Monday, December 31, 2012

Am I my boss’ keeper?

On December 21st, the Iowa Supreme Court decided that male employers can fire female employees for being too attractive.

At least, that’s the dominant media interpretation of the state high court’s decision in re Nelson v. Knight (11-1857, 2012).  Much of this interpretation has been fueled by the revelation of certain undisputed facts Justice Edward Mansfield reveals in his written opinion, facts which were “set forth … in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Melissa Nelson” because the lower court’s decision had been a summary judgment rather than a jury verdict.

What facts are these?  Nelson worked for the defendant, dentist James Knight, for ten years; in the last year or so of their professional relationship, Knight started complaining that Nelson was wearing clothes that were too tight; once, when he texted her (!) that the shirt she’d worn that day was too tight and she replied (!!) that she didn’t think he was being fair, “Dr. Knight replied that it was a good thing Nelson did not wear tight pants too because then he would get it coming and going [bold font mine].”  Another time, when Nelson made a statement indicating she and her husband were having infrequent marital relations (!!!), Knight commented, “That’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.”

In essence, then, the decision presents James Knight as a right old pig engaging in objectification, and local women have reacted to the decision by bombing him in Yelp with negative reviews.  “I went to this dentist when I first moved to Iowa,” wrote one woman, Caroline D.  “While his staff was mostly friendly and his office was somewhat clean, HE really gave me the creeps … trust me, don't go to this weirdo, unless you want to feel verrry uncomfortable.”

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The post-Sandy Hook conversation we should be having

How long after release of the news of the tragedy in Newtown did it take the Usual Suspects to start arguing about gun control?  Was it more than thirty-six hours?  Had the names of any of the children been released?

It’s the same bloody non-conversation we’ve been having since I wrote my first “letter to the editor” thirty years ago, the same tug-o’-war between those who want to give teachers permits to carry Uzis and those who want to register anyone who buys so much as a Super Soaker.  [Case in point: this loony screed on The Slate.  But then, this equally nutty proposal from the NRA's Wayne LaPierre didn't help either.]  A Boise writer named Liza Long did write a thought-provoking piece for The Blue Review; outlets like HuffPo, TIME, MSN and Yahoo all reprinted it, paused for a breath … and resumed the non-conversation.  (Although HuffPo for some reason wasted two or three posts on Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder which they finally admitted has no causal connection to violent behavior.  Typical — shoot first, do the research later.  If necessary.)

On the liberal side, the major failing is that the tragedy in se hasn’t inspired any policy suggestions that really, specifically address such mass murders … except for reinstating the ban on assault rifles.  On the conservative side, the major failing is the tendency to engage in amateur psychology: the Adam Lanzas all hit soft targets, like schools and malls, because no one is likely to shoot back at them and they can get their fifteen minutes of fame with no real risk, don’cha know. 

(Hitting vulnerable, low-risk targets for the sake of fame may be a motive for a certain kind of serial killer … but for a mass murderer who ends his rampage by blowing his brains out?  Bah-loney.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

God and the Holocaust

I tried writing a new post to capture my thoughts on the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.  It was, after two days' work, completely inadequate ... I wasn't saying anything new. This post, from August 17, 2010, comes closest to what I was trying to say.

*     *     *

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.)

It’s difficult to overstate the impact the Holocaust has had on both Jewish and Christian theology … but it can be done.  The philosophical influences responsible for the domination of secularism among the intellectual elite were making themselves felt among theologians even before Hitler rose to power, challenging the orthodox understanding of human suffering and the God who allows it to exist.  David Hume, the grandfather of modern secularism, made a stunning indictment of God’s mercy and benevolence in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion:

[God’s] power we allow [is] infinite: Whatever he wills is executed: But neither man nor any other animal are happy: Therefore he does not will their happiness.  His wisdom is infinite: He is never mistaken in choosing the means to any end: But the course of nature tends not to human or animal felicity: Therefore it is not established for that purpose.  Through the whole compass of human knowledge, there are no inferences more certain and infallible than these.  In what respect, then, do his benevolence and mercy resemble the benevolence and mercy of men?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Why the rich should pay more taxes

The annual budget irresolution is getting to be like an ABC Family Channel Christmas special: You don’t want to watch because, no matter how it turns out, you know it’s gonna be bad. This year is even worse than the last two years because both the White House and House Republicans are playing chicken at the edge of the fiscal cliff.

