Thursday, November 26, 2015

Catholic Stand: The Politics of American Narcissism

Egotist, n.: A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

In 2000, you probably could have asked twenty of your friends and coworkers and found only one person who knew something about narcissism. Fifteen years and a gazillion selfies later, narcissism and narcissist are tools of the trade for the commentariat; activists demand empathy where once they would have been content with sympathy. Often, though, like Bierce’s egotist, it’s a matter of the pot calling the kettle “self-absorbed”.

Narcissism and the Appeal to Pity

Let me give you an example: In 2010, neuroscientists Jennifer N. Gutsell and Michael Inzlicht of the University of Toronto in Scarborough published a paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Gutsell and Inzlicht claimed that an experiment showed people displayed differences in “mirror neurons” between viewing people of their own race having difficulty and those of “outgroups” in the same situations. In the latter case, they claimed, to those who had tested high on racial prejudice, the effect of watching “outgroups” in difficulty was similar to “watching a blank TV screen”.

To be fair, Drs. Gutsell and Inzlicht tried to use neutral terms and generalize their conclusions. However, the test subjects were exclusively white. Had they tested non-white subjects in the same manner, I submit they would have found the same correlation, and done better science to boot. They simply hadn’t neutralized the experiment sufficiently. Since they didn’t, the test results were interpreted by the press as a uniquely “white” problem; and outrage generators like Democratic Underground said, “See? They don’t empathize enough with us!

In informal logic, it’s called an ad misericordiam fallacy, or “appeal to pity”: You must agree with me because 1) I have suffered; 2) I am suffering now; and/or 3) I will (continue to) suffer if you don’t give me what I demand. The narcissist demands that we agree with him, not because he’s right, but because he’s wretched. At its worst, it becomes a manipulative whine: “If you really loved me (if you really empathized with me), you’d do X.”

Read the rest at Catholic Stand!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Syrian Refugee Crisis: About Those M&Ms ...

There's a couple different versions of a meme going around, featuring a bunch of M&M candies which (supposedly) includes a few poisoned ones. The meme dares you (or your family) to eat them, then compares them to the Syrian refugees.

Well, there's quite a few relevant problems with the comparison, the chief of which is that nothing bad will happen to the M&Ms if nobody eats them. Appellum ad terrorem or ad metum — scare tactics. Beyond that, though, I'm sick of us letting our fear dictate our policies. We've become a nation of entitled scaredy-cats and spoiled brats, afraid to do the right thing because it may hurt, it may cost, it may discommode us, or it may put us out of our comfort zones and puncture our little bubbles of happiness. So here we go:

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

World Synod on the Family 2015: The Magisterium Strikes Back

Pope Francis speaks with Cdl. Angelo Sodano.
The 2015 World Synod on the Family has just opened, and already the conservatives are thumping the progressives 3 – 0.

The first point scored against the progressives was actually an own-goal (or safety, if you prefer American football metaphors). On Friday, Oct. 3, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith fired Msgr. Krzystof Charamsa (aka "Sideshow Chris"), who worked as an assistant secretary for the International Theological Commission, after an interview was released in Corriere della Sera revealing that the prelate is not only gay but in a relationship; he was dismissed because, Fr. Federico Lombardi said, his statement "aims to subject the Synod assembly to undue media pressure."

Why is this an own-goal? Because Sideshow Chris was fired just as a conference of LGBT Catholics was getting ready to convene in Rome to lobby the synod bishops. Before their own opening gavel could drop, they'd already gotten a message from the Vatican: "Sorry, the cafeteria's closed." Moreover, the revelation followed another conference in which celibate gay Catholics came out in support of the Church's sexual teachings. Finally, it was revealed that Sideshow Chris had double-placed "exclusive interviews" with two competing Polish weeklies, Wprost and Newsweek Polska; according to editor Bogusław Chrabota of Rzeczpospolita, "the main intention of Saturday's spectacle was the promotion of a forthcoming book by the priest." Journalists can forgive murder, terrorism, and pedophilia much easier than they can forgive a source who plays them ... at least without their consent.

Notes Artur Rosman (stealing a line from John Médaille), "Charamsa used God, gay rights, and the Polish press to organize a big paycheck for himself. This is how you should stage-manage your 'martyrdom.'" It's not hard to conclude that Sideshow Chris wasted his "fifteen minutes"; if it's not the dumbest activism fail of the year, so far it's certainly the one with the most widespread coverage.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ask Tony: What does the Catholic Church teach about sex changes?

Caitlyn Jenner, the face of transgenderism.
A couple of weeks ago, in Outside the Asylum, I addressed Pope Francis’ recent letter on the Holy Year of Mercy. Today, I received a question there from Charles: “I know a man who recently decided to undergo a sex change procedure. What is the Church’s position on this?”

A Not-So-Obvious Answer

This question comes at a sensitive time for my family and me, as one of my cousins is “transitioning” from a male to a female identity. The answer would seem to be obvious to many people; the best course of action, then, is to research the question to make sure the obvious answer isn’t wrong.

