Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Contraception: Who's conning who?

Last February, Austin Ruse wrote a wrote a cautionary piece in Crisis, "Is Contraception the Hill We Want to Die On?", which was concerned with an attack on a Catholic politician's request that the federal government permit the sale of oral contraceptives without a prescription. Ruse is a thoughtful, lucid commentator; so, of course, he made some very good points. 

Nevertheless, I responded in Catholic Stand with "Contraception: A Hill Worth Dying On!" (you have to do ugly things to titles to boost your search-engine visibility, I've learned), arguing that there were several reasons the fight against abortion requires taking on contraceptives. Eleven months later, that conviction is still strong.

As usual, I posted the first few paragraphs on this site, with a link to the full CS article. Forty-seven weeks later, I finally get a comment in that combox, from Juliana@birthcontrol: "I am a catholic but I'm not sure I will be joining you on this one any time soon." 

I suppose I understand. Who wants to stop taking a Class I carcinogen that increases risks of weight gain, breast cancer, depression, blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes? Who wouldn't want to take a pill that interferes with your ability to select compatible mates, decreases your desirability, facilitates poor sexual choices, and encourages sexploitation? After all, it frees you from your biology ... assuming you don't still end up at Planned Parenthood wondering how those two gametes managed to get together despite all the roadblocks you put up.

So when Joanna Moorhead, writing in The Guardian, asks the Catholic Church to "drop the contraception con", my first reaction is to ask, "Who's conning who?"

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Eve Ensler’s 20-year reign coming to a silly end?

Back in August, I wrote a piece for Catholic Stand titled “The Identity of a Woman”, the springboard of which was an article in New Yorker concerning the growing struggle between feminists and the transgendered. Allow me the egotistical courtesy of quoting myself at length:

The problem for radical feminists is that men who claim to be women, even those who undergo “gender-reassignment surgery”, aren’t really women.

Not because the transgendered don’t have the right parts, or because the parts have been artificially implanted; oh no, that would simply be common sense, and who wants that?(“Common sense,” Stuart Chase once sniffed, “is that which tells us the earth is flat.”) No, the radical feminist objection is that the transgendered haven’t been raised with the suffering and victimization inherent in a paternalist society, and that transgenderism represents a kind of male-imperialist encroachment on uniquely female territory.

To make matters worse (?), radical feminists seem to be losing the fight. The universities and PACs, which once hosted — or at least suffered — their message of male oppression, are now starting to push back wherever that message conflicts with transgender rights. Says Rachel Ivey, “If I were to say in a typical women’s-studies class today, ‘Female people are oppressed on the basis of reproduction,’ I would get called out.” Other students, she adds, would ask, “What about women who are male?”

Well, now the inner logic of “inclusiveness” — if we can call it that with a straight face — has created a new casualty of this internecine shindy: Mount Holyoke, a women’s college in Massachusetts, has cancelled its annual production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues because it lacks transgender roles.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The thundering Islamic silence

Photo source:
People call the cartoons Charlie Hebdo printed "satire". Occasionally the label fit. Other times, a better label would have been "sophomoric nastiness". Because they held nothing sacred for themselves, they had no qualms about stepping on the sensitivities of others.

I say this, of course, because some of the cartoons "Charbo" (editor-in-chief Stéphane Charbonnier, one of Wednesday's victims) drew for the magazine went beyond disrespect for Catholic leaders into childish blasphemy, such as the one that had Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a gay ménage à trois. Doubtless he thought there was a point to be made by such a representation, and that it would feed into the magazine's article about same-sex marriage. From my experience, though, when you deliberately set out to offend someone, you've reduced to almost 0% your chances of bringing that person to agreement. 

So yeah, I'm not about to paint the people of Charlie Hebdo as Catholic heroes. But the people who tore their offices apart with AK-47s didn't walk out saying, "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritu Sancti," either. 

Whatever else was true about the staff of Charlie Hebdo, they were close to unique among Western anti-religious in their criticism of Islam and willingness to satirize Mohammed. They were equal-opportunity offenders. Other groups pick only on Christians, because Christians don't form terrorist cells to strike back.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Ask Tony: What's the Catholic Church's position on "enhanced interrogation techniques"?—UPDATED

Source: Washington Post.
A: "Enhanced interrogation technique" is simply a euphemism for torture. The Church teaches that torture is intrinsically evil.