Republicans have now pretty much conceded that nothing will be resolved without tax hikes of some sort and that the extra tax burden will have to fall upon the rich. So they’re willing to accept a deal that leaves the Bush cuts in place for families under $250k while allowing the Clinton levels to come back on everyone above that mark. This concession isn’t coming for free, though: they want entitlement cuts to be part of the bargain.

How likely are the Republicans to get what they want? Not very likely. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, writing in Politico, notes sardonically, “At present, any reading of the headlines over the past week indicates that Republicans are fighting to protect the rich and cut benefits for seniors. It may be possible to have worse political positioning than that, but I’m not sure how.”

Defense (blue) and Transfer Payments (red) as Percentage of GDP
This is something of an exaggeration … but not by much. Transfer payments by themselves consume 89% of federal receipts, and of that remarkable number about 74% is composed of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid payments.[1] However, these three programs alone contribute 11.11% to our gross domestic product, while federal transfer payments overall contribute 15.12% to our GDP. (By contrast, defense spending is only about 5.44%.) Granting that these three programs have been extended far beyond their original parameters, they’re still entitlements to which — having paid into them for so long — the people really are entitled.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The fallacy of the “‘Hitler card’ fallacy”

"One person with a hereditary disease costs the government 5.50 reichsmarks daily. RM 5.50 a day can support a whole genetically healthy family!"
“Death pathway”.  What an amazingly sterile, bureaucratic way to describe starving and dehydrating your loved one to death.

I had planned to write a third post tying up the loose ends in my previous two posts about the roles of science and philosophy in the “God debate”.  And I may yet write a reflection for tomorrow, the First Sunday of Advent.  But this story in the London Daily Mail’s MailOnline has left me sick with disbelief and disgust:  As part of an ongoing independent investigation into the so-called Liverpool Care Pathway, the ministers of Britain’s National Health System are learning that young people and newborns are also being “placed on the death pathway”.  Part of the “death pathway” is the stoppage not only of certain medications but also of food and fluids. 

NHS is investigating whether cash payments to hospitals for meeting “death pathway targets” influenced doctors’ decisions.  I don’t know if it’s occurred to them that  setting targets was bad enough, never mind creating a monetary incentive to meet them. 

But even when a prognosis of “no hope of recovery” is — you’ll pardon the phrase — a dead certainty, starvation and dehydration multiply the suffering.  Bernadette Lloyd, a hospice pediatric nurse, recounts: “I witnessed a 14 year-old boy with cancer die with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth when doctors refused to give him liquids by tube.  His death was agonizing for him, and for us nurses to watch.  This is euthanasia by the back door.”

Lloyd is too kind.  I’d call it medical murder.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Presumptions and the first law of general ignorance

As I sit here typing on my computer, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge and benefits science has brought us.  In fact, it’s so easy that we have to a great extent forgotten the appalling depths of our ignorance.

How can I say that?  Very simple: the quantity of unknowns in the universe is by definition unknowable.  This gives us Layne’s First Law of General Ignorance: We don’t know how much we don’t know.  If we know, then, that the extent of our ignorance is unknowable, we know that at least one thing is unknowable.  But we don’t know if there’s anything else that Man cannot comprehend or will not be able to comprehend at some future date.  Therefore, the corollary to the First Law: We don’t know how much we can’t know.

Got a headache yet?

Most thought systems have to start with at least some assumptions that neither need nor admit of proof.  For instance, you can’t get anywhere in plane geometry if you don’t accept that “a line is the shortest distance between two points”, or in algebra if a2 = b2 + c2 is merely an opinion.  Likewise, reason has a fundamental assumption that “a thing cannot both be and not-be at the same time and in the same manner”.

Why can’t we take atheism as self-evidential?  This seems to be the answer the New Atheist prefers, given that philosophers since Socrates have known that it’s impossible to prove that something does not exist.  In law, we take it as a necessary presumption of justice that a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty.  Are there not situations in which we can safely presume that a theory is false until proven true?