Surprisingly, the answer doesn’t lie in one single Vatican-issued document such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church or a papal encyclical like Deus Caritas Est. According to the Catholic News Service, in 2000 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did issue a sub secretum letter to the various papal legates, and again in 2002 to the presidents of bishops’ conferences. Strangely enough for a secret document, this letter has remained secret — unlisted with other CDF letters and ad dubitum documents, unmentioned in the USCCB website, and not readily available through Google or Bing. (Apparently Wikileaks hasn’t gotten around to it yet.)

Nevertheless, various Catholic people and sources have addressed the questions of sexual identity and gender reassignment surgery. In lieu of any formal definitive statement, I can attempt an informed provisional answer. And it turns out the answer isn’t as obvious as you may think.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

An atheist defends the intelligence of believers

Image source:
It's been said of Roman gladiators that they were required to kill their opponents but not required to hate them. In the best intellectual tradition, people have fought against each other in the arena of the mind while maintaining warm personal relationships with each other in the shelter of society. One particularly good example of this was the long-standing friendship between the skeptical Socialist George Bernard Shaw and the Catholic liberal G. K. Chesterton. A more recent example would be the amity between the great Speaker of the House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill and Pres. Ronald Reagan, who exchanged sharp words over policy by day and swapped stories over drinks by night.

I can't call Sincere Kirabo a "friend", but I can certainly give him some warm applause for a post he wrote in his Patheos blog Notes from an Apostate, "Why You Sound Ridiculous Claiming Religiosity is a Mental Defect". "Suggesting people are religious because they are dimwitted or suffer from a fabled religiosity-induced mental illness is a lazy, unthinking way to dismiss behavior one cannot identify with," says Kirabo, who urges his fellow atheists to "cease promoting such embarrassingly ignorant ideas."

I recently had a discussion on social media speaking to the unsound nature of ... arguments that use ableist and denigrating language to describe religious people. Because I adamantly opposed these uncharitable assertions that take an unnecessary and harmful route to delegitimize religiosity, I was branded an “enabler” to faith in the spurious and supernatural. But what does research suggest concerning this matter?
I’ve long been an avid reader of material that meticulously investigates mind perception, religion, and the “how” and “why” of religion. For this reason, I confidently stated that any individual belonging to the knowledgeable intelligentsia would laugh such notions out of the building. This caused me to think on two things: One, I doubt those who disagree will diligently explore facts that contradict their worldview (as the Darwinian Golden Rule suggests we do for the sake of intellectual honesty). Two, why not seek out experts to prove (or disprove) my stance? And so I did.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Ask Tony: Should I receive Communion only from a priest or deacon?

In the Crux article referenced in the screencap to your left, the author, Rev. Kenneth Doyle, answers the question with a verbal shrug: “It is, of course, the same Eucharist — whether received from a priest or from a lay minister — and ... I am a bit surprised when someone feels compelled to make a choice.” Referring to a deceased parishioner’s aversion to lay Eucharistic ministers, Fr. Doyle said, “In the scope of things, I felt that his preference was a small issue. For me, it came under the heading of the ‘big tent’ that embraces a wide variety of Catholics.”

The person at Saint Gabriel’s Newsroom who wrote the “Share” was, at bare minimum, uncharitable: nothing Fr. Doyle said was in any meaningful sense modernist, nor did he deny or denigrate the right of the consecrated to distribute the Eucharist. Moreover, the boast that s/he only receives on his/her knees and from consecrated ministers is so pompously self-congratulatory it invites ridicule; as we used to say when I was a kid, “Whaddaya want for that, a Bozo button?”

What really is the issue here?

In 1973, with the approval of Ven. Pope Paul VI, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship issued the Instruction Immensae Caritatis, which authorized the appointment of “special ministers” from the ranks of the non-ordained to assist with the distribution of Communion. Eventually, to underline the fact that deacons and priests were the ordinary ministers of the Eucharist, the title of these appointees was changed to “Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion” (usually abbreviated EMHC).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Catholic Stand: Why Do We Still Expect Marital Fidelity?

The fallout from the Ashley Madison “data dump” has only begun. Much of the media attention has focused on B-list celebrity Josh Duggar, from his parents’ broken hearts to the inevitable amateur long-distance psychoanalysis and condemnations of the purity movement. However, sidebars do go into the hundreds of federal employees who have accessed the site from their offices, themarriages dissolving as suspicious spouses do their checking, and the expected questions about the morality of offering such a service.

The Oddity of Fidelity

It’s hard to feel any sympathy for either Avid Life Media, the owner of the website, or its many millions of subscribers. In every culture, which has some form of marriage, some definition of adultery obtains; the practice is largely frowned upon, in some cases incurring sanctions ranging from potential civil penalties to death. The oddity in our culture is not that so many people cheat, but rather that some expectation of fidelity is still kept, even after the sweeping changes wrought by the sexual revolution.