It's really not rocket science. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, cruel practices, even when used to maintain law and order by legitimate governments, are not "in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person". (CCC 2297-8) In a speech in Sept. 2007, Benedict XVI stated unequivocally, "In this regard, I reiterate that the prohibition against torture 'cannot be contravened under any circumstances' (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 404)." Nobody should expect Pope Francis to support it, either.

In Romans 3:8, St. Paul specifically denies that the apostles teach a consequentialist message. This rejection is restated in Catechism § 1789: "One may never do evil so that good may result from it" is a rule "that applies in every case".

One of the many things St. John Paul II apologized for in the name of the Church was the sanction of torture in securing confessions to heresy. It really doesn't matter, for our purposes, that its use was hedged about with many restrictions, that the clergy never directly participated, or that it was a matter of discipline rather than dogma (and so is covered by neither infallibility nor "tradition").The Church was wrong to do so, and there's an end to it.

Then why, you may ask, did so many white Catholics (the only Catholics represented) come out in favor of torturing suspected terrorists on the recent ABC/Washington Post poll?

Stan Goff, the author of Chasin' Jesus, suspects that part of the answer is due to relentless indoctrination by Hollywood:

... [T]he whole subject is embedded in carefully formulated, dramatic hypotheses. Moreover, we are all indoctrinated with ... "electronic hallucinations" nearly from birth that implant these hypothetical situations in our heads. Television and film, to be more precise, the most effective tools for mass indoctrination in the history of the world, have bombarded us with concocted stories that revolve around something that the late Russian film theorist Sergei Eisenstein labeled the "tempo task." ...

Any time we have this debate, those who want to justify torture evade discussion of the actual acts of torture (breaking someone's limbs with iron bars, for example, or letting him be chewed up by attack dogs, or pumping pureed hummus up his ass, or plunging him into ice water until his core temperature drops), and instead deploy a tempo task scenario. What if he has armed a nuclear bomb in Times Square and you have ten minutes to find it and disarm it? The purpose of the tempo task scenario is not to establish some moral line, but to dispense with morality altogether in favor of pragmatism in extremis.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Impractical Catholic's predictions for 2015!

Making New Year predictions has much more potential for fun than making New Year resolutions, precisely because the chattering classes take them more seriously. I don't know why; they're fulfilled less often than are the resolutions. I suspect it has something to do with politics being a grand game, like watching a real-life, non-violent version of The Highlander ("There can only be one!"). So, following Elizabeth Scalia's lead, I made my own predictions for the year:

1: Pope Francis' apostolic visit to the US will be a smash hit; and the tour will be extended for several more arena dates through the South and Southwest. Ticketmaster will report record sales; his dope new single, "That's Not What I Meant", will defy all expectations by replacing Taylor Swift at the top of the charts for one week.

2: Speaking of Taylor Swift, her torrid relationship with Lena Dunham will last for most of the year, marked by some squabbles over dominance and presence at each other's public engagements. The relationship, which will be considered the power romance for the feminist movement, will end when the two women realize they're not really gay. "But it was kinda cool and empowering while it lasted," Swift will confess. Dunham will marry herself around Christmastime.

3: Vice President Joe Biden will suffer a massive coronary and die at his desk. Cleaning crews will discover his body two days later. His final wish, to be burned in a Viking longboat at sea "just like Richard Mulligan in S.O.B.," will be protested by Greenpeace.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sunday Snippets — A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome again to Sunday Snippets — A Catholic Carnival, to which I've been very bad about contributing this last year and will hopefully make up for it this next year.

The point of Sunday Snippets is to introduce you to obscure Catholic bloggers whose work you might not ordinarily come across as you hopscotch through the blogosphere. I link a post from each of my blogs through the main page hosted by RAnn at This, That and the Other Thing, and also write up a referring post on the blog you're reading now.

In previous installments of this post, I would usually write up and link a list of post I'd written the previous week, in both this blog and The Other Blog. But not this time; I just haven't written enough to justify it. Besides, you're perfectly capable of scrolling down from the home pages to see what I've written recently. Moreover, the point of this post is to get you over to the Sunday Snippets page, where you can get tasty writing from other Catholics!

So tolle lege: click, read, and enjoy! And have a blessed First Sunday of Christmastide!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Surprise! Better English = better pay

Last week, I received this graphic from Memes from Grammarly come across on my Facebook status frequently; they're generally funny to those of us who are considered "grammar Nazis". (I really don't care for "Nazi" as a descriptor for anyone who's punctilious about anything; what the hell is so evil about demanding clearly-written prose and properly-spelled words that merits such a comparison?)