Monday, November 26, 2012

C. S. Lewis, memes and logical positivism

Liturgically, the Christmas season is still five weeks and change away; we’re not even into Advent yet.  Alas, we’re governed by the marketing calendar, which begins to push us to buy for one holiday before the previous holiday is spent.  The leaves down here in north-central Texas just turned to fall colors yesterday, and the Muzak is already cranking out “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”

This is also the time of year when American Atheists begin grunting out steaming mounds of “Bah! Humbug!” on the seemingly forgotten religious aspect of the season. 

I’ve written before on some of the problems the atheist must overcome before he can truly claim his position is rational, let alone based on scientific fact.  Largely the problems are philosophical in nature; the error lies not in the structure of the argument but in the initial assumptions.  Ultimately, if your foundation is nothing but sand, it doesn’t matter how well you build the superstructure — it will fall, and great will be the fall of it (cf. Mt 7:26-27).

But the New Atheist is, for the most part, not a philosopher.  In fact, more often than not he rejects formal philosophy, as it seemingly consists of people speculating without adequate basis in verifiable fact; as one person put it to me, it’s “just a bunch of people’s subjective opinions”.  That this demand for verifiable fact is itself a philosophical position — logical positivism — and as such suffers from self-referential incoherence[1] is an irony that passes him by.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How soon we forget

French military cemetery at Douaumont (via Wikimedia).

I’ve already passed along this story on The ImpracticalCatholic.  But there’s another topic it fits, and “waste not, want not”:

The British Airways flight had just landed at Orly[1] and pulled up to the terminal.  Amidst the usual arrival bustle, an aged British gentleman was searching his carry-on bag for his passport.
A fellow passenger, a stern French woman, noticed his search, and asked, “Have you been to France before?”
The man, still searching, quietly replied, “I have.”
“Well, then,” the woman sniffed with stereotypical Gallic hauteur, “you should know to have your passport out and waiting, sir.”
“The last time I was here,” the Brit shrugged, “I didn't have to show my passport.”
“Impossible!” the woman snapped.  “You British have always had to show your passports to come in to France!”
Whereupon the Englishman stopped his search, stepped close to the lady, and whispered to her, “Well, when I landed on the beach in Normandy in June of 1944, I couldn’t find any f***ing Frenchman to show it to!”

Richard Collins of Linen on the Hedgerow said I’d “lightened Remembrance Sunday” for him.  For my American readers, Remembrance Sunday, observed the second Sunday of November, is in some ways a more solemn event than our Veteran’s Day.  Throughout the United Kingdom red poppies, in wreaths and baskets and single flowers, decorate every monument and marker raised to those who died in the two great world wars (and by extension all who died for King/Queen and Country).  The red poppy recalls the poem “In Flanders Field” by Col. John McCrae.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The next four years

… I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever ….
—Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1782)

First published in 1969 ... coincidence?
Oddly enough, the sun came up Tuesday morning, and shone on a nation that hadn’t been blasted into oblivion by a wrath-ridden God.  Of course, Christ’s sacrifice changed the nature of our relationship to God, so we just can’t count on the unrighteous to get a good smiting, no matter how desperately they need it.

Yes, yes, I’m kidding.  To be sure, I did my share of moaning and kvetching (and drinking) Tuesday night.  But I wasn’t at the point of some of my Catholic blogger brethren, who were moaning that America is dead — done, finis, that’s a wrap folks.  Perhaps Karl Marx’s dead hand is leading us to the materialist workers’ paradise of the USSA, where the only purpose in human life is to work, party and screw, but we’re not there yet.

I really have no desire to engage in the usual “Monday morning quarterbacking” that traditionally follows an election.  Theories as to how and why Mitt Romney won’t be taking office this next January will be as abundant and variegated as a field of flowers, and many if not most of them will be true to various extents.  Perhaps the dissection will bear fruit someday … just probably not in 2016, when different candidates and different hot-button issues will obtain.