On the one hand, according to research published earlier this year, 22% of men and 14% of women have strayed at least once in their married lives; 74% of men and 68% of women admit they would cheat if they knew they would never get caught. On the other hand, the Gallup 2013 Values and Beliefs Survey recorded that 91% of Americans held affairs to be morally wrong, and that the number of people who thought it was acceptable had actually dropped 1% from 2001 to 2013. The most trenchant comment comes from Hugo Schwyzer: “We’ve become more willing to embrace diverse models of sexual self-expression even as we’ve become ever more intolerant of hypocrisy and the human frailty that makes hypocrisy almost inevitable.”

The “why” of cheating is the source of endless speculationrationalization, and research. Unfortunately, a lot of the speculation ends up at the conclusion, “Monogamy is a myth” … even inarticles which claim to be premissed on established scientific fact. However, such a sweeping conclusion leaves behind an unexplained fact: if monogamy is a myth, in the sense of being a fiction or false knowledge, then surely the oddity is not the rate of infidelity, but rather the outrageously high rates of marital fidelity.

Read the rest at Catholic Stand!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Inconsistency Fallacy

A particular informal argument pattern, which I call the inconsistency fallacy, is becoming more common in culture-war battles. The inconsistency fallacy goes something like this:

  • Advocate A holds position on policy p1, which (presumably) has quality q.
  • However, Advocate A also holds positions on policies p2, p3, etc., which are not-q or anti-q.
  • Either q or not-q should be supported.  (Implied premiss.)
  • Therefore, Advocate A must give up his position(s) on either p1 or on p2, p3, etc.

Here’s a paraphrase of one variant I saw earlier this evening: “If you don’t want to sell food for a gay wedding because you don’t want to support sodomy, then you shouldn’t support gluttony by selling to fat people; you shouldn’t sell to divorcées, or to thieves, or to ....” Another variant I’ve seen: “If you’re against abortion, you should also be against capital punishment; you should be against hunting; you should be a vegan; you should be yadda-yadda-yadda ....”

It’s implied, and often stated, that if you don’t resolve the apparent inconsistency by abandoning position p1, then you, sir/madam/small child, are a hypocrite, and we therefore need not pay attention to position p1. Although the inconsistency fallacy shares some of the features of the red herring and the abusive ad hominem, it’s best classified as a sub-species of the false dilemma.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Thanks from the Kingdom of God Sisters! Let’s do it again!

Image © Anthony S. Layne.
Hey, folks! We got a “thank you” card from Kim Brown of the Kingdom of God Sisters!

You’ll remember that the KGS is the start-up second-order religious group on whose behalf I wrote last month. (I also kicked in a little of my own money.) Here’s what the future Sr. Kim — or perhaps Mother Kim? — has to say:

Dear Anthony Lane [sic],

Thank you for your gift to KGS and for your promotion on Twitter. Please keep us in your prayers as we strive to do God’s will & know you are in mine.

God is love: let the Kingdom know,
Kim Brown

Now, I say “we” got a card because it was you, Dear Readers, that helped spread the word, mostly through “likes” and ”shares” on Facebook. But I’m thinking we can do better. So please hit the “Twitter” button; share it on Facebook or Pinterest; re-blog it on your own Blogger, Wordpress or Tumblr account — whether you yourself can donate or not, pass the word on! And if you can spare a sawbuck or so, click on this link to go to the KGS’ donation page! Let’s make this go viral!

God is love: let the Kingdom know! Semper Fi.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Pope Francis’ orthodoxy continues to startle

Once again, Pope Francis has gotten people talking excitedly about changes in the Catholic Church by saying basically the same things his predecessors have said. If there’s anything positive about the “progressive pope” narrative frame, it gets the media to pick up on things that they ignored when Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II said them.

What did Pope Francis say this time? Yesterday, August 5, in his general audience, he chose to address the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics. Fairly early into his catechesis, Francis said:

In these decades, in truth, the Church has not been either insensitive or slow. Thanks to the reflection carried out by Pastors, guided and confirmed by my Predecessors, the awareness has greatly grown that a fraternal and attentive acceptance is necessary, in love and in truth, of the baptized that have established a new coexistence after the failure of their sacramental marriage; in fact, these people are not at all excommunicated, they are not excommunicated! And they are absolutely not treated as such: they are always part of the Church. [Bold type mine.—ASL]

Excommunication refers strictly to the formal canonical penalty. Under Canon 1331.1 of the 1983 Code, a person who has been formally excommunicated cannot minister in any capacity in any manner of worship, celebrate or receive the sacraments, or exercise any official office or function of the Church. In some cases, excommunication is incurred latae sententiae; that is, by the fact of the delict and without need of formal declaration (Canon 1314). However, marrying a second person without securing an annulment of marriage from the first is not one of those cases. And excommunication does not deprive one of membership in the Catholic Church; even if you formally apostatize, rejoining is simpler than you’d think.