Saturday, February 17, 2018

Semiautomatic Rifles and the Mental Health Care Crisis

Nikolas Cruz, accused mass murderer.
(Photo: Jennifer Tintner/Twitter)
It happens every time there’s a mass murder: The bodies have barely been cleared from the crime scene when news of the event is suddenly overwhelmed by the screaming and counter-screaming of The Thing That Used to Be the Gun-Control Debate. You don’t even have time to mourn the senseless loss of lives. And heaven forfend you should mention praying for the souls of the victims and their families.

Making what philosopher Michael Liccione has called in a Facebook comment the “political kabuki theater” of the gun-control debate worse: the conviction we’ve developed over the last couple decades or so that the best way to effect change is to scream, shame, and bully the other side in an orgy of moral posturing and offensive language. It’s not enough just to say “you’re wrong;” people have to say “you’re wrong and you’re evil, so f**k you and the horse you rode in on.”

Great; you’ve expressed your anger and your righteousness. Now — how many hearts and minds did you change? If you just wrote the opposition off as too stupid and evil to be worth reaching, then you’ve done your part to guarantee that the kabuki theater goes on and on. You’re part of the problem.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Oh No, Another Shroud Study

Juan Manuel Miñarro López, sculptor and sindonologist.
Generally, whenever Christmas or Easter rolls around, there’s some new effort to discredit Christianity. This year, with the exception of the resurrection of that hoary old meme claiming that Easter is a pagan fertility feast, the anti-Christian fake-fact generators have been quiet. On the other hand, a new study claims to have further authenticated the Shroud of Turin by demonstrating a strong connection with the Sudarium of Oviedo. And whenever a story comes up that claims to prove (or disprove) something connected with the faith, my sphincter clenches.

Why? If a study is well done, it won’t convince the other side, who will automatically write it off as bad science. If the researchers clown the methodology, on the other hand, science itself is the loser. Science is methodology; its only claim to truth stems from the integrity of the method. And when I read that the chief researcher is a professor of sculpture(!), I have faint hopes concerning the methodology.

Heads, you lose; tails, you can’t win.

Full disclosure: I do believe the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus. At the very least, it’s less explicable as a medieval forgery than it is as a first-class relic. No one has yet succeeded in creating a theory of the forgery that conforms to the known facts of the Shroud itself or the known techniques of medieval technology. And the method used in the 1988 carbon-14 tests, in the best of circumstances, was not infallible. Given the actual conditions — contaminated samples, a botched protocol, and the inability to ensure neutrality — the tests must be considered compromised and of dubious scientific value.[*]


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Catholic Stand: When the Needle on the Spiritual Tank is On “E”

So I went to Confession last Saturday (March 25). I don’t go to Confession nearly often enough. I go so infrequently that I have an app to remind me how to say the Act of Contrition (Laudate). I won’t tell you when the penultimate time was, but I will say Obama was President. That was one of the things I had to confess.

The last few times, I blurted out my biggest sin first. Without fail, the relief of having got that off my chest was so overwhelming I forgot to confess other sins. This time I managed a full examination of conscience and managed to get everything out, despite the sense I got that Father was trying to rush me through it.

Sunday Morning Follies

No, dagnabbit, not quite everything, I realized to my dismay at Mass the next day, having been reminded of two more besetting faults by the sight of an attractive young lady in the pew in front of me. (Yes, yes, I know — men are pigs). My purpose of amendment may be firm, but my power of amendment, like my body, seems rather flabby right now.

Six years ago, I wrote a post on Outside the Asylum about sedevacantists. The same Sunday morning after I went to Confession, I found two responses on that old post from the same person. First, the respondent said I misrepresented sedevacantism. Then — in an incoherent blither of false assertions, bad grammar, and condemnations of Pope Francis as a heretic — he justified everything I’d written. Having just confessed to a radical lack of charity not sixteen hours previously, it was all I could to not tear into him. That combox is now shut down; I’m seriously considering doing away with comboxes altogether.