While the memes Grammarly puts out are funny, though, the Grammarly people are deadly serious about spreading English literacy. So am I; my only concern with ESL courses is that, unless you start early and go for complete fluency in English, you're cutting non-Anglophone students out of a lot of national and international jobs. 

So Grammarly asked me, Your Humble Blogger, to post this on my blog. They also sweetened the pot for me by offering to donate $100 in my name to Reading Is FUNdamental — a really great deal, since I don't have the money to make the donation myself.

Better English means better pay? Quoth Iago (the parrot in Aladdin, voiced by Gilbert Gottfried): "Oh, there's a big surprise! What an incredible — I think I'll have a heart attack and die from that surprise!"

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ask Tony: What did Jesus mean by "fulfilling" the Law of Moses?

Last year, I created the meme to your left to counter another meme based on a rant by John Fugelsang (isn't it indicative of how screwed-up our culture has become that people would make an actor/comedian an authority on religion?).

Fugelsang argued that Jesus wasn't anti-gay, based on the fact that the Gospels don't record anything from him on homosexual relations. However, as I've argued on The Other Blog, if Jesus had said anything supporting gay relationships or controverting Leviticus 18:22, "you can be morally certain the disciples and apostles would have made much of such a counter-cultural affirmation. Jesus' silence, in view of what was taught both before and after his mission, must be construed as consent to the Law: Qui tacet consentire videtur" [loosely, "Silence must be seen as consent"].

However, in creating the counter-meme, by reminding that Jesus "did not come to abolish the law ... but to fulfill [it]" (Matthew 5:17), I stepped into some quicksand. And a non-Christian caught me on it:

[Jesus'] "silence" on abortion and homosexuality could be seen as his "going along" with previous Jewish law, but doesn't that leave you with the problem of all the other kinda awkward Jewish laws ... like about eating pork or not touching menstruating women? (Please address this — I'd love to know why homosexuality is different in this regard.)

 I hate to admit it, but I got sloppy. The fact is, Jesus' fulfillment of the Law of Moses did free us of the Law. What Jesus' fulfillment of the Law didn't do, however, was free us of the spiritual need for moral behavior, or make the concept of sin irrelevant.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

Shut your computer off. Go play with your kids; eat some food; hug your spouse; go to midnight Mass ... whatever. Do something with your Christmas that isn't staring at a monitor and is engaging with the people in your house and neighborhood.

Merry Christmas, and happy New Year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Anti-intellectualism has already taken over the US

Prof. Patricia Williams. (© David Shankbone;
courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)
According to legal scholar Patricia Williams, anti-intellectualism is "taking over" the US. Depending on how you define it, however, one can make the case that intellectualism, as such, has been dead — or at least on life support — for more than two or three decades, and that now we're simply fighting over the ideology in which students will be indoctrinated.

What is "intellectualism", after all? What does it mean to be an intellectual? I'm afraid it's one of those words, the meaning of which we think is fairly obvious and held in common, but on closer examination really conveys different things to different people — a verbal cart made to carry different weights of psychological and social baggage.

On the surface, to be an intellectual is to enjoy the life of the mind more than the life of the body: to enjoy reading, writing, discussions, and arguments; to prefer work and entertainment that engages critical faculties and abstract reasoning abilities more than physical skills. More to the point, while such activities may have practical applications, the intellectual pursues these things more for their own sake than for any pragmatic reasons. The intellectual may be in pursuit of TRVTH or Wisdom. If so, though, it's not necessarily a high-speed chase for a quick capture; the intellectual is perfectly content to enjoy the ride, and catch up to TRVTH/Wisdom eventually.

That, at least, is what I think is a fairly basic yet accurate description of an intellectual. However, if there's anything intellectuals tend to hold in common, it's the presumption that they're part of a small, exclusive club; and they tend to feel put out when anyone is acclaimed as an "intellectual" who doesn't fit membership criteria much narrower than I've defined. Moreover, since intellectualism implies some degree of education, there's the tendency to define intellectuals solely by their degrees, their professions ... even the school from which they graduated. Behind the most egalitarian façade may hide a quiet, smug elitism.

One trait, however, that's definitely not held in common is the willingness to engage with different, opposing ideas. In fact, fewer intellectuals each year even trouble to pay lip service to it.