But as I was standing in line at a local Baptist church waiting to cast my ballot, I noticed a display stand the members had set up to advertise their mission efforts — was it Somalia?  China?  Senegal?  And I thought to myself, Why are these people sending evangelists halfway around the world when the most crucial mission territory is right outside their doors? To use a Lincolnism, it’s like letting out the front of the house when the back of the house is on fire.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The elephant in the wage-gap room

Is there a real “wage gap” problem?  Like so many other human issues, the answer is both “no” and “yes”.

The wage gap argument centers around the long-standing factoid that women make about three-quarters as much money as do men (in the third quarter of 2012, it was about 82.7%).  There is some variance according to race, with black women leading at 93.2%, Hispanic women at 87.5%, white women at 83.4% and Asian women at 73.1%.  Moreover, this disparity seems to hold across the various categories of jobs, whether we speak of “Management, professional and related occupations” (72.9%) or of “Transportation and material moving occupations” (76.5%).[1]

The best that can be said about the BLS statistics is that, if they don’t give us apples-to-apples comparisons, they at least give us fruit to fruit, root vegetable to root vegetable.  Nevertheless, for social science purposes, they’re more like meat saws and butcher’s cleavers than the precision instruments we want for exploratory surgery.  (Sorry for the mixed metaphors.)

Going apples-to-apples paints a different picture.  According to Diana Furchtgott-Roth, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, “if the male counterparts are in the same job with the same experience,” women actually make about 95 cents on the male dollar.[2]  Also, men who work full-time average about 8.3 hours a day, while women average about 7.21 hours — about 13.1% less;[3] even in salaried occupations, the person who puts more time in at the office will be paid more.  Carrie Lukas, writing in the Wall Street Journal, noted that this difference alone accounts for more than one-third of the wage gap.[4]

Friday, November 2, 2012

Come now, let us reason together

Kinda puts "combox martyrdom" into perspective, don't it?
Originally published on October 10, 2011, I may find myself re-posting this reflection every year or so.  Not because it's so gosh-darn well-written or witty, but to remind myself that those who won't be polite to others should not expect politeness for themselves.
*     *    * 
On October 1 on The Impractical Catholic I posted the news out of Rockford, Illinois that the state Department of Public Health had suspended the license of the Northern Illinois Women’s Center, an abortion mill most notable for the anti-Catholic antics of its owner and employees, and now established as completely uncaring of their patients’ health. After making some grimly celebratory remarks, especially on how access is far more important to the hard-core pro-aborts than is women’s health, I added a YouTube clip of Queen’s video “Another One Bites the Dust”.

The only comment I got was this piece of whiny snottiness:

I find it quite ironic that you use a song that was written and performed [by] a *gasp* HOMOSEXUAL to celebrate this.
Why do I even waste my time, we all know you are going to keep on trying to keep others down ....

I no longer make any attempts to prove I’m a nice guy with plenty of friends both straight and gay, conservative and liberal, Catholic and non-Catholic. For one thing, people like “Poosy” don’t listen, don’t care, and won’t believe me anyway. For another, it reminds me too much of the old Jewish joke about anti-Semites: “Some of my best friends are Jews.” So of course “Poosy” finds it ironic: in the cramped, angry little box of her ideology, I’m not allowed to have gay friends or to appreciate good music performed by homosexuals because it would detract from my all-encompassing homophobia.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Feminist sexism and “therapeutic abortion”

Is the “war on women” really a war on men?

Yesterday on The Impractical Catholic I posted a reminder to myself that the sickness from which rape springs is still alive in our culture — marginalized, ostracized, yet still back-handedly justified in some instances by some people, and subtly encouraged by the pornography industry.  While I don’t think this justifies treating every stumbling, bumbling male faux pas as subconscious approval of rape, I do believe men need to be more openly, vocally condemnatory of rape, and less tolerant of any expression that seems to suggest rape is in any sense desirable or deserved.

However, by bringing the issue of aborting the children of forced sex into the foreground, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock have kicked over a rock in the American cultural landscape to reveal a reverse sexism among feminists … mostly among the pro-aborts but to a lesser extent even among those who are avidly, fervently pro-life.  You can find that reverse sexism wherever you find a variation of the words, “This just goes to show that men don’t understand.”

Lest you think I’m over-reacting to a generalization, let me point out that the “war on women” meme involves heavy reliance on the word misogynist to describe anyone who opposes any item on the feminist agenda, especially abortion and contraception.  A misogynist is by definition a man; “female misogynist” is as much an oxymoron as is “Jewish anti-Semite”.  Women opponents, to gender feminists, are merely blind tools and useful idiots; they haven’t had the “click experience” Kimberly Manning describes in her conversion story: “the exact moment of coming into full consciousness of one’s oppression”.  They don’t count; they’ll come around sooner or later.  But men oppose the agenda only to put women “back in their place”: subordinate, subservient and subdued.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The feminists’ road to self-marginalization

Reprinted by license.

Back in February, I wrote a post arguing that the “war on women” angle had more potential to damage Barack Obama’s re-election bid than it did to hurt the eventual Republican candidate.  What I didn’t explicitly say — what I should have said in just so many words — is that pushing the “war on women” meme would put radical feminists on the road to self-marginalization.

Why?  Because, inevitably, anyone who tries to argue the “war on women” seriously can’t help but present him/herself as a tinfoil-hat-wearing loon, a wild-eyed nutjob completely out of contact with reality.  Moreover, the people who would come to that conclusion would be not just men but women in the center.

For instance, at the DNC, Sandra Fluke, a liar almost as accomplished and egregious as Bill Clinton, found it well within her fertile — er, creative imagination to conjure up a dystopian female future worthy of a Richard Donner film should women be denied free contraception.  But where are the battalions of men waiting to shove shoeless women back into the kitchen?  Too many of them need their wives’ income too much to do that.  (Or perhaps I should say “their roommates’” or “their girlfriends’”; so far as there is a dystopian future for women — particularly black and Latino women — it’s coming as one result of the destruction of the traditional nuclear family.)  The idea that “the great issue of the day, and the appropriate focus of our concern, is making other people pay for her birth-control pills” is what led Peggy Noonan to characterize Fluke in the WSJ as “a ninny, a narcissist and a fool.” 

The Code Pink vulvas dancing outside in protest didn’t help, either.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Catechism and the Year of Faith

On Thursday, October 11, in his motu proprio Porta Fidei (“The Door of Faith”)[*], Pope Benedict XVI officially opened the Year of Faith.  Thursday was chosen because it marked the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, and because “[it] also marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a text promulgated by my Predecessor, Blessed John Paul II [Fidei Depositum, 1992], with a view to illustrating for all the faithful the power and beauty of the faith” (Porta Fidei 4).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is itself a remarkable achievement.  Originally promulgated in French in 1992, when the English version hit the bookstands a couple of years later, it quickly rocketed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and remained there for some weeks.  Revised once since then, it has become, as JP2 intended, the “sure norm for teaching the faith” (FD IV), the first reference of choice (outside of the Bible) for many Catholic writers. 

It’s also virtually become the ultimate “argument ender”, which is something of a misuse of its function. 

Certainly, the Catechism is an admirably comprehensive synthesis of two thousand years’ teaching and thought; it’s almost (but not quite) safe to say that “If’n it ain’t in the Catechism, the Church don’t teach it!”[†]  At the same time, though, Michael J. Wrenn and Kenneth D. Whitehead rightfully point out that the Catechism doesn’t distinguish between doctrines that are de fide (formally defined as part of the revelation) and those that are merely sententia communis (not formally defined but generally accepted).[1]  Indeed, for all its comprehensiveness and depth, the Catechism is by its nature only the beginning of one’s education in the faith, and constantly points outside itself to Scripture, patristics, conciliar documents and writings of the saints.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Lady Godiva rides again

©2012 Battling BARE
Broken by battle
Wounded by war
My love is forever
To you this I swore
I will quiet your silent screams
Help heal your shattered soul
Until once again, my love
You are whole

This is the poem written on Ashley Wise’s back (see photo left).  It’s also the message written on the skin of every woman who participates in Battling BARE.

Battling BARE is the brainchild of Wise, whose husband Rob, an NCO (non-commissioned officer) of the 101st Airborne Division, suffered/still suffers(?) from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  “At the point in which the idea for our first BB pic came,” Wise writes on the group’s website, “soldier suicide was a weekly occurrence—a friend’s husband had actually just ended his own life a few weeks before, my husband had hit a wall after hearing about his former platoon mate snapping in Afghanistan …, a few weeks later he lost one of his own soldiers from overdose.”