Fifteen minutes afterward, I was reading a post by The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named, in which he admits he also went to Confession that day and apologizes to those whom he had written of disrespectfully. The Blogger is a knowledgeable fellow who has an endearingly goofy sense of humor; however, as a culture warrior, he is often his own worst enemy.

But then, so am I. So are we all, in this world of sin and sorrow. Satan can only lead us to sin if we choose to follow. I can’t take the speck out of his eye until I take the plank out of mine.
Read the rest at Catholic Stand!

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Culture Warrior Fades Away

Image source:
If you came here looking for some commentary on last night's launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria, I’m sorry to disappoint you. In an essay to be published on Catholic Stand tomorrow, April 8, 2017, I will announce that I’m retiring the “Catholic Culture Warrior” persona. Although the decision was made without prior anticipation of last night’s action, the same reasons that prompted the decision also preclude comment.

I’ll continue to write; however, the emphasis of my writing will shift focus away from commentary on current events and into a different direction. I’m still in the process of thinking through the problem of “where do I go from here”, so I don’t know how this will affect my sadly neglected personal blogs.

Why am I retiring the CCW shtick?

First, I have a lot of intellectual arrogance and not a lot of charity. As a result, I tend to treat people who disagree with me harsher than I ought. Put more simply, when it comes to argument, I just can’t play nice.

Second, even to the extent that fighting the culture wars has been necessary, it’s simply highlighted the degree to which the gospel message has lost coherence among Christians. Moreover, it has distracted effort and moral capital from the New Evangelization that was supposed to counteract the loss of coherence.

Third, as the gospel message has lost coherence, confessional Christianity has lost adherents. As a consequence, the Christian worldview no longer dominates the public square and its ability to provide a common language between left and right is diminishing rapidly. There is still a culture war going on; however, the war is now over the form post-Christian American society will take. That it will be post-Christian is beyond reasonable doubt.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Catholic Stand: Give Us This Day Our Supersubstantial Bread

“Give us this day our daily bread” … what does that mean? On the surface, it’s a simple acknowledgment that the things we need to live all have their source in God, as well as a request that our needs for the day be provided. However, hiding under that simple word “daily” is many centuries’ worth of puzzlement and scholarly debate. The cause of the debate is a troublesome Greek word, the definition of which may open that line to a whole new layer of meaning. If you can stick with me, you’ll see why it matters.

St. Jerome Coins a Word

The word in question is epiousios (ἐπιούσιος, Matthew 6:11 SBLGNT; Luke 11:3 SBLGNT). The trouble is, the word had never been written before Matthew and Luke. If Jesus spoke to his disciples in either Hebrew or Aramaic, we have a further problem: we don’t have texts in either language predating the Greek. We have texts in Syriac, a close cousin to Aramaic, but the Syriac Matthew and Luke are most likely translations of the Greek. Greek had perfectly good words for “daily” — hēmera, kathēmerinos (closer in sense to “ordinary” or “usual”), and ephēmeros (“for the day”). In fact, hēmera is also in Luke 11:3. Why coin a new word?

We have one possible clue. Saint Jerome, the fourth-century scholar who translated Scripture into Latin, had received a copy of the Aramaic “Gospel of the Hebrews”, which now exists only in fragments (i.e., words and phrases found in other writings). In writing of the Lord’s Prayer in that Gospel, Jerome glosses the Aramaic word as meaning crastinus (“tomorrow’s”; that is, belonging to tomorrow). So perhaps Jesus is saying, “Give enough sustenance today to get through to tomorrow,” right? This would fit with the end of the chapter, where Jesus advises us not to worry about the future (Matthew 6:25-34).

But this won’t do. First, epiousios also appears in Luke’s version, which is shorter and occurs in a different context that doesn’t so neatly end in a “don’t worry” passage. Second, whatever St. Jerome thought of the Gospel of the Hebrews, instead of using crastinus he coined a Latin neologism of his own: supersubstantialis. To make matters more confusing, he translated the same word in Luke cotidianus (quotidianus, “daily”), giving us the redundancy, “Give us our daily bread every day.” Finally, Greek had plenty of words sufficient to translate such a thought without having to mint new Koine. So what was Jesus really saying?

