think they can vote for either candidate. Fine. But I do not think they have a good handle on the imperfect nature of democratic politics or the serious consequences of abstaining from the vote. This is the last good chance we have to make changes to our law so that it can protect innocent human life from being killed.

10.03.2008

29 artists

For Friday, I offer this list of excellent musicians to check out
1. Nicolas Payton
2. Kurt Rosenwinkel
3. Attica! Attica!
4. Kurt Elling
5. Dinosaur Jr. (the albumn Beyond)
6. Sam Cooke
7. Foo Fighters
8. James Taylor
9. The Weakerthans
10. Criteria
11. Steely Dan
12. Thrice
13. Further Seems Forever
14. Clifford Brown
15. The Mars Volta
16. Boy Sets Fire
17. Piebald
18. Stevie Wonder
19. Zao
20. The Police
21. The Beach Boys
22. Cave In
23. Ben Folds
24. Lee Morgan
25. Earth, Wind and Fire
26. Sublime
27. Pat Metheny
28. Beck
29. Jurassic 5
Let me know what you think.

10.02.2008

the takeaway

What a boring debate! I think the only takeaway is that Sarah Palin has not disqualified herself from the office of the Vice Presidency.

Also, it's hilarious that Joe Biden said he spends a lot of time at Home Depot.

postmodern conservative economics?

Here's an interesting take on economics in which I find my own view being expressed by someone with much more eloquence than I currently possess. This is Ivan Kenneally writing at Culture11:
What is a Postmodern Conservative view of economics? While a true postmodern conservatism is cognizant of the power of markets and the great advantages of the prosperity it generates (and the reliable incompetence of government in providing regulatory supervision), it is also aware of the limitations attendant upon the libertarian theoretical assumptions that typically underwrite free market advocacy. We’re more than solipsistic individuals with rights, reason, and interests and so a reasonable modicum of care and compassion, consistent with the individual liberty and responsibility that any free society should respect, should temper the excesses any spontaneous order will likely generate. It also recognizes that Rousseau was at least partially right in the First Discourse (yep, Rousseau) that with the benefits of great wealth and luxury come new obstacles to the cultivation of virtue. If you prefer finding common ground with Aristotle, one could say that a postmodern conservatism recognizes that wealth is the equipment of virtue but not virtue itself, and that too much equipment can sometimes prove burdensome.
Why do these intelligent individuals insist on adapting the label postmodern? It may be simply that they want to recognize the paradigm in which they live. But what about this account is postmodern? I don't see it.

10.01.2008

justice?

Prof. William Cavanaugh via MoJ:
In this vision, the idea of social justice gets cast in an entirely new light. The standard definition of justice that comes to us from Aristotle through Aquinas is expressed in the phrase reddere suum cuique: to render to each person his or her own. Justice as pursued by the law of the state has this as its very ideal – to sort out what is mine from what is yours. In the Body of Christ, however, what is mine and what is yours is radically relativized by the participation of all in the same body. Social justice then is not about distribution among individuals in competition for scarce goods. Sorting out who deserves what is an impediment to seeing the world as God sees it, as it really is. In the Body of Christ, all belongs to God, and none claims absolute ownership of God’s abundance. Social justice is not simply a matter of benevolence, but of sharing the fate of those who suffer.

the usefulness of certain words

There are certain words that, for some people, immediately arrest all rational thought. Examples include conservative, liberal, democrat, republican, Christian, socialist, evangelical, atheist, etc. These words are invested with what I will call psychological baggage: they produce a state of mind that is dominated by emotions. These emotions affect a persons ability to reason: emotion is a more powerful influence than reason. And they affect all other terms that are used in the conversation. It becomes impossible to understand or sympathize with the other person.

The modern mind especially loves to categorize things, and persons are not exempt from this process. After the use of one of these words, the conversation is interrupted by a process of categorization – oh, so if you’re one of those people, you must think that …. And so on and on. But no matter if a definition can be agreed upon, people have preconceived notions of what these words mean and represent.

So I find it’s not best to use these types of categories in conversation unless there is a certain understanding that is already in place. The words are useful, but not if they inhibit our ability to distinguish persons from ideas.

9.29.2008

to bail or not to bail

Who's right?

Daniel Larison or Robert Miller? Or maybe this guy?

I honestly don't know on this one. I prefer Larison's argument because he stands on principle but I'm not entirely sure he's right. He may be slightly hyperbolic. And Miller seems too quickly dismiss the heretofore unseen collusion between government and business that this $700 billion dollar project is.

Or do I find myself agreeing with Prof. Miron of Harvard?
So what should the government do? Eliminate those policies that generated the current mess. This means, at a general level, abandoning the goal of home ownership independent of ability to pay. This means, in particular, getting rid of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with policies like the Community Reinvestment Act that pressure banks into subprime lending.

