Thursday, December 30, 2010

A meandering reflection on regular church attendance

Over on the other blog—“Why do you have two blogs, Layne?” Well, first of all, because I can; second, because the other one is good for quickie observations and YouTube clips—I have posted a copy of Fr. Tim Finigan’s classic lampoon, “Ten reasons why I don’t wash” (props to Fr. Z for pointing it out). Father Finigan posted it at the end of a short rant deriding people who don’t go to Mass because “my parents forced me to go to Mass when I was a kid”. His point—and it’s a darn good one—is that our parents forced us to do many things we didn’t want to as kids that eventually became adult good habits; going to church regularly ought to be such a habit. In fact, someday I hope to write a post on all the various annoying clichés our parents told us when we were kids that we discovered as adults were the basics of wisdom; the most salient fact about truisms is that they are true.

The list points up a basic fact: Once you understand that the point of going to church on Sunday is to worship God, most excuses for not going are pretty lame. Of course, if you really don’t believe in God, you don’t need any other excuse; on the other hand, for every true atheist or agnostic, there’s at least one person who does believe in God to some extent but ranks corporate worship of Him below golf, house cleaning, watching The Game, and—when you’re really bored—having sex with the significant other. You would think, in these situations, going to church would at least be a break from the routine; for that, a megachurch can be great entertainment, although when done properly the Catholic Mass is great theater. Then, when you get back, you can play golf, clean the house, watch the game and—if you’re really bored—have sex with the significant other. Or not. [Please tell me if you missed the sarcasm the first time around.]

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Telling the Christmas story

Recently, Jeff Miller (aka the Curt Jester) posted a somewhat-lengthy discussion of the Christmas movies he’s been watching. Along the way, he noted just how many of them hit the same themes over and over: 1) Family is important; 2) Materialism is bad; and 3) Santa Claus is real. On the other hand, the only other option seems to be watching some iteration or other of the Nativity story, the most recent of which Taylor Marshall blasted as “blasphemous and sacrilegious” for its depiction of the Blessed Virgin consulting a palm reader (Gottenyu! Not something a pious Jewish girl would do) and for depicting her as suffering labor pains.[1]  Couldn’t somebody, Miller wondered aloud, manage to write a story that would hit the Nativity themes without being a Nativity movie?

It sounds like an interesting idea. At least, until you ask yourself: How do you separate the Nativity from the birth of Jesus?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Of parachutes and prophylactics

In my last post, I observed that William Saletan seems almost willing to concede that abortion is wrong; however, his obsession with contraception forces him to maintain it as a fundamental right … albeit an unattractive and unpleasant right, one that he would rather see exercised as little as possible. This is almost a textbook example of cognitive dissonance, the moral and psychological tension caused by holding two conflicting principles simultaneously.

Babies are good, but unwanted pregnancy is bad. Killing babies is bad, but making women carry unwanted babies to term is bad too. So women shouldn’t get pregnant if they don’t want to have babies, especially if they don’t like the idea of killing unwanted babies.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why Roe must go

Recently, William Saletan cobbled together a possible compromise solution to the endless struggle over abortion in America. The interesting thing about his solution is that, while he still doesn’t quite “get” the pro-life position, he makes several key concessions that show he, along with other key pro-choice advocates, is reluctantly learning.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Liar, lunatic, Lord ... or legend?

“In all my life,” C. S. Lewis wrote in the opening paragraph of Miracles, “I have met only one person who claims to have seen a ghost. And the interesting thing about the story is that that person disbelieved in the immortal soul before she saw the ghost and still disbelieves it after seeing it. She say that what she saw must have been an illusion or a trick of the nerves. And obviously she may be right. Seeing is not believing.”

I remembered this paragraph after I first read of Emile Zola’s encounter with the miraculous. The defiantly atheistic journalist went to Lourdes, announcing that he wanted to see a miracle, even so small a healing as “a cut finger”. What he did see was a woman cured so thoroughly of lupus that patches of skin were still slightly red from healing. Zola was so horrified at the sight of a woman he had seen badly disfigured now whole and healthy that he turned away: “I cannot look at her; she is still too ugly.” He later stated that he would not believe in miracles even if confronted by all the miracles ever recorded.

