Monday, December 21, 2015

Movie to be released in February 2016: “Risen”

Here’s a movie coming in February that you should seriously consider watching: 

Risen tells the story of the Resurrection through the eyes of a Roman tribune, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love, Hercules). Clavius and his aide, Lucius (Tom Felton, Harry Potter), are first ordered to oversee the execution of Jesus (Cliff Curtis, Fear the Walking Dead), then to insure that the Nazarene’s tomb is sealed and guarded. When the tomb is opened and the body disappears, Pilate (Peter Firth, The Hunt for Red October, MI-5) orders Clavius to hunt down the body.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mary had a choice

St. Mary's Catholic Church, 36th and Q Sts., Omaha, NE.
(Photo credit: Susan Austin.)
The photo at left was taken by a pro-choice friend of mine. It's one of those friendships where you're glad there's plenty of respect and charity between the two of you, because your views of life are largely incompatible. (But then again, as Chesterton once observed, "Men and women, as such, are incompatible.")

I hate church marquees that try to rack up points on the culture-war scoreboard. I honestly think that, if Jack Dorsey et al. had really looked at such signs and thought about it, they would have strangled Twitter in the cradle, because activist church marquees are way too much like analog tweets: too many people trying to reduce complex issues into Parthian shots of less than 140 characters.

Let's skip over the anachronism of a first-century Jewish girl being "pro-choice", and cut right to the theological chase: The Blessed Virgin Mother did have a choice ... she could have said "No" to St. Gabriel. Of course, in her case, saying "No" would have obviated any need for abortifacients, as God would not have coerced her into the Incarnation against her will.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Syrian refugees and the courage to be Christian

Syrian refugees coming ashore at Lesbos.
(Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis/Getty.)
Last week, longtime reader Michael asked me to do a fuller piece on the Syrian refugee crisis. A couple of mass shootings have happened in the meantime, one involving Islamic radicals. Nevertheless, the refugee issue hasn’t been settled; and the Muslim identity of the San Bernadino shooters has thrown more anger and panic into the mix.

The other day, Br. Anthony J. J. Mathison, OP, wrote an excellent essay on the matter, which sums up my thoughts with greater charity and knowledge than I possess. However, it’s too long to quote at length here; and I’m not sure whether Br. Anthony intended it for further publication. So let me confine myself to some general concerns that Br. Anthony and I hold in common. I'm not going to spend the time he did refuting ten common objections, since most of them assume a radical position that brings everyone in without screening or background checks ... a position few if any propose in any seriousness.

The principle of humanity inscribed in the conscience of every person and all peoples includes the obligation to protect civil populations from the effects of war. ...
A particular category of war victim is formed by refugees, forced by combat to flee the places where they habitually live and to seek refuge in foreign countries. The Church is close to them not only with her pastoral presence and material support, but also with her commitment to defend their human dignity: “Concern for refugees must lead us to reaffirm and highlight universally recognized human rights, and to ask that the effective recognition of these rights be guaranteed to refugees”.—Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 505, cit. St. John Paul II, 1990 Message for Lent, 3

“I was a stranger, and you welcomed me ....” This is among six acts that Jesus names in the “Judgment of the Nations” passage (Matthew 25:31-46) as things done by the “sheep”, the righteous, who will “inherit the kingdom prepared ... from the foundation of the world.” In this passage, Jesus draws an unmistakeable “equals” sign between himself and the wretched, even the despised, of the earth, and tells us we may no longer overlook them, that we may no longer neglect them, that we may no longer judge them as lesser beings. Earlier, in the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), he told us to treat others as we’d like to be treated; now, we must treat these “least of ... my brothers” as if they were Christ himself!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

“Prayer-shaming” won’t destroy the American pro-gun culture

Cover of 12/3/15 New York Daily News.
As if we needed another political buzzword, we’ve got one now, provided by Atlantic writer Emma Green (and retailed by American Conservative pundit Rod Dreher): prayer-shaming.

A couple of years ago, I came across a meme which suggested that religious people pray instead of doing things to make the world better. Of course, that ignores the vast bulk of history, in which most people who worked for positive social, economic, environmental, and political changes were also people who prayed, went to church, or had some other form of religious expression. (Ever heard of Dorothy Day? Lech Walesa? Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? Martin Luther King, Jr.’s doctorate wasn’t in astrophysics! The list is endless.) In many cases, the activists’ religious convictions pushed them into the fight; in many cases, they considered their devotional lives sources of emotional strength.