The right view of the financial mess is that an enormous fraction of subprime lending should never have occurred in the first place. Someone has to pay for that. That someone should not be, and does not need to be, the U.S. taxpayer.
Seems sensible.

David Foster Wallace on atheism

From a haunting commencement address he gave in 2005:
Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

9.28.2008

shifting emphases

Apropos of the liberation theology discussion, I offer this passage from Charles Chaput's new book, "Render unto Caesar". Here he is dealing with the theological viewpoint (if that's the right word) that stresses first social reform:
But a more common reading of the text- in fact, a distortion - is to look at Gaudium et Spes as giving priority to Christian engagement with the political world, as if the old stress on personal reform were merely a prelude the maturity of the modern age. Worse, this shift away from the old struggles of "personal morality" can have the effect of implying that people are simply the products of social structures. Thus, any faults we have are excusable faults of our natures. In America, this has grown into a cult of self-esteem and an unwillingness to judge. It's now hard to claim that anything anyone does, anywhere, is inherently wrong. As one observer said, Gaudium et Spes actually upholds the old personal morality, and in doing so, exalts human beings: "The view of man that is ascendant in American society today is not one that thinks too much of man, but too little." (pp. 132)

9.27.2008

Liberation Theology - 3, Gutierrez's flawed anthropology

This is a rough first draft, and I think there are a few mistakes in here, or at least things that are unclear. Comments are welcome!

The main argument of Fr. Gutierrez's foundational text, "A Theology of Liberation" is straightforward. It is simply that Jesus of Nazareth came to free us from sin and thus its consequences. For: to remove the cause (sin) is to remove the effect (injustice). Gutierrez argues that Christ calls us to a radical liberation, an integral liberation which frees us from all material and spiritual burdens. In Fr. Gutierrez's words, "the salvation of Christ is a radical liberation from all misery, all despoliation, all alienation." (pg. 104)

Of course, this is true, but in a different sense than Fr. Gutierrez means. This radical liberation will be radically incomplete until the end of days, until the realization of the eschaton. Until then, misery and despoliation will remain in this Vale of Tears. In saying this, I intend to limit Christian hope - in this world. Hope is a theological virtue. Vertically, it extends infinitely. Horizontally, not so, for this would amount to a conflict, to idolatry. That is, we would be placing our hopes in the creation rather than the Creator. The traditional understanding is that we do not hope infinitely in finite things. After all, the reason we can have any hope in this world is because we hope in the next. I think this is a principal error of liberation theology as espoused by Fr. Gutierrez: his hope is misplaced. The first thing is not put first.

This mistake is the result of a few flawed assumptions made about the human being which come from modern philosophy. The primary mistaken assumption of Fr. Gutierrez is that human nature is mutable. Indeed, he explicitly says that
through the struggle against misery, injustice, and exploitation, the goal is the creation of a new humanity. Vatican II has declared, "We are the witnesses of the birth of a new humanism, one in which man is defined first of all by his responsibility toward his brothers and toward history." (Gaudium et Spes, no. 55) This aspiration to create a new man is the deepest motivation in the struggle which many have undertaken in Latin America.(pg. 81-82)
It is tempting to just call this rhetorical excess because Fr. Gutierrez is generally imprecise with his words. But the effects of this assumption appear nearly everywhere else in the book. So in this case I think we must take him at his word. And in taking him at his word, we are obligated to note that this idea of his is deeply mistaken. God did not come to Earth to create a new human being, he came to redeem fallen human beings. And as St. Thomas Aquinas taught, Grace perfects nature, it does not change it. And this only happens with our free consent.

Each person individually is faced with a great battle: always saying yes to God. Original sin, which resulted in our fallen human nature prevents us from perfecting this "yes" in this life. Until the end of days we will live with the consequences of original sin. Christ gratuitously removes this wound, but His work is not complete until the end of time. It is very telling that Gutierrez does not address the political consequences of original sin: if he did, he might have to admit he has built his theology on a mistake - the idea that human beings are perfectible in this life. And so this idea causes him to misplace or at least incorrectly prioritize his hope.