These two incidents were brought back into my mind by a discussion on Father Z’s blog about the miraculous healing attributed to the intervention of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (“Talking Eagle”), the Aztec peasant to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared, and to whom the tilma which bears her icon belonged. Or at least to whom she is supposed to have appeared and the tilma is supposed to have belonged.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thoughts on the inerrancy of Scripture

Saul Meets Samuel (artist unknown)

In “Another reason why sola scriptura is bad doctrine”, one could argue, I evaded a very sticky wicket. One could even accuse me of deliberate obfuscation.

Okay, grant that Christianity is not based on Scripture, that you can’t derive the authentic beliefs of the first Christians from Scripture alone, and that Scripture by itself is as likely to lead to errors as it is to truth. Still, if Scripture is the inerrant, indefectible Word of God—and postulating that God would not lie about Himself—then does that not require you, Mr. Layne, to believe that God commanded the total destruction of the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:2-3)? That He ordered homosexuals to be put to death (Lev 20:13)? Doesn’t that require you, Mr. Layne, to believe that rock badgers are ruminants because God said they chew the cud (Lev 11:5)? That the universe and everything in it was created in six days (Gen 1:1-2:1)? In sum, does this not require you, Mr. Layne, to believe everything the Bible says without reservation and qualification, no matter how silly or demonstrably counterfactual a statement might be, no matter how one text might contradict another?

Yes or no?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Another reason why sola scriptura is bad doctrine

Let's pretend that you're watching TV. (Not too hard, since you're already staring at a monitor.) On the screen are the usual between-acts interruptions of narrative flow known as "commercials". One of them is a trailer for Schmuckatelli's Rules,[1] a recent release from Blowhard Pictures, which trumpets the presumed endorsement from Roger Ebert: "A FINE MOVIE … I WOULD RECOMMEND THAT EVERYONE SEE IT".

Intrigued, you find your way to Ebert's review in the Chicago Sun-Times, where you read: "Schmuckatelli's Rules is a fine movie, except for the dialogue, the story, the acting, the cinematography and the editing. I would recommend that everyone see it, except that I can't think of a reason even to watch the trailers." Congratulations! You've just discovered a fallacy of quotation out of context!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What did the Pontiff really say?

It’s been a week now since L’Osservatore Romano released the extract from Pope Benedict XVI’s new book Light of the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald,[1] in which the Vicar of Christ said … well, something about condoms that caught everyone by surprise. (That is, everyone except for the emotionally stunted among the social liberals, the ones who stopped listening to the Church decades ago and now content themselves with whining variations of “Daddy doesn’t understand me”.)

What did the Pope really say? Even now the actual content of his remarks is a matter of debate, let alone its implications for sexual morality; this is despite the fact that the comments were printed, not simply overheard in passing. Whether the Pope’s comments have been overblown to the point of inviting dismissive clichés or truly a fundamental paradigm shift is a judgment call that needs some fifty or one hundred years’ distance to make dispassionately, without the injection of today’s sociopolitical obsessions.

I admit, like other conservative Catholic bloggers (see the link to Mark Shea’s blog in my last entry), I seized B16’s example of a male prostitute so I could pound the square peg down into the round hole of the pro-life movement’s aversion to contraceptives. We should all have been thinking more clearly. For if Benedict’s words meant what we thought they did, then the idea would obtain regardless of whether we spoke of homosexual prostitution or heterosexual fornication. The context was AIDS, not reproduction; to import contraception into the discussion was to do the Pope an injustice.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A blast from the past; or, recycling the (com)post

As many of you know, jaws dropped around the blogosphere when the MSM reported that Pope Benedict XVI had in some fashion come out for—yes folks, you read that right, for—condoms in the fight against AIDS. Turns out the MSM got it wrong again, this time with some help from L’Osservatore Romano, which for some reason is thought to be the official mouthpiece of the Vatican. If you want to read a good drilling into the subject, go to Jimmy Akin’s blog on the National Catholic Reporter website; I can’t do better. However, I felt the occasion called for some additional commentary. So I dug back up this gem from March ’09.

*          *          *

Sometimes, it seems like the only issues religious debates hang on now have to do with sex and reproduction. It’s like listening to Johnny One-Note playing the kazoo: it gets old very fast. Like much else, the same ground gets covered over and over, like a flock of crime-scene investigators looking for a toenail in a farm field.

Take the issue of contraceptives, for example. At least since 1968, the year Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, various people (both Catholic and non-Catholic) have been grumping about the Church’s decision to maintain its traditional opposition to artificial birth control, either damning it as an example of the Church’s refusal to join the twentieth (now twenty-first) century or bemoaning it as well-intentioned but ineffectual.