Read more at Catholic Stand!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Spending the End of Civilization with the Beatles

So I’m starting to compose this post. I’m perfectly sickened by everything that’s been rolling through my Facebook feeds — the infantile tantrums of the left, the smug snarkiness of the right, the eerie messianism of Pres. Trump’s personality cult, and above all the collection of insane clowns, corporate puppets, and pious frauds we must now call the Government of the United States. I’ve just read John Pavlovitz’s rebellious jeremiad, and I’m ready to compose my own Nolo consentire.

And in the background, I hear my mother’s TV set. The Golden Girls are on; she must have watched every episode at least twenty times. Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty are dressed as Sonny and Cher (I’ve seen this one) and singing, “I Got You, Babe”.

Suddenly, everything’s okay. God speaking to me, saying, Dude, I got this. Trust Me.

In case you’re wondering: No, I didn’t suddenly lose all sight of our many social, economic, and political woes. No, I didn’t suddenly gain complete trust in the National Circus. No, I don’t expect that He Who Must Be Called Our President will lead us to a land overflowing with milk and honey or a worker’s paradise. (If it’s a materialist paradise at all, it will be only for the most thoroughgoing materialists in the USA — the one-percenters.) If anything, I suspect that the cascade failure of Western civilization is closer than I first suspected almost seven years ago.

It’s still okay.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Why I Won’t Wear a Safety Pin (Warning: SL)

If you’ve followed my posts over the last few months, you’ll know I never had any intention of voting for Donald Trump. You’ll know I despised his race-baiting, fear-mongering demagoguery, and that I was appalled at the degree to which his voter base ate it up. And you’ll know I believe his Administration will be utterly disastrous.

But I won’t wear a safety pin. To me, safety pins are for diapers. And now, they’re perfectly emblematic of the infantilization of American politics.

You’re Part of the Problem

The people who know me already know I’m safe to be with and talk to. If people need me to wear some sort of badge or tchotchke to figure it out, then I’m doing Catholicism wrong. But if all you care to know is that I’m a white Christian male — and you hate or fear me because of those facts — then you, my friend, are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

You’re part of the problem because, in your own smug, superior way, you’re just as much a bigot as any group in your heroine’s “basket of deplorables”. You’re part of the problem because you rationalize your bigotry with stereotypes, demon-terms, and sanctimonious blather about “privilege”, certain that you’re justified in doing so because you’re fighting for the oppressed. You’re part of the problem because you discount or shout down any opinions contrary to yours. You’re part of the problem because you treat a large chunk of the American population as backward, “low information”, mouth-breathing hicks who don’t deserve any consideration or representation. You’re part of the problem because, being on average marginally more intelligent and educated than conservatives, you wrongly think it means that you’re wiser, that you have better judgment, and that your reasoning is more rational and less biased, and that you are therefore more qualified to decide what should be done. You’re part of the problem because, for all your self-congratulating chatter about love and inclusiveness, when faced by opposition or disappointment you become as hateful and intolerant as those to whom you hold yourselves superior.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Fighting sin with sacrilege? Dumb.

Fr, Frank Pavone. (Image source:
When you’re the good guys fighting a horrific evil, you can do no wrong … not even sacrilege. That is the best way we can sum up Priests for Life’s Fr. Frank Pavone’s defense of placing an aborted child on an altar and making a video of it for social media distribution.

The Activist’s Mistake

In an email to Matt C. Abbott, Fr. Pavone said,

The issue is not how I’m treating a baby. (I’ve been providing funerals and burials for these children for decades, with full legal and canonical counsel, and those concerned about these things would do well to talk to me rather than the media.) [Am I the only one who finds this statement incredibly pompous?]
The issue is how the abortionists, supported by the Democrats, are treating these babies. What’s sacrilegious is abortion, and voting for those who support it. [Tu quoque much?] It’s time we get our heads screwed on straight about who the bad guys are. [Ah, yes, the classic explanation offered by every half-a$$ed radical who ever perpetrated some outrage against the sensibilities of others: “Don’t look at me! I didn’t do anything wrong! Look at them! They’re the bad guys doing bad things!”]

You’d think someone who is older and more experienced than I would have figured out by now that upsetting and offending people is a counterproductive strategy. But Fr. Pavone is either stuck in the 1960s or is too busy communing with his superior knowledge and experience to realize he’s making the same mistake leftist activists make by burning the flag or dissing the National Anthem. Wherever his head is, Fr. Pavone needs to extract it and take a good look at what’s really going on.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Ask Tony: Is It a Sin to Vote Democrat?

Image source: KFMB CBS8 San Diego.
Doubtless, you’ve heard of the San Diego Catholic church where a flyer inserted in the weekly bulletin asserted that it’s a mortal sin to vote Democrat. The flyer was a cut-and-paste job, reprinting material from Catholic Answers’ “Voters Guide for Serious Catholics”,[1] adding a chart comparing CA’s list of “non-negotiables” to the Democrat and Republican Parties’ platforms. On top of that, the church’s pastor wrote an article which goes beyond to name ten different forms of “enslavement” which “have come from our elected officials, appointed judges, and Catholics who have voted for them and supported them.”

Bp. McElroy Responds

Immaculate Conception’s pastor, Fr. Richard Perozich, claimed, “the flyer was written by an outside group, wasn’t reviewed by him and ‘went a little beyond’ the approved message.” “I would never tell anyone to ‘vote this’ or ‘vote that,” Fr. Perozich said. However, Keith Michael Estrada of Proper Nomenclature notes, “a review of bulletins published online shows that the parish has been sharing questionable material, at odds with the guidance of the US Bishops — even criticizing [San Diego] Bishop [Robert] McElroy on at least one occasion — for quite some time.”

The San Diego chancery finally responded on Friday with a statement by Bp. McElroy, in which His Excellency stated firmly that Immaculate Conception had violated a duty to “participate in discussions about the election with civility and balance.” He continues, “… [Thus] it is essential to make clear: 

  • “It is contrary to Catholic teaching to state that voting for a Democrat or Republican automatically condemns the voter to hell;
  • “It is contrary to Catholic faith to state that gun control legislation is a form of slavery;
  • “It is contrary to Catholic faith to fan the flames of hatred against Muslims or any religious group.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Love and the Broken “Hallelujah”

Still from the Pentatonix video “Hallelujah”.
(Image courtesy of Billboard.)
[EDIT: In all the fretting and concern over the election, I completely missed the news that Leonard Cohen died Monday, Nov. 7, at the age of 82. Now I’m glad that I had the chance to write this post before his passing. Shalom, Leonard, and thank you for this gift you gave us.]

Recently, the Texas a cappella quintet Pentatonix released a cover of Leonard Cohen’s 1984 song “Hallelujah”, which at 300 covers and counting may be the most re-recorded single in popular music history. My sister Peggy came across the official video on a Christian website and linked the page to her Facebook feed. Our parents sang in barbershop choruses when we were growing up, and we both sang in high school choruses, so we both appreciate good vocal music.

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to the song the whole way through before. I’ve seen Shrek only once — the penalty of never having your own children and living hundreds of miles away from your siblings’ kids; since I didn’t remember it was featured in the soundtrack, it must not have made a big impression on me at the time. Since then, I’d heard the first and second verse here and there, but not performed in any way that would grab my attention. But I’ll listen to anything Pentatonix records, even “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. They’re that outstanding.

Listening to the Pentatonix version did more than wring out tears. I realized I’d heard the song before, but I’d never listened to it. It’s more than a love song; it’s an epiphany.

This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled, but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess, and that’s what I mean by “Hallelujah.” That regardless of what the impossibility of the situation is, there is a moment when you open your mouth and you throw open your arms and you embrace the thing and you just say, “Hallelujah! Blessed is the name.”…

 The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say, “Look, I don’t understand a f**king thing at all — Hallelujah!” That’s the only moment that we live here fully as human beings. (Leonard Cohen, quoted in Rolling Stone, “Book Excerpt: Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ in ‘The Holy or the Broken’”)