The idea that a life of prayer precludes a life of social action is ridiculous on the face of it ... unless you’re a Republican politician. Then you’re fair game for the charge that “the only thing you’re willing to do about this mess is pray!

There are many assumptions packed into these attacks on prayer [writes Green]: that all religious people, and specifically Christians, are gun supporters, and vice versa. That people who care about gun control can’t be religious, and if they are, they should keep quiet in the aftermath of yet another heart-wrenching act of violence. At one time in American history, liberals and conservatives shared a language of God, but that’s clearly no longer the case; any invocation of faith is taken as implicit advocacy of right-wing political beliefs.

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.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Consequentialism and the Planned Parenthood videos—UPDATE

If you learn anything about the law — and I’ll freely confess I’m not a lawyer — you learn that the way a statute is written is very, very, very important. The simpler a clause is written, the more it leaves open to interpretation.

Katie M. Geary of the Becket Fund explains the problem in The Federalist. To make a simple explanation simpler: Abortion providers can’t perform what the law calls a “partial-birth” abortion, a procedure in which the unborn child’s head is manipulated into a breech presentation, then has its brain removed while stuck in the birth canal. On the other hand, stopping the heart with digitoxin before dismembering the child ruins fetal stem cells for research purposes. (See the footage and the transcript.) “These babies are being strategically maneuvered, crushed, and dismembered under ultrasound guidance — while still alive.

There are two legal questions: 1) Are the abortionists working for Planned Parenthood “altering” the abortion procedure within the meaning of 42 USC 289g-1(b)(2)(A)(ii)? 2) Are various Planned Parenthood employees abusing the “reasonable payment” loophole in the illegalization of the sale of fetal tissue in 42 USC 289g-2(e)(3)? Unfortunately, none of the pro-abort attempts to “debunk” the videos really reaches these questions; the one state government investigation to date — Indiana’s — was done with such indecent haste that we’re justified in wondering how much effort was really put into it. (As for the videos being “heavily” or “deceptively” edited ... well, the full-length videos from which the press-release “good parts” edits were taken are readily available both on the Center for Medical Progress’ website and on YouTube; so you can make that judgment for yourself.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Anthony Esolen on reform and renewal

Anthony Esolen.
Let’s get straight to the point. We no longer live in a culturally Christian state. We do not live in a robust pagan state, such as Rome was during the Pax Romana. We live in a sickly sub-pagan state, or metastate, a monstrous thing, all-meddlesome, all-ambitious. The natural virtues are scorned. Temperance is for prigs, prudence for sticks in the mud who worry about people who don’t yet exist. A man who fathers six children upon three women and now wants to turn himself into a “woman” attracted to other women — he is praised for his courage. Justice means that a handful of narrowly educated and egotistical judges get to overturn human culture and biology, at their caprice.

We are not in partibus infidelibus. We are in partibus insanibus.

This is how Anthony Esolen, a writer I admire tremendously, begins his latest offering for Crisis, “Reform and Renewal Starts with Us”. Lest you get the wrong impression, though, the piece is not simply an attack on the Culture of Death. Rather, it’s a list of things the concerned Christian can do to “vote with their feet”; i.e., stop supporting the cultural collapse and begin rebuilding:

  • Build new schools, reform old schools, and abandon irreformable ones. Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics, said that one of the proper aims of education was to teach students to like and dislike what they ought. If nothing else has been retained of classical education, Esolen implicitly argues that this has: “If your children are in the sub-pagan schools, it will require almost a miracle of God to keep them from becoming sub-pagan themselves. They too will learn to worship the three-poisoned god of our times, self, sex, State. Take for granted that everything in their classes will be sexuality and politics; even in science classes.”
  • Restore your parish church and bring reverence back to the liturgy. Incredible damage was done to churches and to the liturgy in the wake of post-Vatican II “reforms”, a period Esolen memorably calls “the Decade that Taste Forgot”. Even now, some pastors and parishes show preference for churches-in-the-round, “resurrectifixes”, sculptures so abstract as to be incoherent, and treacly faux-folk liturgical music. Sometimes it’s just the removal of an icon that makes the difference between a renovation and a “wreckovation”.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Earth 2.0 "bad news for God"? Only if you’re a fundamentalist

Catholic apologists have a saying: “Scratch an atheist, find a fundamentalist.” That’s because many atheists, like fundamentalists, believe that Christian dogma is dictated by Scripture alone, with a slight twist — if you can disprove any part of it on scientific grounds, you disprove all of it.

Such is the case with Jeff Schweitzer, a marine biologist who’s convinced that the recent discovery of another Earth-sized planet capable of supporting life puts “paid” to “religion” (though the only religion he really addresses is Christianity, apparently supposing that religions are interchangeable). And he goes to great lengths to say so in a HuffPo article titled, “Earth 2.0: Bad News for God.”

Schweitzer’s entire purpose is to “poison the well”; that is, to fend off any and all Christian explanations as “explaining away”. Why? Because, gosh darn it, the Bible must be taken 100% literally! Everything, from “In the beginning” to the “Amen” at the end of Revelation must be an exact, word-for-word record — no parables, no metaphors, no symbolism. How the various books of the Bible have been understood over the centuries is far less important than how Schweitzer himself understands it, which allows no room for the creation stories to be anything less than literal accounts.

And Schweitzer is quite comfortable with his logical fallacy:

I would like here to preempt what will certainly be a re-write of history on the part of the world’s major religions. [Apparently neither Buddhism nor Hinduism counts as a major religion, as he never addresses their creation myths.] I predict with great confidence that all will come out and say such a discovery is completely consistent with religious teachings. My goal here is to declare this as nonsense before it happens. I am not alone in this conclusion that religion will contort to accommodate a new reality of alien life.

I’m not surprised Schweitzer’s not alone.You see, a brain-dead hyper-literalism concerning Genesis is more important to New Atheists than it is to Christianity ... at least, to non-fundamentalist Christianity. Thus, Schweitzer pays attention not only to what Genesis says, but to what it leaves out, as if the creation story were meant to be a comprehensive and exhaustively-detailed account. But our belief that God created the universe and everything in it isn’t dependant on the scientific accuracy of the Genesis story; indeed, it isn’t dependant upon Scripture at all. That’s a mistake fundamentalists make.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Wherein Your Humble Blogger confesses he erred ... but not by much

David Bentley Hart, not a Pluralist.
Last week, after reading about a paper done by Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, I wrote an article defending the doctrines of Final Judgment and Hell against what I thought was universalism, which I defined as the belief that there is no Hell, that everyone goes to Heaven.


“Your argument follows a faulty initial premise, and therefore fails,” writes a discerning reader. “Not to put too fine a point on it, your initial premise is a fallacious definition of Universalism. Universalism is definitely NOT the belief that there is no Hell, no Judgment, and that everyone gets a ‘Free Pass.’ That, for the record, is Pluralism, the belief that all belief systems are equally valid, something that classical and patristic (yes, patristic) Universalism doesn’t teach.” In a follow-up post, Discerning Reader suggested — not too kindly, and without much specificness — some people I could read so I could learn what the hell I was talking about.

In haste, so as not to further propagate bulls**t on the Internet, I took the post down.

Okay, I’m not a theologian. Comparing theologians to engineers who design skyscrapers, I’m just the grunt at the job site, digging the ditches and shlepping the wallboard up to the 88th floor. In the column to your right, you’ll see a couple of items disclaiming all pretensions to infallibility. But I don’t believe I have to have a degree in theology myself to know when theology ends up contradicting the revelation.

So the key distinction between pluralism and universalism is that universalism still retains the final judgment and Hell. HOWEVER, universalists posit that all humanity will in the end be reconciled to God. So people still go to Hell; but Hell turns out to be a version of Purgatory, in that it exercises a penal function but still has a definite end. Everyone still goes to Heaven; in the universalist version, some just have to make a pit stop along the way.

Like the owner of the Esso station said to the lost driver, “You can continue down the highway you’re on, or you can take the next left. Either way, you’ll end up in the wrong town.”

Monday, July 20, 2015

Reflections on Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower

WWII German soldiers' graves.
If you had been a Jewish concentration-camp resident and slave laborer, and a dying Waffen SS soldier asked you for forgiveness for the one atrocity in which he'd participated, would you be able to do it? That's the question Simon Wiesenthal asks us in his short story The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness.

It's almost too easy to speak of what we would have done had we been placed in Wiesenthal's position. We were not, and the probabilities are that we'll never have an analogous situation in which we'd have to make good on our boast. Rather, it remains for us to think about what it means to forgive others in a context where all normal human mores are turned upside-down and all choices are fraught with peril.

Did Wiesenthal have the right to forgive Karl Seidl's participation in the mass execution of a Russian town's Jews? Did Wiesenthal have the right to withhold the words of forgiveness, as he did? And when Wiesenthal met Karl's mother, did he have the right to withhold the truth of Seidl's confession? Was he right to let her go on ignorance, so she would only retain the memory of Seidl's goodness?

[UPDATE JULY 5, 2017: Karl’s last name is never given in the book; near the end, when Simon visits Karl’s mother, he calls her “Frau S——”. The only source I have on hand for his last name is the Wikipedia article on the book, which itself does not cite a source. I may have obtained that information elsewhere, but I didn’t make note of it at the time. So be warned ...!]

These questions take on an added urgency in the situation of the United States in 2015. The recent controversy surrounding the Confederate battle flag is, in a very real sense, our struggle to forgive ourselves for having had chattel slavery as an institution, and for mistreating African-Americans, first as beasts of burden and then as unwelcome parasites. What must we do to create a culture in which the divisions of the past — divisions that still haunt and influence us today — no longer exercise such a powerful hold on us, a culture in which "black" and "white" are merely inaccurate shorthand references to skin color and nothing else?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

"My idyllic life as a child of badly-paid parents"

"We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip!"
"My parents and I used to live on $15,000 for the three of us. We clipped coupons, shopped at Goodwill for clothes, and made do with a lot of used things. And it was a very good life; we had great times; nobody complained or felt they were entitled to something more."

Kinda reminds you of the "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch Monty Python used to perform on tour, doesn't it? I wish I could draw a Vanity Fair-type cartoon, featuring an employer telling a worker: "Sorry, I can't afford to pay you more than minimum wage. But look at it this way: thirty years from now, your children will marvel about what an idyllic life poverty was for them."

Whenever I read someone who trots forth the Idyllic Poverty-Stricken Childhood narrative, I desperately want to slap the taste out of their mouths. The Idyllic Poverty-Stricken Childhood is worse than the Working Poor Are All Ignorant Slackers Who Deserve to Starve in Third-World Conditions argument, because these people know better than to trot out that line. You know they're not saying all that crud in front of their own parents.

"Yes, yes, poverty was great for you. Your mother and I tried our best to make sure you children were happy; that you had food, clothes, and a roof over your heads on the little money we made. To make sure you were happy, we didn't show you all the anxiety and heartache we went through. You don't know about the nights your mother cried herself to sleep over how we were going to pay the rent. You don't know the difficulty I had sometimes just getting out of the car to go to work at the shithole job I had. You don't know how many trade-offs we made in the course of a week, a month, or a year; how many times we had to rob Paul right after we'd already robbed Peter; how many times we were just $20 away from a major financial disaster. You don't know how many times each of us despaired, how close either one of us came to ending it all. You didn't know that because we didn't think you needed to know it. But don't think that because we didn't publicly shed any tears, we didn't feel any pain or shame or distress."

And there are far more children whose lives in poverty aren't so blissful.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Planned Parenthood and the Shiny Noble Service

Image source:
Just a few quick notes on the exploding Planned Parenthood scandal. Sorry for the lack of links; I've been keeping my distance because: 1) I implied I was going to wean myself away from the culture wars; and 2) there's always the possibility with sting videos that you may find it's a put-up job. As much as I'm for the pro-life movement, I'm not a consequentialist: evil means poison good ends. So thanks to Molly Z. Hemingway for some of the info here.

As Hemingway explains, the MSM lost 14 hours lead time from the moment the story broke, and for the most part has been engaged in some creative damage control. I can't get over the number of crapburgers we Catholics are forced to eat where the faults and malfeasances of our leaders are concerned; yet the same media that crams them down our throats can't take an honest, hard look at the Church of Moloch. I guess it all depends on whose ox is gored.

There's a heavy bit of equivocation going on: one of the popular arguments is that you're not really "selling" organs if you're only collecting for expenses, or just a little more. As we say down here in Texas, "That dog won't hunt." If money is changing hands for a good or service, it doesn't matter if the net is a profit or loss — you are selling.

It's tempting to "forget" that 501(c)(3)s are businesses, regardless of the fact that they're non-profit ... and even the word "non-profit" is a little misleading. They can collect more than they spend ... they just can't distribute the excess to equity holders; technically, they don't have equity holders to which profits could be distributed. If Planned Parenthood had shareholders, said owners would have a pretty good dividend income. I won't say they're all about the money: PP has too many true believers on board for such a cynical assessment. Nevertheless, they really don't need the federal subsidies they get; they have too many true believers among the herd willing to write them multi-zero donations at the drop of an ad misericordiam.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Gay Christians and the Shattered Faith

No, this isn't authentic Christian teaching.
Before you read this, I entreat you to right-click on this link to Gabriel Blanchard's post "Silence in Heaven" on his blog Mudblood Catholic. Go ahead and read it; I'll still be here when you come back.

*     *     *

Especially powerful to me are the last two paragraphs:

Those who have eyes only for the (in my opinion, legitimate) threats to religious liberty in this country, and have perhaps never knowingly dealt with a gay person in their own lives — even, maybe, wouldn't be homophobic if they did, except by accident — seem to have a difficult time believing that these stories of homophobic harshness, rejection, and even violence are credible, save perhaps in far-off pars [sic] of the world like Russia or Nigeria or India. Nonetheless, every single one of the names I've mentioned above — including every victim of murder and those driven to suicide — hails from the good old US of A. We are not immune; there are those who would say we are not safe.

Stop talking about us, fellow Christian, and talk to us. We were never meant to bear this cross alone, any more than you were meant to bear yours alone; Jesus Himself did not bear His Cross alone, accepting help from Simon and Veronica. Our anguish is not a guarded secret. There has been no need to break seven seals on the scroll of our pain and call for silence in heaven for half an hour to read it; we have read it from the housetops — and, too often, been met with the order to seal up what the seven thunders have said, because you saw no reason you should care. You were not, after all, your brother's keeper. Put your fingers in our hands and your hand into our sides, and do not be doubting, but believe: we are suffering. We need you.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

WARNING: Food is bad for your health!

This may be the healthiest breakfast you can get, and it's an
Army breakfast. (Photo credit: US Army.)

Eggs don't cause heart attacks — sugar does!

This is the headline on HuffPo's Healthy Living blog, written by Dr. Mark Hyman, posted February 9, 2014, and updated April 11, 2014. Hyman writes:
Fifty years of doctors' advice and government eating guidelines have been wrong. We've been told to swap eggs for cereal. But that recommendation is dead wrong. In fact, it's very likely that this bad advice has killed millions of Americans.

A rigorously done new study shows that those with the highest sugar intake had a four-fold increase in their risk of heart attacks compared to those with the lowest intakes. That's 400 percent! Just one 20-ounce soda increases your risk of a heart attack by about 30 percent.

This study of more than 40,000 people, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, accounted for all other potential risk factors including total calories, overall diet quality, smoking, cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and alcohol.

This follows on the heels of decades of research that has been mostly ignored by the medical establishment and policy makers. In fact, the Institute of Medicine recommends getting no more than 25 percent of your total calories from added sugar. Really? This study showed that your risk of heart attacks doubles if sugar makes up 20 percent of your calories.

Yet more than 70 percent of Americans consume 10 percent of their daily calories from sugar. And about 10 percent of Americans consume one in every four of their calories from sugar.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Help the Kingdom of God Sisters!

Kim Brown, Foundress, Kingdom of God Sisters.
(Image via LinkedIn.)
One day, you're a speaker and a Director of Student Life for a mid-sized university in north-central Texas, wondering if you have a vocation to marriage or not. Five breathless years later, you're knee-deep in the founding of a prospective Augustinian religious order dedicated to evangelization and dogmatic formation. You're trying to buy a house to turn into a convent, and you haven't even begun your own postulancy yet. And all because your grandma (so well-informed, your family jokes that "she was Google before there was Google") asks you during a phone conversation, "Dear, have you thought of becoming a nun?"

That's kinda-sorta the way Kim Brown tells it, albeit in better detail and much more engagingly.

Your Humble Blogger met Kim last night at a meeting of my Knights of Columbus council. A couple of months before, we'd voted to contribute sufficient funds to purchase 150 study Bibles for the young women who, if all goes well, will make up the first generation of the Kingdom of God Sisters, the religious order Kim is founding in order to join. In her conception, the KGS will focus on conferences, retreats, and one-day events to help dioceses strengthen the religious formation of Catholics, using modern technology and techniques, while adopting the charism, habits, prayers and practices of a traditional order dedicated to the Rule drawn up by the great Father and Doctor of the Church, Saint Augustine of Hippo.

The Kingdom of God Sisters is right now in a "halfway" stage: it's not officially recognized as a religious order, although it has the interest and vocal support of the Diocese of Fort Worth. For one thing, postulancy, the formative stage before taking the evangelical vows, isn't a do-it-yourself project; it's always done in community, living much the same life you intend to live after taking the vows. Hence, the need for a convent; besides Kim, there are currently over forty young women (median age in the early 20s) discerning their vocations along with her.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Condom portrait sparks wrong conversation

Niki Johnson, “Eggs Benedict”. (© Niki Johnson)

The decision by the Milwaukee Art Museum to acquire and prominently display a controversial portrait of Pope Benedict XVI fashioned from 17,000 colored condoms has created outrage among Catholics and others who see it as profoundly disrespectful, even blasphemous.
Many suggest that if a piece were as offensive to other faith traditions or communities it would not be tolerated, much less embraced.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki blasted the decision as insulting and callous. The museum acknowledged it has fielded about 200 complaints. A handful of patrons dropped their memberships; one longtime docent tendered her resignation; and at least one donor vowed never to support the museum financially again.
Museum officials said an equal number of people have voiced support for the piece and that memberships and pledges in general are growing. They said they regret that the portrait, by Shorewood artist Niki Johnson, has elicited such enmity. But they insist it was not their intent — nor the intent of the artist — to offend Catholics or anyone else. And they said they continue to enjoy the support of people of all faiths, including Catholics.
"This was never intended to be derisive, mocking or disrespectful of the pope," said museum board of trustees president Don Layden. "It was to have a conversation about AIDS and AIDS education. And my hope is when the piece appears in the museum that will be the focus of the discussion."

Monday, July 6, 2015

Catholic Stand: Christianity “Found Difficult and Left Untried”

Of course, I mean that Catholicism was not tried; plenty of Catholics were tried, and found guilty. My point is that the world did not tire of the church’s ideal, but of its reality. Monasteries were impugned not for the chastity of monks, but for the unchastity of monks. Christianity was unpopular not because of the humility, but of the arrogance of Christians. Certainly, if the church failed it was largely through the churchmen. … [T]he great ideals of the past failed not by being outlived (which must mean over-lived), but by not being lived enough. Mankind has not passed through the Middle Ages. Rather mankind has retreated from the Middle Ages in reaction and rout. The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. (G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (1910), ch. 1.5)
Although this passage was written some years before Chesterton’s formal conversion to Catholicism, one can be very certain that at no point after his conversion would he have taken a single word back; most likely, he would have restated it in a different yet equally blunt way. He also knew the Church wasn’t established for the sake of the righteous, but for sinners (cf. Mark 2:17): “The Church is justified,” he would write in The Everlasting Man (1923), “not because her children do not sin, but because they do.” His point was that Christian hypocrisy made the Christian ideal appear unachievable and not worth attempting.

To read the body of Chesterton’s work is to get quick baby pictures of the monster ideologies that plague our culture — free-market capitalism, socialism, modernism, and progressivism — before they climbed out of their cribs to eat our souls. Taken a century ago, the baby pictures are a marvelous corrective to the temptation to blame everything on the Sixties (or any of the last five presidents). However, the above passage reminds us that it more likely began five hundred years ago, with Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses, Henry VIII’s dynastic concerns, the trial of Galileo, and the widespread publication (thanks to the printing press) of classical literature.

Read the rest at Catholic Stand!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Zach Braff's sarcasm fail

Has anyone been mocked out of faith who wasn't already on the precipice of doubt?

As stated, Zach's supposed zinger isn't an atheist/agnostic argument per se. It could be merely an argument for religious tolerance ... except that it's from a Facebook page titled DoubtGod. So is he a skeptic only where Yahweh is concerned? Oops — send it back to the script department for a rewrite.

The skeptic's argument, as I've seen it, is, "The world's religions can't all be right, but they can all be wrong." That doesn't exhaust the possibilities, though. One can be the closest to the truth of the Way Things Really Are, and others can be further away to varying degrees. One of the gods can be real, and the rest shadows and reflections of him (or Him). This is what a better-educated believer will say in response; the simpler believer will merely assert that all the others are false. Either way, the skeptic's argument is a kind of cross of St. Anselm's ontological argument turned upside-down and Murphy's Law: "If all religions can be wrong, they are all wrong." The consequent doesn't necessarily follow from the antecedent.

If a person has what he believes are good and sufficient reasons to believe that a particular god — or pantheon of gods — is the only one that's real and true, then pointing out that there are 4,999 other gods he could worship is useless; it's like pointing out that there are over 200 other countries in which he could live, or 500 other microbrews he could prefer, or 60 million other women he could love. So what? What compelling reasons can you offer that will cause him to move, or switch brands, or get a divorce? Even better, what compelling reasons can you offer that will get him to stop drinking, or stop loving women, or commit suicide?

In any event, Zach, this isn't a one-line wrecking ball; it isn't even the beginning of an argument. It's a rather pitiful and immature sneer.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

From the "'Slippery Slope'? What 'Slippery Slope'?" file

This, my pal Justin Brink tells me, can also fit in the "Never Saw This Coming" and "Tolja So" files. From the Associated Press (via The Blaze):

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana man has applied for a marriage license so he can legally wed his second wife.

Nathan Collier of Billings said Wednesday that last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage inspired him to try to force the acceptance of polygamous marriages.

He says he’ll sue the state if his application is rejected.

Collier says Yellowstone County Courthouse officials initially denied the application Tuesday. When he told officials he planned to sue, they said they would consult with the county attorney before giving him a final answer.

Collier married his first wife, Victoria, in 2000. He and his second wife, Christine, had a religious wedding ceremony in 2007 but didn’t sign a marriage license.

The trio recently has appeared on the reality cable television show “Sister Wives.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Dear “Occupy Democrats”

Of course, if that message isn't quite clear enough, then perhaps I could offer the following substitute:


Did I mention I've declared my independence of the Zeitgeist?

Semper Fi. Carry on.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Facebook declaration of independence

Since I normally use Facebook to maintain my relationships, I don't indulge in a lot of commentary or proselytization there ... just the occasional quip or grump over some headline, article, or event. When I was younger, I decided I didn't want to risk my friendships by being too obnoxiously opinionated.

I can't do that anymore. But I couldn't just say, "F**k you, I'll be opinionated if I want to be." So I posted the following warning last night:

This is gonna be a long one:

In Robert Bolt's "A Man for all Seasons", St. Thomas More tells the court which has just convicted him of treason, "I do none harm; I say none harm; I think none harm. And if that be not enough to keep a man alive, then in faith I long not to live."

I've been blessed in that my friends and family are wise enough to know that to love someone in spite of their faults is not to pretend that they have no faults. However, the rhetoric in the public square has been devolving over the last few years. Commentators on both the left and the right almost compulsively reduce each other to two-dimensional comic-book villains without any redeeming human traits. Conservatives are big, mean poopy-heads out to repress and enslave everyone (except the one percent); while liberals are jack-booted statists who want to micromanage all human actions (except sex). Nobody on the other side can be granted to have good intentions, let alone good ideas.

To paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, society can't function if people can't trust one another to tell each other the truth. However, according to the
Zeitgeist, we're losing any sense of a common truth; and it's becoming more important to protect each other's feelings of self-worth than to speak the truth in love. Moreover, to do any less than give full-voiced approval to the Zeitgeist is to risk being damned and marginalized as a "hater". Yet, as the Latin maxim reminds us, to be silent is to consent; and to remain silent in the face of error is to endorse it.

So I guess I'm saying that, in the future, I will continue to speak the truth as I best understand it, fully realizing I'm a flawed, failing mortal, that I'm not omniscient or omnicompetent. If I offend you, I'm sorry; if you feel you must block or unfriend me, I should regret it. But I'm not really entitled to my own opinion if the only opinion I can say in public, the only opinion I can base my votes on, is that which the
Zeitgeist says I must have.

Semper Fi. Carry on.

Monday, June 29, 2015


“One woe doth tread another’s heel, So fast they follow.” As if things weren’t already looking bad enough, here comes some more embarrassing news

Jurassic World” may have been a documentary as far as millions of Americans are concerned.
A recent survey by YouGov — a for-profit research firm that conducts all sorts of online polls — found that 41 percent of those queried think dinosaurs and humans “probably” or “definitely” once co-existed on Earth at the same time.
The online poll (PDF) of 1,000 adults was conducted between June 15 and 17 and has a 4.4 percent plus-or-minus margin of error. ...
Note that with 16 percent “not sure,” it’s entirely possible that I’m actually living in a country where most people disregard the scientific consensus that dinosaurs lived tens of millions of years ago and tens of millions of years before the first humans emerged.
Perhaps these results shouldn’t be so shocking when we consider that there are entire museums, like Kentucky’s Creation Museum, devoted to showing how dinosaurs fit into the biblical timeline of history, complete with this animatronic display of a dinosaur hanging out with an Old Testament kid tending a fire.
YouGov also notes a clear religious split in the survey results. Most Americans who identified themselves as “born again” (56 percent) for the survey said that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time, as opposed to just 22 percent who did not identify that way.
(This is all a little confusing, though, when you consider that there are also groups out there, such as Christians Against Dinosaurs, that consider the very existence of dinos to be a Jurassic-size hoax.)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Post-Charleston liberal screaming at imaginary conservatives

Dylann Roof, Thursday afternoon.
(Image © Reuters/Jason Miscek.)
One difference between liberals and conservatives: Liberals tend to think that mental illness excuses crime. Conservatives don’t agree; to them, it’s just another reason the perp should be off the street. Hence the liberal uproar over one guy — one guy — saying that mass-murderer Dylann Roof “probably has some mental issues”.

Of course Roof has mental issues. He’s also a racist. The one doesn’t preclude the other ... unless you have a political agenda which requires certain facts to be bent or ignored.

Conservatives tend to make fun of the degree to which certain liberals obsess over the prevalence of racism in society. Even a knee-jerk liberal rag such as HuffPo is occasionally amused and bemused by the reductionist silliness which allows academics to find racist microagression in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Conservatives don’t deny that racism can be an issue, or that it’s an ongoing social problem; they simply resent the extent to which certain liberals cram every example of human conflict into the racism paradigm.

But that Roof killed nine members of an AME congregation precisely because they were black, that Roof's killing spree was racist by definition, no one denies. No one has begun to deny it. No one has begun to begin to deny it. As Charles C. W. Cooke points out in the National Review, liberal pundits like Anthea Brown and Arthur Chu are vigorously, viciously taking conservatives to task for denying what no conservative has denied, for excusing what no conservative has excused, for failing to condemn what conservatives have roundly, loudly condemned. Such liberals are screaming at phantoms of their own imagination, products of their own stereotypes.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Requiescat in pace, Cardinal George

Cardinal Francis Eugene George, OMI once said, "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history."

I don't know how true that will turn out to be; I'm sure Abp. Blase Cupich isn't in any danger of residing in the hoosegow just yet. Nevertheless, for a man who braved many dangers in his seventy-eight years of life, that Cdl. George passed away in his own bed must seem as strange as John "Doc" Holliday dying with his boots off in a Colorado Springs sanatorium.

I’ve always said that the only thing I’d like people to remember about me is that 'he tried to be a good bishop.' I think I have been a good bishop, in many ways, and I take some pride in at least having tried my best. That’s enough. (from a 2014 interview)

I think it's fair to say that, in the seventeen years he reigned as the archbishop of Chicago, the first such archbishop to have been Chicago-born and -raised, he was a good bishop. Certainly he was a culture warrior; however, fighting the culture wars wasn't at the top of his priority list — it was just something that came with the seat and the miter. More important to him was the revival of the spirit of faith that lies at the heart of the Marian Oblates' mission. If more of our bishops were like Cdl. George, the conversion of the nation would follow quickly.

Euge, serve bone et fidelis. Intra in gaudium Domini tui!