The meaning of tradition

We’re just one week from moving into Advent, the season of the liturgical calendar during which we prepare for the celebration of our Lord’s birth by reflection, repentance and renewal of our baptismal vows. That is, if we can spare ourselves the time from the madness surrounding The Holidays, which seem to start earlier every year (the phenomenon I’ve seen referred to, with grotesque aptness, as “Christmas creep”). Indeed, the profane traditions of “Thanksmas” have so multiplied under the beneficent gaze of Mammon that to actually observe Advent you almost have to dispose of all the Santa-Claus-Jack-Frost-and-snowmen crap, retaining—if you must—only a tree and a crèche.

Why do we do this to ourselves every year? The instant response is, “Well, we do it every year because … it’s … traditional,” with maybe a futile shrug and hand gesture that says, “What are you gonna do?” The season itself is so full of chairos, so pregnant with meaning, that we reiterate the accidents as if they were inextricably part of the essence. And perhaps that’s not far from the truth: perhaps it’s a physical manifestation of the spiritual richness of this time, albeit corrupted to a certain extent by Hollywood and Madison Avenue secular concerns.

So if you were looking for a “Bah, humbug!” from me, you’re going to be disappointed. But stay on a bit, because I’m about to go off on another tangent.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wherein I take a possibly surprising position on a controversial issue

So I walked over to the [Group W] bench, there … Group W is where they put you if you may not be moral enough to join the Army after committing your especial crime … there was all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly people on the bench there … mother-rapers … father-stabbers … FATHER-RAPERS!
Arlo Guthrie, “Alice’s Restauraunt”

In California—where else?—US District Court judge Virginia Phillips issued a permanent, world-wide injunction against the Defense Department, ordering the military “immediately to suspend and discontinue any investigation, or discharge, separation, or other proceeding, that may have been commenced” under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

To me, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy made sense only as a means of conserving military criminal investigations resources for more critical violations of the UCMJ; as an attempt to compromise between the ideal of no gays in the military and the reality of gays filling useful, even critical roles, it was a loser: instead of being quietly intolerant, the DoD became openly hypocritical as well as intolerant.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Another tiresome post on homophobia

Yes, I know. There are so many other topics to write about. Nevertheless, between the recent concerns over bullying and the recent SCOTUS case against Westboro Baptist Church, we seem to be approaching a crisis, the shape of which needs articulation.

Back in 2003, in a blog now long disappeared, I wrote about the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas (539 US 558). My concern at the time was not public acceptance of homosexuality. Rather, my concern was that SCOTUS was once again misusing the judicial power of review to serve its own sense of good legislation.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The lonesome death of Hope Witsell

It looks like at least one segment of the American population—the mainstream media—is finally waking up to the reality of bullying. At least among young people. (If ever the MSM woke up to the reality of political bullying, and how they feed and feed on it, I would get on my knees and pray because I would know the Second Coming was nigh.)

At my high school class’ 20th reunion, one person who had given me grief throughout my last three years of mandatory education approached me and said, “I wanted to let you know that I’m sorry for being such an asshole to you.” I was, to say the least, nonplussed; I’d finally let go of my anger some years before and wasn’t even thinking about it. But I managed to summon up enough of my customary tact and grace to shake his hand and say, “Hey, we were all assholes in high school.”

Mister Diplomacy, that’s me.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Recapturing the Catholic brand—UPDATED

The release this week of a Pew Forum study has caused some concern among American Christians, especially by the revelation that the highest average score came among atheists and agnostics. As Jimmy Akin pointed out on his National Catholic Register blog, the quiz wasn’t all that extensive and was more of a “how much do you know about all the major world religions?” quiz rather than anything specific to Christianity. Because the US is still predominantly Christian, most Christians would have less interest in learning about non-Christian religions than would other groups, especially atheists. I’m not completely satisfied with this answer—after all, Catholics in the US are outnumbered by Protestants almost 4:1, yet did slightly worse (50% average versus 55%)—but it’s a good and valid point.

However—breaking down the quiz further—there’s still some cause for discomfort. For in a battery of questions reaching towards general Bible knowledge, Catholics came up well short of the mark. If we took the old school standard of 70% for a D- pass, then Catholics would have flunked with an average 45%. (Protestants would also have flunked, with an average 54.1%, with even the highest-scoring bloc, white Evangelicals, doing no better than 60.8%.) And the study noted that 55% of Catholics know that the Church teaches that the Eucharist is not just a symbol, that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ … which means that 45% don’t; frankly, my brothers and sisters in the faith, if you don’t know this one, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.[1]

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A few reflections on prayer

Where does prayer come from? Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.

The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.
Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition, 2562-2564)
“Man is in search of God,” the Catechism reminds us. Many priests, pastoral theologians and religious folk speak of the “God-shaped hole in our souls”; friendships, loves, wealth, success, power and fame still leave us crying for more, dissatisfied without knowing why. Our spiritual lives begin when we finally acknowledge that “hole” for what it is, rather than attempt to fill it with material goods, desperate activity and frantic pleasure-seeking. In acknowledging his need for and dependence on God, Man does not surrender his own dignity or intrinsic worth. Instead, he finds them given new strength as a child of God, who says to him, “You are my beloved son.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The crucifixion of the Pope II

Terry Kohut, a victim of accused molester Fr. Lawrence C. Murphy, has filed suit against Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican. In reporting this story, Scott Bronstein, of CNN’s “Special Investigations Unit”, has chosen to limit his investigation to regurgitating the insane allegations and factual misrepresentations fabricated by Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times. He finds assistance in this reiteration from Jeff Anderson, Kohut’s lead attorney and one of Goodstein’s sources, as well as David Gibson, the author of The Rule of Benedict.

After much thinking, I decided not to waste time by reiterating the many flaws and factual twisting necessary to Goodstein’s accusations (really Anderson’s accusations through Goodstein, though she certainly didn’t exercise any resemblance of objectivity). You want to know what they are, read here. Rather, I wish to waste time wondering … what’s the point here?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Of robber barons and moral codes

Rewind a scant 600 years, and modern science doesn’t yet exist. Men and women live and die in squalor and filth, largely ignorant of the germs that ravage their bodies and of the natural laws that govern the universe, instead imploring an alleged supernatural force to help them navigate this vale of tears.
But thanks to minds such as Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur and Charles Darwin, this is not how we face the world today. They taught us our method of knowing: careful, mathematically precise observation, step-by-step inference and generalization, and systematic, evidence-based theory building.
They had the courage to challenge entrenched authority, toss aside superstition and defy popes. As others followed the trail the first scientists blazed, human knowledge advanced dramatically.

With these words, Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, arguing on that our moral code needs modernization, reiterate the atheist myth of scientific development, playing very fast and very loose with the details. However, the point of the article isn’t merely to hoist the superiority of science over religion:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What's the difference between a monk and a friar?

The story goes that a monastery in England decided to open up a roadside fish-and-chips stand to help support themselves. One wag who approached the stand quipped to the religious manning it, "Are you the fish friar?"

"No," the brother replied straight-faced, "I'm the chip monk."

Okay, so the joke's not that funny. But it does bring forth a distinction that you may not be aware of if you're not Catholic … and, given recent history in religious formation, perhaps even if you are Catholic.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The contingency problem—UPDATED

 Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

On rereading my discussion of Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design, I realize that not only did I not explain why “string theory” doesn’t address the problem of contingency, I didn’t even adequately define contingency, or why it constitutes a problem for atheists.  As it is, the conclusion appears to be a two-part exercise in begging an inarticulate question.

So let me make amends by supplying the deficiency:

Hawking's The Grand Design: an epic fail (Part II)

 When we left off, we were discussing "self-creation cosmology" (SCC), which seems to be the fundamental component of Stephen Hawking's argument against God from gravity.

Going a little deeper, one of the problems of physics as an empiriometric science is that it treats physical phenomena only so far as it can be reduced to numbers that can be manipulated by field equations. Matter isn't mass; rather, mass is one property of matter. This ontological distinction is not only critical to our understanding of SCC, it exposes a fatal flaw in Hawking's argument. Simply put, the gravitational and scalar fields may interact to push matter together into bodies of greater mass, but that's not the same thing as creating matter. Given the distinction, the term "self-creation" is misleading: the theory allows the rabbit to pull itself out of the hat, but the hat's existence still precedes the rabbit's. The universe "creates" itself … but not ex nihilo.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hawking's The Grand Design: an epic fail (Part I)—UPDATED

In his June 16, 2010 post on the website of the National Catholic Register, apologist Mark Shea began, “Stephen Hawking is a brilliant physicist … and an absolutely room temperature average member of the British intelligentsia when he stops talking about his field of expertise and starts talking philosophy and religion.”[1] Indeed, Hawking has already publicly revealed that in his forthcoming book, The Grand Design, he’s going to waste his formidable intelligence by trying to reheat the “self-explaining universe” omelet.

The CNN Online article gives us little of Hawking’s argument to work on; to give credit where credit is most likely due, Hawking has most likely striven to make the connections between string theory, multiple universes and the weak anthropic principle flow together. And doubtlessly he does so in prose that strives to be engaging even while his explanations remain just a bit over the layman’s head. (I read A Brief History of Time—twice—and must admit that, while I kept my head above water for three quarters of the book, I drowned well before I got to the last chapter.)

But when your conclusion is that a rabbit not only pulled itself out of the hat but pulled the hat out of thin air as well, it doesn’t take a physicist to realize that at least one error has been obscured by the technicality of the language.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The "born that way" myth

At the end of November, 2008, I wrote a three-part ramble on some questions surrounding the origins of same-sex attraction (SSA) called “Challenging the Conventional Wisdom”. Although I’ve left it posted, and occasionally refer back to it, it’s not the clearest, most concise effort I’ve ever made. As such, I don’t ever refer to it in posts on other blogs.

However, one paragraph definitely bears repeating:

If homosexuality is not an innate orientation, present at conception, we must still realize that—for the most part—it’s also not … a matter of conscious choice, born of a desire to be different. Rather, if—as the reparative therapists inform us—homosexuality is one of many symptoms of certain childhood traumas, then it is a seeking-out of reconnection with the world of the gender that they were pushed out of. To indulge ourselves in a language that treats them as inferior or intentionally evil is to exacerbate the trauma and separation.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Euthyphro dilemma

 “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”
—Plato, Euthyphro

With these words, Socrates set forth a dilemma that still challenges theists today: Does God command what is good because it is good, or is it good because God commands it? The first horn implies that “good” has a value independent of God, and therefore God can’t be its source. The second horn implies that “goodness” is arbitrary, that the statement “God is good” is meaningless because a tautology (“God is good” = “God is God”), and that it argues from a putative fact to a statement of value.

Let’s recast the argument into formal logical terms:

1.   If God commands m because m is objectively good, then m’s goodness is independent of God.
2.   If m is good because God commands m, then m’s goodness is contingent: theoretically, He could have commanded ~m, and we would in that case call ~m “good”. Because it’s contingent, it can’t be objective in nature.
3.   Either God commands m because m is good, or m is good because God commands it.
4.   Therefore, either God did not create goodness, or goodness is arbitrary.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

God and the Holocaust

 I just recently re-read Salvation is from the Jews: The Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham to the Second Coming, by Roy H. Schoeman (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003). Schoeman, a convert to Catholicism, spends a good portion of the book analyzing the religious and philosophic roots of the German cultural anti-Semitism which Adolph Hitler and the Nazis manipulated and magnified with such malignant, satanic genius. (This in turn led me to start re-reading William L. Shirer’s classic opus The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to see how that background mixed with the political and social semi-anarchy that characterized the Weimar Republic.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

What does God want?

 Does the existence of non-believers prove that God doesn’t exist? Let’s follow a particularly drastic formulation:

1.      If God exists, then God wants everyone to come to believe He exists before they die.

2.      If God exists, then God could bring about a condition such that everyone believes He exists before they die.

3.      If God exists, then God would not want anything that would conflict with and be at least as important as His desire for all people to believe He exists before they die.

4.      If God exists, then God always acts in accordance with what He most wants.

5.      However, not everybody learns to believe in God before they die.

6.      Therefore, God does not exist.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The sedevacantist problem

Recently, Father Dwight Longenecker, a former Anglican priest (and the most prominent of a relative handful of married men to be ordained within the Latin rite) has been writing some angst-ridden blog posts concerning his former communion. The most recent was a “personal offer” to Anglo-Catholics, exhorting them to follow the logic of their position and cross the Tiber: “If you were to become a Catholic it would be both more glorious and more awful than you think. Awful because you really do submit yourself to the Catholic Church and that is hard. More glorious because the graces you will receive through this submission and this step of faith will overwhelm you with goodness.”

Most of the respondents, at the time of this composition, were to the point, discussing the reasons why they went either Catholic or Orthodox. However, one troll, exercising the freedom of the Internet to engage in hysterical jeremiads, let loose with this screed:

Apostate! You are not remotely Catholic. The last 5 “popes” have been antipopes and we are in the Great Apostasy prophesied in the Bible. Vatican II was a false and heretical council. Things are completely out of control right now and most people don’t even know what’s going on or even have a clue about it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The fall of the Western Empire … redux

I was standing in the smoking area with an acquaintance who commonly brings his Kindle™ to work. As we commented on that, and on the construction of the new Pizza Hut corporate offices across the street, a thought akin to despair enveloped me like the steamy heat of the Dallas morning. I couldn't help but say it: "When we were growing up, we were afraid that we'd destroy the world with nuclear weapons. That's not going to happen. The Western world is going to collapse from within."

David smiled ruefully. "It's already started."

I've been reading more of the writings of G. K. Chesterton; the more I read, the more I notice just how much more things have degenerated than I once suspected. Whereas once I traced most of the evils of the present to the malign influence of quasi- and proto-Marxists on the counterculture of the ̉'60s, which group has taken over much of our legal and educational systems, I now see that the seeds were active and sprouting even a century ago when the "Apostle of Common Sense" was very much in his prime, and that much of his indictments of the patent silliness he witnessed can be easily transposed to condemn the conventional wisdom of this age.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The root of the Catholic difference

The Crescat posted on Thursday (June 10) about her best friend, who “is fond of referring to Catholics as private club members. … Maybe she just doesn’t understand the intrinsic nature that Catholicism enmeshes itself into your very core. It’s not something to do on a Sunday or simply a preference for liturgical styles. Catholicism is so much more than just another denomination to chose from in the spiritual gumbo of religions.”


On one level, many Catholics do seem to treat Catholicism as a “religion of choice”, as if their attendance at Mass were simply one of convenience and social connections. They blush, shudder, wail or become irritated whenever the Pope or some prominent bishop insists on some doctrinal point that, within the modern cultural context, seems hopelessly outdated or unfriendly. When they feel compelled to worship, they do so at a Catholic church because that’s what they’re used to; fortunately, there’s still quite a few parishes where the priest avoids preaching on the hard topics and chooses to emphasize love and forgiveness so as not to offend.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Of rebels and bishops

We Americans have a soft spot for rebels. I think the soft spot is in our heads.

On any ordinary day, we subject ourselves to Authorities, sometimes with tacit approval, sometimes with grudging acceptance, most often without any thought one way or another. Our rebellion rarely goes beyond violating the speed limit; when we’re caught, we pay the fine with a smile of sheepish chagrin. Occasionally our financial circumstances force us to play chicken with the law until we have a chance to “get legal” again. We obey our bosses; we obey our parents; we obey the law; in the military, we obey both the commissioned and non-commissioned officers in our chains of command.

Monday, May 31, 2010

A public confession of anger

Over on the irrepressible Father John Zuhlsdorf's page, What Does The Prayer Really Say?, there is a post of a story taking place in Rockford, Illinois.

Since 2008, a group of priests has been showing up to pray—apparently prayers from the rite of exorcism?—at the local abortion mill, which has since suffered a decline of patients and profits. The abortion mill, which is apparently not only staffed by anti-Catholics but also renting space from an anti-Catholic, started posting insulting signs within a month of their appearance.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A hypothetical question about Hitler

One of the hard truths of orthodox Christianity, one that gets ignored by the liberals and pounded on by certain Evangelical sects, is this: Some people whom we think of as basically good, decent human beings will go to hell. On some level of their psyches, they shut God’s grace out, and leave the door locked until death. Those of us raised in more liberal parishes—especially those of the “Kumbaya” era—tend to tiptoe around this particular stumbling block, or just flat-out refuse to believe it. Nevertheless, it remains a truth of the faith … if we don’t like it, tough noogies.

The corollary to this truth is even harder to swallow: Some people whom we think would merit damnation will instead enjoy the Beatific Vision … whether we like it or not.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The fallacy of the "independent thinker"

There must have been a time when the expression “Think outside the box” meant something. I’m not quite sure, because many expressions that have passed into and out of corporate-speak seem to have been crafted to obscure, if not drain, meaning from a statement.

From my experience, the cliché once captured the idea of changing one’s perspective or approach to problem-solving as a means to achieving a goal. No matter how fecund a particular style of management or problem-solving normally is for you, occasionally you find a situation where it doesn’t produce results easily, if at all. Or, it may work for a while but lose its effectiveness over time. Or it can lead to a lot of wasted time and resources chasing avenues of approach into blind alleys. As one writer put it (back in the days of the typewriter), “Some days the words won’t come; other days, they can’t get to the wastebasket fast enough.”

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A multinational (small) business

The mainstream media seems to have a problem with translations. In his ongoing battle with the press over recent allegations against Pope Benedict XVI, the papal spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, stated, “The Catholic Church is not a multinational corporation.”

At least, that’s what he would have said had he been speaking English. Alas, he was speaking Italian. Impresa—“firm, business”—was translated as “entity”. The resulting phrase made it look as if good Fr. Federico was making the Church something local.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The crucifixion of the Pope

I suppose, given that the furor has been going on for over a week, I should comment on the scandal of the New York Times.

No, I didn’t miswrite that. The scandal I’m addressing is the insane allegations and factual misrepresentations by the Times concerning Pope Benedict's alleged involvement in a Wisconsin case of priestly sexual misconduct. The scandal I’m addressing is the failure of the Times’ editors to impose any kind of substantive journalistic standards of fair, accurate and unbiased reportage. The scandal I’m addressing is the (sadly successful) attempt by reporter Laurie Goodstein to create a cover-up of a scandal out of whole cloth, to charge protection of an abusive priest where none was offered, and to lay the blame for these notional outrages upon Pope Benedict XVI.

Here are the salient facts of the matter:

After twenty-four years of ministry at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Father Lawrence Murphy was under investigation by the local authorities for sexually assaulting some of the minors in his charge, possibly as many as 200, although Fr. Murphy later only admitted to abusing 19. It should be stressed that there was never any accusation by the district attorney’s office or the police that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was anything less than cooperative, nor was there  any allegation by victims that they were pressured or bribed into silence by Church officials.

No cover-up there.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bringing philosophy to a new low

It must be a requirement among the new breed of atheist spokespersons to not know what they’re talking about.

Sam Harris—who is presented as a philosopher, and for all I know may very well have a degree in philosophy—recently told CNN: “We should be talking about real problems, like nuclear proliferation and genocide and poverty and the crisis in education. … These are issues which tremendous swings in human well-being depend on. And it’s not at the center of our moral concern. … Religion has convinced us that there’s something else entirely other than concerns about suffering. There’s concerns about what God wants, there’s concerns about what’s going to happen in the afterlife. And, therefore, we talk about things like gay marriage as if it’s the greatest problem of the 21st century. We even have a liberal president who ostensibly is against gay marriage because his faith tells him it’s an abomination. It’s completely insane.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On intelligence

I was reading The Anchoress’ recent flaying of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the latter’s invocation of St. Joseph onto the side of the pro-health care forces—and a terrific rant it is, worthy of Al Pacino—when, in the comments, I ran across a reference to a recent study presumably showing liberals to have a higher IQ than conservatives.

Even before I found a article about the study, I knew three things automatically: 1) The study wouldn’t show anything like a dramatic difference between the two averages; 2) the study would have things to say about intelligence and liberalism/atheism that went counter to the surface appearance; and 3) people who suffer from a particular form of idiocy would only care to know that the difference exists and “favors” them.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Big T, little t

I’ve mentioned my first blog before, which was called, with stunning originality, “In My Humble Opinion”. I was able to update it twice a week for awhile; but then as my financial situation started demanding more overtime work just to stay reasonably poor, updates came with less frequency, until it died out about the end of 2004. (Unfortunately, since it was part of the now-defunct “AOL Hometown”—and since a virus wiped out my main hard drive—I no longer have any copies of the opinions I wrote back then.)

Between then and the first post of this blog, when my friends and I were discussing my starting again, I admitted that IMHO was too common a name or expression to stand out. (I was already considering “Outside the Asylum”, as an ironic reference to the late comedy-fantasy writer Douglas Adams’ wonderful book So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish … the irony enhanced by the fact that Adams himself was an atheist.) One of my friends, Larry, suggested I call the as-yet-unborn blog “Big T little t”. This was a very obscure reference to a long night of coffee and Deep Thinking many years ago, when to distinguish between certain kinds of reality we chose to separate the objective from the subjective by the clumsy verbal distinctions “big-T Truth” and “little-t truth”.

Monday, February 22, 2010

On repentance

 Strangely enough, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation for Catholics. Even fifty years ago (as far as I can tell), when observation by Mass attendance was near-universal, it wasn’t required although it was strongly urged. Nowadays it seems bearing the Sign as a dark smudge on your forehead sets you apart not just as a Catholic but as that most exotic of birds, a traditionalist (or “trad”) Catholic.