Almost all of Gutierrez's other mistakes flow from his anthropology, which has yet additional errors. Take, for example, his understanding of sin:
... in the liberation approach sin is not considered as an individual, private, or merely interior reality - asserted just enough to necessitate "spiritual" redemption which does not challenge the order in which we live. Sin is regarded as a social, historical fact, the absence of fellowship and love in relationships among persons, the breach of friendship with God and with other persons, and therefore, an interior, personal fracture... considered in this way, the collective dimensions of sin are rediscovered. (pg. 102-103)
It is difficult to understand what Fr. Gutierrez is talking about. Seeing as how he makes no specific reference to another thinker, I would posit he is battling a straw man here. The traditional understanding is that sin is something that is an individual, personal offense, first against God. Obviously, this offense has social implications, because to offend God is to offend our neighbor, because of Christ. ("'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'" - Mt. 25:40) But in this traditional understanding, sin is not something a society can commit. Social structures do not sin. Individual persons sin. The idea that societies are responsible for sinning is a great lie. It is yet another instance of self-deception, of pride. Why? Because it mitigates our guilt. It's easier to say "the society made me do it" than it is to say "I've done wrong." To further clarify this point, I am not saying that conditions in a society cannot lessen our culpability. I am saying that the line of good and evil runs through every individual person's heart. How is this all related to anthropology? Well, this emphasis on the social nature of sin is probably rooted in an overemphasis on the communal aspect of man's nature.

And so what's all this theology for? Gutierrez does all this to justify arguing for the state control of the means of production, of businesses and etc. This way, the state can redistribute wealth evenly. Fr. James Schall, in his book Liberation Theology puts the structure of the programme this way: "Poverty - Dependence - Exploitation - Conscientization - Revolution - Socialism - this is pictured as the natural sequence so that any other view which might propose a different logic to the same end is more or less equivalent to rejecting the dire needs of such peoples." (pg. 38). The goal of all this theology is revolution to usher in socialism.

It's one thing to preach the preferential option for the poor, and it's another to insist the only way to satisfy this option is through revolution and socialism. I think in the final analysis, this theology is not really a theology so much as it is a call for socialist revolution.

9.26.2008

noteworthy

And I'm sure we all noticed that John McCain was lauded by his opponent tonight for his repudiation of torture, eh?

why videogames?

Why videogames?
"But there was something else about it, something I really didn't want to admit. I asked Paul Sams, the Blizzard COO, why people played WoW and his answer was simple, if a bit depressing: "How often in your everyday world do you get to feel heroic?" he said. "How often do you get to step into a world and do something big and meaningful? People need an escape from ordinary life. It's just something people need." "
Modern life doesn't provide many opportunities to be heroic. There's no adventure. Our culture doesn't give us a purpose, a telos, a summum bonum. In fact, it's actively hostile to the idea (see Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, et al.). Human nature abhors a vacuum, and video games are one way to fill the void.

Christians must contend that human life does have a purpose: to serve God. This is life's great adventure, this is the challenge of every human life (whether we know it or not). And this adventure calls for heroes - moral heroes. John Paul II used to remind young Catholics that God calls everyone to moral and spiritual greatness. And hey, he knew what he was talking about.

9.25.2008

An education in virtue (not that it took)

In high school I was able to feign familiarity with the books I was required to read. Some of my friends and I shared a utilitarian educational philosophy, one that, in retrospect, I see as immature foolishness. We would be as knowledgeable as was required for us to succeed at a high level, nothing more (but in our defense, our school encouraged this). But because of this philosophy, I missed out on reading a great number of classic works of literature. I'm trying to remedy this situation now.

And so I've been reading Jane Austen's novels. Jane Austen is marvelously attentive to detail and a great painter of the possibilities of human relationships. She takes virtue and vice very seriously, and shows her readers all the considerations that can shape human sentiment and affection. By taking these things seriously, Austen provides her readers with a vivid portrait of a type of human greatness: greatness in human love.

My most recent encounter with Ms. Austen's work was Mansfield Park, the story of Fanny Price. Mansfield Park is first a story about the perseverance of virtue during great trial. The novel's heroine, Fanny Price, is a mild-mannered girl who gets put through some awful trials by some supposedly reputable, high-class characters. But their flaws eventually come to a head in a few great crises that precipitate a happy ending. All the while Fanny Price remains steadfast in her commitment to what is true and good. In the end, she is rewarded. The story is a reminder that virtue is its own reward even if the circumstances of our lives do not seem to justify that proposition.

In short, Jane Austen is a great teacher of virtue. She doesn’t tell us what virtue is, she shows it to us in her characters. This showing is a unique function of literature, and it is one of the reasons her books are so great. And they are at least half-entertaining, too!

The Acton Institute's defintion of freedom

It has been frequently argued that the Acton Institute advocates for a flawed understanding of human freedom, a "neo-liberal" one. But anything but superficial similarity with the Acton Institute would see that interpretation as egregiously flawed. See, for example, this movie clip:



This is wholly consonant with the Catholic understanding of freedom, which is really freedom for moral and spiritual excellence.

To compare, a passage from the Catholic Catechism:
1731 Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin."