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: lifenews.com.)
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’”)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ask Tony: Is Voting Third-Party or Write-In a “Sin of Omission”?

This is how political ideology distorts religion.
As the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign staggers toward its finale, Catholic supporters of Donald Trump are going all out to push pro-life voters to cast their ballots for the Republican nominee. Some are even going so far as to engage in what can only be called doctrinal strong-arm tactics. Because Hillary Rodham Clinton is pro-abortion, a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood, and has a restrictive view of religious rights, it’s taken as granted that a vote for her is tantamount to approving her policy choices on these fronts, and therefore formal cooperation in evil.[*] However, the reasoning is extended: by failing to vote for Donald Trump, a third-party/write-in voter is wasting their vote, and therefore committing a sin of omission.

Defining Our Terms

First, let’s define our terms. But before we do, let me remind you: Infallibility applies to the Catholic Church only on matters of faith and morals, and only under specific conditions. Individual Catholics, especially lay bloggers, are not infallible. With that caveat:

In Catholic moral theology, sins can be divided into four categories: sins of thought, sins of word, sins of commission, and sins of omission. A sin of omission, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, is “the failure to do something one can and ought to do. If this happens advertently and freely a sin is committed. Moralists took pains formerly to show that the inaction implied in an omission was quite compatible with a breach of the moral law, for it is not merely because a person here and now does nothing that he offends, but because he neglects to act under circumstances in which he can and ought to act.”

Sins are also classified according to whether they are venial or mortal. “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church § 1855). A mortal sin is committed when the object is grave matter (i.e., a violation of the Decalogue), and when it is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent (cf. CCC § 1857; see link above).

Material and formal cooperation pertain to the degree that an accomplice actually participates in the sin of the principal agent. Says The Catholic Encyclopedia, “For example, to persuade another to absent himself without reason from Mass on Sunday would be an instance of formal cooperation. To sell a person in an ordinary business transaction a revolver which he presently uses to kill himself is a case of material cooperation.” Formal cooperation pertains, then, when the person assists a person in an evil act freely and in full knowledge of its wrongness. With material cooperation, “the action of the accomplice is assumed to be unexceptionable, his intention is already bespoken to be proper, and he cannot be burdened with the sin of the principal agent since there is supposed to be a commensurately weighty reason for not preventing it.” There is also a distinction between proximate and remote cooperation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

In Response to Fr. Frank Pavone


Courtesy David Wanat.
On October 10, Priests for Life director Fr. Frank Pavone, who not only supports Donald Trump but advises his campaign on pro-life issues, released a statement which begins:

The lewd comments, made over a decade ago and for which Mr. Trump has apologized, and which I, like everyone else, find repulsive, do not in the least change my intentions of voting for him, of urging others to do so, and of advising his campaign. The reason is simple: this presidential election is not about a choice between him and someone better; it’s between him and someone far worse.

Moreover, it is not ultimately about either one of them, but rather the good of the nation as reflected in two things: a) What will they do, and b) Who comes into power with them.

Hillary is worse. For over a year now, Trump supports have been parroting that mantra as if it were infallible dogma. That Hillary Clinton has shown herself both corrupt and inept is difficult to deny; even liberals dislike and distrust her. That she will probably be elected with less than a majority of the popular vote and have a lower approval rating coming into office than her husband did is foreseeable. And that the worldview, philosophy, and policy preferences she will bring into office ought to be categorically rejected is unquestionable. But to say Clinton is a worse choice for president than Donald Trump requires considerable, willful blindness to the many flaws Trump has displayed — not just over the last year but over the course of his public career as well.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Brutal Truths? Meh. Some not so brutal, some not so true

Artist unknown. (Image source: pulsslag.dk.)
In Inc.com, contributor Matthew Jones puts on the mask of the sage on the mountaintop and offers us “20 Brutal Truths About Life No One Wants to Admit”. It’s always tempting, especially in one’s middle years, to give others general advice about life you learn from The School of Hard Knocks, a school that — unlike strip-mall colleges — will never shut down. Heck, I’ve done it myself.

But I don’t admit to all of Jones’ brutal truths because they’re not all true, or at least not true as stated. Though much of what Jones says is true, and could have been taken at least indirectly from the wise Msgr. Charles Pope, there are other points where in trying to be a libertarian Zig Ziglar he depends on ideas people commonly take as fact but which are really false. Let’s go through them, shall we?

1. You’re going to die and you have no idea when.
Stop pretending that you're invincible. Acknowledge the fact of your own mortality, and then start structuring your life in a more meaningful way.

2. Everyone you love is going to die, and you don’t know when.
This truth may be saddening at first, but it also gives you permission to make amends with past difficulties and re-establish meaningful relationships with important figures in your life.

3. Your material wealth won’t make you a better or happier person.
Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who achieves his or her materialistic dreams, money only amplifies that which was already present. [I must admit this was odd to find in Inc.com, a Forbes wannabe.]

4. Your obsession with finding happiness is what prevents its attainment.
Happiness is always present in your life — it’s just a matter of connecting to it and allowing it to flow through you that’s challenging. [Especially since it generally involves paying more attention to others than to yourself.]

5. Donating money does less than donating time.
Giving your time is a way to change your perception and create a memory for yourself and others that will last forever.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Next Step — Blogging Under Obedience?

Devin Rose on The Journey Home. (Image: EWTN.)
After a month and a half of working on other projects, I seem to have gotten my blogging mojo back. (Of course, this means the other projects have gone back to the back burner.) However, as much as I kvetch about the culture-warrior role I’ve been stuck in for lo these eight years — more, if you count my long-lost-and-best-forgotten first blog — I keep returning to politics, every once in a while mentioning God or the Catholic Church to remind myself and others that I am a Catholic writer. Fortunately, über-apologist Devin Rose recently wrote a post on obedience which is not only worthy of comment but isn’t about politics (well, it’s not directly about politics).

“Demand I Do Something!”

Says Devin:

I recently finished Rod Dreher’s book on life lessons from Dante’s Divine Comedy, and one fascinating part of his story was his interaction with his Eastern Orthodox priest.

Dreher left Catholicism and became Orthodox in response to the priestly sexual abuse scandal. His local priest at their small Orthodox church is also a convert to Orthodoxy, and this priest became Dreher’s spiritual director, confessor, and pastor.

Well, we have that in the Catholic Church, too, but what’s different is the level of pastoral care that his priest could give him. Dreher’s priest put him under obedience to pray 500 Jesus prayers each day.

Now think about that: has a Catholic priest ever put you under obedience to do any spiritual discipline, beyond a few Hail Marys for a penance after Confession? I’ve never experienced that, nor even heard of it happening.

One Catholic friend of mine has actually begged his priest to put him under obedience! “Please, as pastor of my soul, demand I do something!”

Monday, August 29, 2016

Catholic Stand: Political Control and the Freedom of Weakness

There’s a certain freedom in powerlessness, the loss of control. Recently, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote that the “astonishing flaws” of both major candidates was “depressing and liberating at the same time. Depressing, because it’s proof of how polarized the nation has become. Liberating, because for the honest voter, it’s much easier this year to ignore the routine tribal loyalty chants of both the Democratic and Republican camps.”

Control of Our Lives

It’s liberating when you realize that, no matter what you do, the results will be the same. You don’t always have the luxury of knowing that your action will have only minimal effect on the outcome. It’s like a message from God: “Dude, I got this. You go do the right thing, and let Me handle the rest.”

Have you ever just sat and thought about all the ways in which your life is affected, impacted, changed for better or worse, by people whom you will most likely never meet and over whom you have no control or even influence? I’m sure commercials promising you security from identity theft and credit-card fraud have got you to thinking, now and again, how your financial security is tied up in a network of computers over which faceless strangers must keep perpetual watch against other faceless, more malicious strangers. Think of the people in the security agencies and defense services laboring 24/7 to prevent a terrorist attack from occurring or a war from breaking out.

Something so simple and quotidian as filling your gas tank doesn’t just involve you and the pump. It involves hundreds of people in a number of industries moving the original oil from the well to the refinery to the distributor, as well as making the pumps, the tanks, the trucks, the pipes, and the car you’re putting it in. And as you’re cruising down the six-lane expressway, do you think about all the people who labored for months to expand the original two-lane blacktop highway while you suffered delays and jams in frustration? Whatever made you think you were independent? Whatever made you think you had complete control of your life?

Usain Bolt hits the gym every day for 90-minute workouts to develop explosiveness and build stability while staying lean. He controls when he shows up at the gym, how rigorously he follows his workout routine, and what he eats. He can’t control the possible rise of another runner even faster than him, or the potential for career-ending injury, or the slow wear of entropy that will eventually subtract from his speed. Why worry about these things, when worrying about them won’t prevent them from happening?

“Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:27)

Read the rest at Catholic Stand!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ask Tony: Forgiveness and Sincerity—UPDATED

Hypothetical situation: A friend, loved one, coworker, or acquaintance has a certain behavioral trait, one that is objectively sinful and hurtful. At times, you are the one s/he hurts. Every time s/he hurts you, s/he apologizes. After n apologies and n +1 times being hurt, though, don’t you have a right to feel his/her apologies are insincere? Shouldn’t the behavior have been corrected by then if s/he really meant it? In sum, aren’t you justified in refusing to forgive, or making your forgiveness contingent upon some material act?

Seventy Times Seven

There are only two passages in the New Testament where a finite number is connected with forgiveness. The first occurs in Matthew 18:21-22:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Jesus then follows this injunction with the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (vv. 23-35). The “seventy times seven”, of course, is hyperbole meaning that we forgive as often as asked: “... and if [your brother] sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:4). However, you don’t have to wait to be asked forgiveness in order to grant it.

As for sincerity — nope. Don’t find it connected to forgiveness of others anywhere in the NT. It’s not a condition. Nor do you find any passage that allows you to make forgiveness conditional. Catholics have done penitential acts over the centuries. However, those acts were reparative; that is, they were ordered towards repairing the relationship between the person and God, and not as a condition of His forgiveness. Making your forgiveness contingent upon fulfilling a material condition as “proof” of sincerity is spiritual extortion.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Euthyphro the Burglar; or, A Criminal Dilemma

One night, as I arrived home from my Knights of Columbus council meeting, I noticed that my front door was ajar, and that there was a shadow moving past the curtains on the living room window. A burglary, I thought, more angry than scared. So I called 911, retrieved my Sig Sauer from my glove box, got out of my car as quietly as possible, and crept inside.[*]

As I tiptoed into the living room, the burglar was bending over to pick up the television set from the entertainment center. “Stop!” I commanded, pointing the Sig at him. “Put it down slowly, then stand up with your hands in the air. The cops are coming; you’re going to go to jail for burglary.”

The burglar did as I told him. To my surprise, though, he asked, “Is burglary wrong because the law says so, or does the law say so because burglary is wrong?”

Puzzled, I asked, “What does it matter?”

“Well,” he responded, “if Texas law says so because burglary is wrong, then the State of Texas doesn’t really define burglary.”

I shrugged. “That’s a trivial objection, because Texas enacted the definition in its laws, and you’re still subject to Texas law. But what if I say burglary is wrong because Texas law says so?”

The burglar smirked — or, at least, I think he smirked; it was difficult to tell through his pantyhose mask in the dim light. “In the first place, if it’s wrong only because the law says so, then ‘wrong things are against the law’ is merely a tautology, and says nothing significant about wrongness.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Babylonian Puppet Shows and Thought-Terminating Clichés

Have you ever wondered if people who create memes are in some kind of competition to produce thought-terminating clichés? I recently saw a someecard written by a petulant unbeliever: “I don’t need your Babylonian puppet show to tell me to share with others. I learned that from Sesame Street™.”

Okay, smartass. Where did the writers and creators of Sesame Street learn it from?

What’s the Right Question?

If Christ was and is who we Catholics believe him to be, it shouldn’t be surprising that the natural order or that evolution would produce in us a moral need to be nice to each other.[*] It shouldn’t be surprising that some idea of justice, mercy, benevolence, and every other common moral imperative should manifest in other cultures. Jesus didn’t come primarily to be an ethical philosopher; God is the ultimate Source of all natural ethoi.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that you could learn from Sesame Street what the Church has taught for a couple of millennia, and the Jews taught for centuries before us. Nor should it be surprising that the Church teaches some moral principles other religions teach. In that much, it shouldn’t surprise us that some things Jesus taught weren’t “original” … save in that the Logos is the Origin. It surprises me that some would find his “unoriginality” significant.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ask Tony: A feast for Mary Magdalene?

Blavatskaya, Mary Magdalene.
(Image source DeviantArt.net)
On June 10, the Congregation for Divine Worship released a document raising the liturgical observance of St. Mary Magdalene’s traditional day from a memorial to a feast. Released along with it is an accompanying letter, Apostle to the Apostles, over the signature of the secretary of the congregation, Abp. Arthur Roche. Now would be a good time to explain who she is in the Catholic tradition, and why the Holy See has taken such an extraordinary step.

Who was Mary Magdalene?

“Mary” (Heb. Miriam, Aram. Maryam, Gr./L. Maria) was a common name among the Judeans, and due to the influence of both the Blessed Mother and the Magdalene would be common in Christian lands for the next twenty centuries. (Maryam is also frequent among Moslems, among whom the Blessed Virgin Mother is honored.) So in the New Testament there is a surfeit of women named Mary, not always kept distinct from each other.

There are two locations named “Magdala” in Talmud: one in the east on the River Yarmouk near the modern town of Umm Qais, the other on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, abandoned just prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, near the town of Migdal. Given the number of Galileans among Jesus’ disciples, Mary most likely came from the latter.

We know very little about Mary’s story. According to Luke, Mary joined Jesus’ ministry early. He tells us that “seven demons had gone out from” her, indirectly attributing it to Jesus, and that she was one of several women who accompanied Jesus and the apostles, “[providing] for them out of their means” (Luke 2:1-3) After the Easter narratives, Mary of Magdala drops out of the scriptural record.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Catholic Stand: Men and the Rape Conversation

Recent events in the story of convicted rapist Brock Turner force the conversation about rape into a deeper understand of this complicated subject. It is a multifarious conversation, touching upon sex, consent, sexual differentiation, women’s equality, and college campus culture, among other things. But in many respects, it is the wrong conversation, full of false assumptions and askew stereotypes. It is also a conversation from which, as I hope to make clear, men cannot and should not be excluded.

Men as Victims of Rape

Rape is commonly presented in the conversation as a “women’s problem”; that is, as a crime only women suffer and only men commit. Sixteen percent of women, according to statistics gathered last March, experience attempted or completed rape, as opposed to only 3% of men — at least as far as the sources know. An estimated 95% of rapes on campus, and 60% of rapes overall, are never reported. Whenever we discuss rape, we almost take it for granted that men are only raped in prison.

This trope is false and misleading. As Hanna Rosin reported in Slate a couple of years ago, sexual assault against men is vastly under-reported. Men are almost as often victims of sexual assault as are women, and women are very often the perpetrators. The 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey found that 38% of the incidents reported were against men. Because the U.S. military is predominantly male, it should be no surprise that more than half of military sexual-assault victims are men. Last year, Huffington Post ran an article detailing male experiences of sexual assault on campus; one advocate estimated that as many as 1 in 6 males are sexually assaulted before the age of 18.

Precisely because all forms of sexual assault are under-reported, it is impossible to say for certain whether proportionally fewer male victims than female victims report being raped. At least part of the under-reporting problem for men, though, is the cultural emphasis on alpha-male machismo: men are discouraged from “whining”, and expected — by both men and women — to shut up, “put on their big-boy britches,” and get over any problems they may have. Also, our culture takes it for granted that men are irresponsible about when, where, and with whom they have sex. We find it especially difficult to believe that a woman could force a man to have sex against his will, due to the assumption that rape must involve penetration of the victim by the assailant.

Under-reporting also diminishes our knowledge of the incidence of same-sex rape. According to Men Against Abuse Now (MAAN), being assaulted by another female, especially a partner, can be more traumatic for women “because of the levels of trust, attraction, and love involved.” Gay males have greater difficulty finding help because of “attitudes that gay men are promiscuous or that rape is something that only happens to women”. And a study done by the CDC in 2010 revealed that women tend to be more physically aggressive and controlling than men in intimate partnerships. In sum, women are not the only ones affected by rape in our society.

Read more at Catholic Stand!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Crazy He Calls Me 2 — The Liberals’ Turn

Back in November 2011, I reported on a paper by University of Tampa professor Marcus Arvan which, in the words of Allahpundit at HotAir, purported to find “‘significant’ correlations between key antisocial traits and bedrock conservative views, like opposition to gay marriage and support for capital punishment.” As I said at the time, “It’s a sad sign when progressivist advocates stoop to jury-rigging ‘scientific’ studies in order to write off the opposition as Machiavellian psychopaths.”

Four and a half years later — just as I was getting ready to believe it — comes Retraction Watch: “Researchers have fixed a number of papers after mistakenly reporting that people who hold conservative political beliefs are more likely to exhibit traits associated with psychoticism, such as authoritarianism and tough-mindedness.” (Arvan’s paper was not among them.) Now it appears that liberal political beliefs are linked with psychoticism, while neuroticism and “social desirability (falsely claiming that you have socially desirable qualities)” are linked to conservatives. It’s beginning to sound like a fourth-graders’ argument: “You’re a psycho!” “No, you’re the psycho!” And so on, ad nauseam.

But wait! There’s more!

We’re not clear how much the corrections should inform our thinking about politics and personality traits, however, because it’s not clear from the paper how strongly those two are linked. The authors claim that the strength of the links are not important, as they do not affect the main conclusions of the papers — although some personality traits appear to correlate with political beliefs, one doesn’t cause the other, nor vice versa. [Bold font mine.—ASL]

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Barbarians and Footballs and North Koreans (Oh My!)

Air Force officer with nuclear “football”.
(Image source: BusinessInsider.com.)

Football On My Mind

Yesterday, a Catholic Stand colleague posted on her Facebook status a cri de coeur over the general state of affairs. Early on, she wondered why so much activity was being devoted to arguments over the morality of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings when North Korea had just tested-fired a ballistic missile.

I must confess the answer should have been obvious to me right away. However, I’d had no sleep the night before. So it didn’t occur to me until I was on my way home from running an errand, half an hour later.

Think about who’s defending the bombings. Then think about the person to whom they want to give access to the “football” — the briefcase containing the nuclear launch codes that an Air Force officer always carries near the Commander in Chief — come next January. That’s why the argument is relevant today. That’s why you should be scared.

Those of us who came to our majority in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s ought to remember that we grew up in the shadow of “brinksmanship” and “mutual assured destruction” (the acronym, “MAD”, perfectly described the situation). We were fortunate to have civilian leaders who feared the possibility of having to give the “go” for launch, and who kept a communications line open between us and Moscow so that our President and the Soviet General Secretary could talk each other down from the ledge. We were fortunate that most of our leaders realized a victory in such a war could only be Pyrrhic; whatever would be left would not likely survive the following “nuclear winter”.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Taking Exception to an Experienced Writer’s Rules

A version of this post was originally published in January 2012.

The road to bad writing is paved with Experienced Writers’ rules. Developing a literary style is a long process with no real proven method to it; it takes guesswork, constructive criticism, and a bit of an ear for poetry. Suggestions from established writers are generally helpful. However, every now and again, an Experienced Writer will try to impose on others a set of rules that are almost guaranteed to generate bland, undistinguished prose.

For example: About three years ago, Grammarly.com published a meme titled, “How to Write Good”, by Frank L. Visco, listing 23 rules that Visco said he’d learned in “several years in the word game”. Let’s go through them, shall we?

  1. Avoid Alliteration. Always: If you’re going to alliterate that badly, by all means, refrain. Starting three successive words with the same letter is bad alliteration. However, Anglo-Saxon poetry was highly alliterative, and Shakespeare was a master of distributing alliterative sounds. Trust your ear.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with: This is the sort of absolute rule up with which no one should put.
  3. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.): Okay, I’ll give him this one.
  4. Employ the vernacular: I think he means that polysyllabic words are pretentious and obfuscatory. Alas, unless he’s truly concerned that people might write essays in Latin, Cherokee, or Hindi for publication in English-language media, his choice of vernacular is singularly unfortunate (see No. 21 below).

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bolton’s Hiroshima Defense Worst Kind of Patriotism

Pres. Barack Obama embraces survivor of Hiroshima bomb.
(Source: AP/Toledo Blade.)
The bromide tells us that “hindsight is always 20/20.” Well, perhaps individual humans can objectively recognize mistakes they made in  their pasts as individuals. But when it comes to history, hindsight is often just as myopic as foresight, as public discussion over Pres. Barack Obama’s apologetic non-apology at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park so tellingly demonstrates.

The President’s Highest Duty

Example: In the New York Post this last Thursday, former UN ambassador John Bolton (who, I am shocked to discover, is an executive with the American Enterprise Institute) defended the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “An American president’s highest moral, constitutional and political duty is protecting his fellow citizens from foreign threats,” Bolton declaims with a patriotic consequentialism verging on moral imbecility. “Presidents should adhere to our values and the Constitution, and not treat America’s enemies as morally equivalent to us. If they do, they need not apologize to anyone.”

Pearl Harbor was “a date which will live in infamy,” in Roosevelt’s words. Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) came after four years of brutal war and a desperate race against Nazi and Japanese efforts to develop atomic weapons. We won the race, and Truman acted decisively and properly to end the war.

Truman understood that not using the atom bombs would have condemned millions of service members to death or debilitating injury. Japanese resistance grew significantly as US forces neared Japan, and, expecting fanatical Japanese resistance, American military planners repeatedly increased projected US casualties. The calculus could not have been clearer.

This isn’t the first time Bolton has publicly defended the bombings. In 2001, while an Undersecretary of State, he published an essay in Duke Law School’s Law and Contemporary Problems arguing that the US should not be a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, arguing that a “straightforward reading” of the statutes’ language would leave the US open to charges of war crimes for its bombing campaign of Germany and Japan. “A fortiori, these provisions seem to imply that the United States would have been guilty of a war crime for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is intolerable and unacceptable.”

Friday, May 27, 2016

Interlude: The Shepherd and the Stranger

Image source: raykliu.wordpress.com.
Now there was in that same country a shepherd abiding in the fields, keeping watch over his flock one day. Suddenly a stranger appeared unto him, driving up the road toward him in a brand-new BMW. The stranger stopped his car and stepped out of it carrying an iPad, which he began to play with.

The shepherd approached and said, “Say, that’s a nice car. And a nice gadget.”

The stranger replied, “Yep. And I’m a whiz with this iPad, my friend. In fact, I’ll make a bet with you. If I can tell you how many sheep you have on this hillside, will you give me one of them?”

A little bemused, the shepherd said, “Okay, I guess.”

Friday, May 6, 2016

Why You Should Vote Third-Party

So, have you read Matt Walsh’s spittle-flecked nutty in The Blaze? If not, let me give you the quick-’n-dirty on it: Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, so Walsh is quitting the party. That’s it, stripped of all the Sturm und Drang worthy of a Hollywood diva.

What a Primary Season!

I quit the Republican Party a couple decades ago. Even back then, it seemed the GOP’s sole interest was in punishing poor people and returning us to a laissez-faire economy under the guise of saving taxpayer dollars, working just hard enough for pro-life initiatives to keep the “values voters” in their camp. Despite all the press ballyhoo about the “Religious Right”, there was nothing really religious about Republicans save in their devotion to Mammon.

Nevertheless, I never predicted that the GOP, the Party of Lincoln, T. Roosevelt, and Reagan, would devolve so far as to become an inept, mindless pack of howler monkeys who couldn’t pick a suitable candidate if God Himself told them who to vote for.

Yesterday, a Republican in Indiana told the media she’s voting for Trump because he’s a “different kind of liar.” The day before, Cruz attempted to have a reasoned dialogue with a couple of Trump supporters who responded to all of the senator’s arguments by shouting slogans and pumping their fists. Trump fans perform even less admirably in cyberspace, where an impassioned collection of anti-Semites and white nationalists work tirelessly to confirm every negative and cartoonish stereotype liberals have ever concocted about Republicans.

For awhile, the Democrat primaries were actually interesting to watch. For a few months, it looked like the Dems actually had some steel in their spines and wouldn’t just lay down for Hillary Clinton to walk all over them. That is, it was interesting until it became clear even to hopelessly romantic dummies like me that the Democrat primary system was rigged from the beginning to produce a Clinton nomination. Now it’s become a dreary exercise in waiting for Bernie Sanders to throw in the towel.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Postscript: Voris, Victims, and Witch Trials

Scene from Columbus State University production of
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. (Image © CSU.)
Yesterday, in this blog, I published a post in which I took exception to Michael Voris’ brief but startling allegation that the Archdiocese of New York was seeking to discredit himself and Church Militant. Voris’ charge was based “on very good authority from various sources”, sources whose names and credentials Voris didn’t reveal. Since I’ve reported on at least two incidences in which third parties used journalists to smear others by remote, I questioned Voris’ prudence in naming the archdiocese without qualification, especially as the charge necessarily implicates the Archbishop of New York, Cdl. Tim Dolan.

Clerical Skullduggery

A friend of mine, to whom I’ll simply refer as “Valeria”, disagrees with my assessment. Voris’ statement, Valeria says, is “hauntingly familiar”, because she and her family has had an unpleasant experience (putting it mildly) with her local bishop and diocese, about which legal counsel has suggested she reveal little and with great circumspection. Valeria therefore wholeheartedly supports Voris, as have others. “As much as people wish to believe that the Church is infallible,” Valeria told me, “people are not, and thus a significant number of the clergy openly choose to lie and discredit the innocent to protect their mission.”

Agreed once, a thousand times agreed. It would be nice if all our shepherds were honest, wise, good, sane, and zealous for the faith. Unfortunately, just the last fourteen years by themselves have illustrated in sordid Technicolor the fact that the clergy are all too human … that they can be crooks, fools, liars, cowards, and sociopaths just like any one of us. And while in strict justice we’re entitled to leaders who live the gospel message with integrity, if we’re paying attention to our own doctrine, we realize that the hierarchy will have weeds among the wheat just as will the laity (cf. Matthew 13:24-30).

(I can’t help thinking about the elderly Irish monsignor Fr. Andrew M. Greeley once quoted: “Faith, the Bark of Peter must be divine, else we boys would have kicked the bottom out long ago.” Or the reaction of one French cardinal to Napoleon’s claim that he would destroy the Church: “Absurd. We’ve been trying for several centuries to do so without success.”)

However, it’s precisely because of stories like Valeria’s, or the Boston boys abused by the late Fr. John Geoghan, or any other number of stories, that we’re primed to give credence to charges of clerical skullduggery even before the evidence is out in the open. And, unfortunately, malicious people take advantage of this predisposition. For instance, Dave Pierre of The Media Report has spent several years documenting false abuse claims made against priests … claims that, in the wake of the “Long Lent” of 2002, were given automatic credence precisely because the accused were priests.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Michael Voris, Detraction, and “Reporter’s Privilege”

Michael Voris. (Image © St. Michaels Media.)
On “The Vortex” Thursday, Church Militant’s Michael Voris made an interesting confession:

… [F]or most of my years in my thirties, confused about my own sexuality, I lived a life of live-in relationships with homosexual men. From the outside, I lived the lifestyle and contributed to scandal in addition to the sexual sins. On the inside, I was deeply conflicted about all of it. In a large portion of my twenties, I also had frequent sexual liaisons with both adult men and adult women. …

Since my reversion, I abhor all these sins, especially in the world of the many[,] many other sins I have committed having nothing to do with sexuality. I gave in to deep pains from my youth by seeking solace in lust, and in the process, surrendered my masculinity.

I call it “interesting” because it’s neither shocking nor particularly scandalous. Since I began blogging, I’ve encountered a few gay Catholic apologists who, in the process of conversion or reversion, committed themselves to chastity after having been sexually active for some time. Openly (if modestly) revealing their pasts is an essential part of their apostolic efforts; it not only establishes their empathy but their street cred. If Voris has spent little to no time before this speaking of his bisexual past, it must be said in his defense that LGBTQ issues has not been his particular focus: he’s had other fish to fry.

Since then, kudos have been pouring out for Voris from all over the blogosphere for the bravery and honesty of his revelation. Says Melinda Selmys, “Michael absolutely has my prayers right now, and I will happily be defending him against any detractors in the days to come.” Steve Skojec agrees: “The folks at Church Militant and I do not see eye to eye on some very important things. But today, I stand with Michael Voris against those who would use public detraction to destroy a man’s reputation [bold type in original].” Artur Rosman, Robert at Sorry, All the Clever Names are Taken, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf — many bloggers, many of whom don’t always agree with Voris or the approach he takes, have added their names to the well-wishers list.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Catholic Stand: Amoris Laetitia and the Progressive Pope Myth

In a discussion of the God-as-watchmaker metaphor with Jonathan Witt, philosopher Jay Richards remarked, “It’s amazing how a simple image can hijack a discussion for a century and a half.” (Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, p. 54) Almost as soon as he was elected, before he had done anything substantive beyond greeting the people in Saint Peter’s Square, the Western chatterati had dubbed Francis a progressive pope. This hasty assessment, fraught with Western political and cultural implications, has similarly hijacked discussion of Francis’ actions by many people both inside and outside the Church.

The Progressive Pope and the “Hermeneutic of Rupture”

The progressive pope myth, in its essence, is a smaller iteration of the larger “hermeneutic of rupture” (or, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI originally called it, the “hermeneutic of discontinuity”) that has persisted in the Church for the last fifty years. To wit, the progressive pope myth has assumed from the very beginning that Pope Francis’ differences in style mark a break not only away from the traditions of the papacy but also away from the dogmas and doctrines of the apostolic tradition.

For example, many commentators made heavy weather of Francis’ refusal to wear red shoes and live in the Apostolic Palace. Few, however, noted his decision to visit Santa Maria Maggiore and pray at the tomb of Pope St. Pius V — a Dominican, a former inquisitor, and a major figure of the Counter-Reformation — the day after his election. Surely the latter was more significant than the former! Yet any clear and unmistakable sign from Francis of orthodoxy or respect for tradition is usually greeted with profound silence … or explained away as “holding out an olive branch to conservatives”.

The progressive pope myth is an a priori construct, albeit one without the benefit of valid first principles. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence,” said Holmes to Watson in A Study in Scarlet. In “A Scandal in Bohemia”, he elaborates: “Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” The myth of the progressive pope continues to validate Holmes’ dictum, most recently in the veritable blizzard of analyses that have followed the release of Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.
Read more at Catholic Stand!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Philippine Bishops’ Amoris Laetitia Statement Causes More 1P5 Teeth-Gnashing

Abp. Socrates B. Villegas, president of the CBCP.
(Image source: CBCP News.)
I’d really hoped to move beyond the right-wing blowback from Amoris Laetitia. Fifty-one weeks out of the fifty-two God sends, I’m able to ignore blogs like One Peter Five, Rorate Caeli, and What’s Up With Francis-Church?, content to let their writers whine and pout. However, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a statement today which hath caused Steve Skojec to rend his garment:

There are a number of people who seem to keep missing this key point, the super decoder ring to the entire synod and exhortation process. Gather round, everyone, and I’ll share the secret:
To the average person — or the willing priest or bishop — it doesn’t matter that the exhortation didn’t change doctrine. If they’re given permission to ignore doctrine through “pastoral” justifications, they will.

Comments Hilary White drily, “… [For] some reason, Steve seems to be losing his s**t.” Her own contribution is a sarcastic pretense of “everything is just peachy”. Sigh; it must be difficult to avoid looking like Skojec’s mini-me.

Who’s Waiting for “Permission”?

Got news for you, Steve-o: There are plenty of Catholics out there who haven’t waited for “permission” to ignore doctrine. I would even say that they’re in the overwhelming majority. Sure, there are a few progressive Catholics, like Kate Childs Graham, who can and do quote out-of-context passages from Church documents to justify their positions. However, I’d bet my old Ad Altari Dei medal that they’re in the minority, that more are like Carol Meyer — willing to ditch doctrine with or without “permission”. And in cases like Graham’s, it’s damn near certain they’d ignore doctrine even if they couldn’t find a passage to serve as their “permission”.

To the average person — or the willing priest or bishop — it doesn’t matter what Pope Francis wrote or didn’t write. If they want to go against the teachings of the Church — if they want to commit a particular sin — they will.

Many if not most Catholics just don’t need to hide behind a subterfuge like a footnote in an absurdly long papal exhortation. Do you think 98% of American Catholic women have used contraceptives at some time in their lives because Humanae Vitae was so difficult to comprehend, because it was “tantalizingly vague”? And Humanae Vitae, although an encyclical, is a much shorter document than Amoris Laetitia; by comparison, it’s almost an inter-office memo. (Boy, I just dated myself there!) Many priests, deacons, and laypersons will never read Amoris, let alone latch onto any particular footnote, just as they’ve never actually read any of the Vatican II documents.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Did Cardinal Burke “Betray” the Rad Trads?

Image source: Shutterstock.
On Monday, the National Catholic Register published an essay by Cdl. Raymond L. Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the darling of conservative Catholics. The essay, “‘Amoris Laetitia’ and the Constant Teaching and Practice of the Church”, has been taken by some radical traditionalists to be a slap in the face.

Cardinal Burke a “Company Man”

“This is nothing less than a betrayal by one who should have offered hope,” whined Steve Skojec into his Twitter feed. “We have been thrown to the wolves.” Hilary White, in her charmingly-titled blog What’s Up With Francis-Church?, affects an unconvincing sangfroid:

I am acquainted with Cardinal Burke, at least a little, and honestly folks, he’s a good guy but a company man to the core. In all the outrages of the last three years, he has done the same thing over and over. He has either remained silent (Lalalalala Laudato Si … I can’t heeeaaar yooooouuu!) [or …? An “either” calls for a following “or”, Hilary. What’s the alternative?][.] And, as Steve [Skojec] said above, each time he has said something publicly that has been taken by the press or anyone else as critical, he has instantly dived for the phone to backpedal as fast as he could.

John Jalsevac of Life Site News — a publication becoming more concerned with defending Catholic orthodoxy than with defending life — admits that the good Cardinal may have in fact been addressing progressives rather than conservatives. “After reading the whole of Burke’s column, it becomes strikingly clear that the primary target of Burke’s rebuke is, in fact, liberal mainstream media outlets and Catholic writers and publications, such as America Magazine and the National Catholic Reporter, who have hailed the exhortation as a welcome revolution.”

However, Jalsevac reluctantly admits that Cdl. Burke may also have intended “to warn ‘faithful’ writers of the possibility of causing scandal of their own by overstating the authority or impact of the exhortation. … [While] the cardinal is certainly technically correct that the exhortation doesn’t have the juridical authority to overturn Church teaching or formally introduce novel pastoral practices — there is no question that it has the authority to create the impression in public opinion of having changed church teaching or practice: and that may be the only kind of authority that ultimately matters.”

Friday, April 1, 2016

Donald Trump’s “Pro-Life” Masquerade—UPDATED

Donald Trump with Chris Matthews.
(Image source: NBCNews.com.)
Donald Trump’s statement that women who have abortions should be punished was not the first thing he’s said that’s caused the pro-life movement to doubt the sincerity of his conversion. If anything, it finally confirms that Trump has worn his pro-life conversion like a mask. Robert P. George comments, “Mr. Trump seems to have stumbled onto the best possible way of signaling to true pro-lifers that he is not one of them.”

The Caricature and the Truth

Of course, Trump lost very little time walking back his statement, since just about every person with an IQ over 85 on all points of the issue spectrum criticized it. Just as predictably, the pro-Clinton and pro-abort forces lost very little time capitalizing on his error, since Trump— for a brief moment and on video — had become the caricature of the pro-lifer just about every hard-core pro-abort nurtures in her most dystopian fantasies. People like Planned Parenthood Action Fund EVP Dawn Laguens are more than happy to accept Trump’s pro-life mask as his true face, because his blunt style allows them to claim that Trump is “only saying what they are really thinking”.

As we say down South: No, that’s not what we think at all, bless their hearts.

The fact is, prior to the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), none of the states criminalized women for seeking abortions; legal penalties were reserved solely to abortionists. The pro-life movement from its beginning understood that the vast majority of women who seek abortion don’t do so willingly, let alone cheerfully, and that many suffer pressure, even coercion, from others to end their pregnancy. Ironically, for all their professed concern about women, pro-aborts turn a blind eye to offenses against women’s health and intrinsic dignity whenever action against these violations threatens access to abortion. Punishing women for aborting their children is not now, has never been, and will never be, implicit in the pro-life agenda.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Wanderer Schism and Latinism

Ann Barnhardt, All-American Schismatic.
(Image source: westernrifleshooters.wordpress.com.)
For almost fifty years, The Remnant has been the leading voice of Catholic traditionalism in America. Founded by Walter Matt, who left The Wanderer after a dispute with his co-founder brother Alphonse, it now publishes under the guidance of Matt’s son Michael. Over the last few years, especially after the election of Pope Francis, the tone of The Remnant’s articles have become increasingly shrill, denouncing “neo-Catholics” (i.e., anyone not identifiably traditionalist) and “Bergoglio” with a regularity verging on monomania.

A “Bastion of Orthodoxy” Calls For Schism

The venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once wrote, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” A radical traditionalist (that is, the most extreme kind of traditionalist) differs in that, being in love with what he thinks the Church used to be, he hates what he thinks the Church has become in the wake of Vatican II. At its worst, it approaches anti-Catholic Protestantism from the right.

Wryly comments theologian John Médaille, “One would hope that a publication that claims to be a bastion of orthodoxy would not be a place to find a call for schism.” But that’s what happened: in a featured article written by Ann Barnhardt, The Remnant has called for an “Imperfect Ecumenical Council” to depose and anathematize Pope Francis as a heretic.[*] Furthermore, the call goes out to “those bishops remaining who still hold the Catholic faith” — implying, of course, that many if not most Catholic bishops don’t hold the faith, at least as Barnhardt and The Remnant define it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reading Around: “Pro-Life”, Education, and Scientific Proofs of God

Part of the culture of blogging is writing about other people’s writing, sometimes even copying posts and essays whole (because it’s much easier than coming up with something original!). What the heck … doesn’t hurt to say, “Hey, guys, this is what I’ve been reading recently! Take a look!”

So there are three essays I want to commend to your attention: one on the pro-life movement’s “devil’s bargain” with the Republican Party, one on American educators’ theft from students of their cultural heritage, and one on the problematic nature of proving God from science.

Distributist Review: “Pro-Life or Anti-Abortion?” by John Médaille

This article came just before I read that a Google extension is soon to be released which would change all instances of “pro-life” to “anti-choice” for those who want it. Frankly, I believe the extension would likely infringe on copyrighted material (“If I’d meant ‘anti-choice’, I’d have written ‘anti-choice’!”); right now I have neither the funds nor the interest to pursue the matter further. If pro-aborts are that desperate to maintain the illusion that they control the terms of the debate, I suppose that’s their problem.