Well, not really, since even Vice-President Joe Biden, held to be a “cafeteria Catholic” because of his pro-choice voting record, sported a thumbprint-like mark on TV this week. And observance isn’t strictly limited to Catholics, though it isn’t common at all among free-church Protestants. But it’s safe to say that Ash Wednesday observance is notably absent to those who have any memory predating the death of Paul VI.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Evangelizing the workplace?

I recently got a text message from a high-school acquaintance I reconnected with on Facebook. I'm not much of a texter myself, as it's often simpler (and cheaper) just to call the person and talk rather than spend the time and money on text messages. But occasionally it serves a purpose, so I prefer to have the function; my new phone has a full QWERTY keyboard, since I don't have the hang of abbreviations.

Kurt is a born-again Evangelical who likes to "thrash Scripture". His message read: how r u coming w/ ur witness @ work?

I didn't have an answer for him.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The closing of the cafeteria

I’ve said before—in fact, I said it last March—that it seems nowadays the only debates religious issues hang on have to do with sex and reproduction. Yes, it gets tiresome. I for one am not so obsessed with abortion, gay marriage and celibacy that I can’t talk about anything else. For instance, I was going to embark on a series of counterarguments to common atheist attacks … until life intervened.

But because the Catholic Church takes such a prominent position against gay marriage, and because that particular issue is cropping up in the news more often, it creates interesting ripples and reflections that bear comment. More to the point, the fact that gay marriage does take up more talking-heads time in the culture factories means that it can springboard sidebar discussions of other topics.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

March for Life 2010: How the MSM missed the bus

There’s an interesting YouTube clip on Tom Peter’s American Papist site. The video shows the March for Life 2010 in Washington, DC.

For the most part, you didn’t hear about the March for Life from the mainstream media. So far as any were looking, they were focused on the handful of pro-choice people standing forlornly on the steps of the Supreme Court, holding the blue “Keep Abortion Legal” signs they have been holding for the last 37 years.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Did God command genocide?

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. (Dt 7:1-3).

In his blog on the Archdiocese of Washington web site on January 20th, Monsignor Charles Pope asked the difficult question, “Did God command genocide?” And if you read the book like a certain Pat Robertson or Fred Phelps kind of Christian—or as a completely hostile, hysterical atheist like Richard Dawkins (see his most recent rant in the Washington Post)—your answer will be a definite “yes”. If you’re any other kind of Christian, you’re going to wince, hem and haw, and possibly find some justification for declaring the text inauthentic.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Is God a homophobe?

It’s perfectly understandable why people want a loving God who forgives faults and imperfections. After all, that’s the God Jesus describes in his parables, especially that of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32), in the same chapter where he describes God as pursuing the lost soul like a shepherd pursuing a lost sheep (vv. 3-7) and a woman who pursues a lost coin (vv. 8-10), even though they have others which will not leave them wanting.

But God’s forgiveness of sins makes no sense if we don’t concede that there is such a thing as sin in the first place. It also makes no sense if we don’t concede that, as Creator of the Universe, and having nothing and no one superior to Him, He is the One who can ultimately determine what is right and wrong, good and evil (leaving aside the “Euthyphro dilemma” for the sake of argument). If there is no sin, then He has nothing to forgive. But if we assert His forgiveness, then we concede by implication that there’s something to forgive, and that He has the authority to decide what it is that needs forgiveness.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Victim discount card not accepted at this store

Sometimes it's worth reading the comments an article in a blog has garnered. More and more often, it's not. Reading the responses to articles on news sites like or will at least have some give and take, though the former tends to attract the secularist liberals the reporters mostly write for. Web periodicals like Inside Catholic and First Things tend to draw a less diverse crowd, though there will often be two or three people who go to such sites to a) play devil's advocate or b) find out how the enemy thinks. Every once in a while, though, someone will post a comment that either effectively challenges the original post or riffs off that post in another equally insightful direction.

And then you have what I call "drive-by shooters". Drive-by shooters aren't interested in debate or insight. They just want to make you aware of their contempt for the author and the tribe s/he camps with: "Hi, just thought I'd drop by to shoot off a couple of zingers to make fun of you straight Christian conservatives, though I might just content myself with a sneer or two at your loathsome, hateful ideology."