Things came to a head when Sgt. Wise locked himself in a hotel room with a few weapons.  Ashley tried to get help from the Army’s Family Advocacy Program, but “In my instance, … words and intents were twisted,” and Sgt. Wise was jailed and charged with domestic assault, which could have led to a dishonorable discharge and the end of his career.  As she told Business Insider’s Robert Johnson, the Army was “preparing to make her and Rob the ‘civilian sector’s problem.’”  (Sergeant Wise now works with Ft. Campbell’s Warrior Transition Battalion as a staff member.)

Torn between the temptation to give up on her marriage and the obsession to get back the man she’d married, Ashley was briefly tempted to “streak” the Screaming Eagles’ command building to get the division commander’s attention.  Instead, she had the above picture taken, created a Facebook page, and got more of her friends at Ft. Campbell to join her quest.

The page went viral almost overnight.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Love always, Jesus, Mary Mags and all the little bar-Jesuses

Becky Bratu of NBC News uses the flap over the dubious “Jesus’ Wife” fragment as the springboard for  the question: What’s wrong with the idea that Jesus was married? 

And what follows is anything but pretty; you get the feeling that, having “dumbed down” the technical issues for the non-specialists in the audience, the experts left themselves with equally dumb responses.  Either that, or they all learned their material from non-Christians who had themselves forgotten the historical, traditional Christian beliefs after years of reading Jesus Seminar-style deconstruction.

Before going further, I need to reinforce something I wrote last week in The Impractical Catholic:  The most misleading aspect of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”, which yesterday the Vatican authoritatively rejected as a “clumsy forgery”, is the common representation (even among some of the detractors) that the Gnostics were a Christian sect.  The people referred to by scholars as “Gnostic Christians” — a phrase as self-contradicting as “pastel green redness” or “masculine womanliness” — were Gnostics who had adopted characters and terms from the Christian story and crammed them into the Gnostic cosmology.

Cosmology, in a sense, drives theology.  The differences aren’t just that the Gnostics liked women and Christians didn’t (which is a false distinction anyway); in the Gnostic universe, the Creator is a demiurge, a lesser emanation of the real First Principle, and a bit of a fool for not recognizing it.  Jesus is not human at all, but rather another demiurge who can put his humanity off at any time, like a cheap costume: no hypostasis here.  Because the cosmos of the Gnostics is built differently from that of the Christians (and the first-century Jews from whence they came), any similarities between the two are purely on the surface.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The futility of minimal goodness

When men are pure, laws are useless; when men are corrupt, laws are broken.
—Benjamin Disraeli, Contarini Fleming, Part 6, Chap. 3

Yesterday, of course, was the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B).  The theme running through the readings was of strife, envy and jealousy; the only counter to these problems is to humble oneself and become a servant to those whom one wishes to rule.

However — and this might be grounds for censure — the selected Gospel text (Mk 9:30-37) isn’t the one that occupied my attention at Mass.  Rather, another one floated into mind, a text that has had a lot of personal meaning:

[The Lord said,] “Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down at table’?  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink; and afterward you shall eat and drink’?  Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?  So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Lk 17:7-10).

It’s worth noting that the Greek word translated in most versions as “servant”, doulos, has the primary meaning “slave”.  In fact, that’s how the New American Bible had it translated when it was originally published.  It was re-translated back to “servant” with the 1986 revision, which is a pity; translating doulos as “slave” brings a lot more to the theological party.[*]

“We are worse than useless slaves, for we have done no more than what was required of us.”  That’s how it went, if my memory doesn’t play me false.  Doing the bare minimum is not a guarantee of a passing grade.

Or, at least, that was the initial impression.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Open letter to African-American voters

This is the first time you’ve ever faced such a crucial decision. The election of a black man, Barack Obama, to the office of the Presidency was a milestone despite the fact that his father did not share the same history as most of your families do — to be blunt, direct descent from men and women enslaved by white Americans. While the election did not cure all the ills besetting the African-American community, certainly it was grounds for hope for the future … at least, at the time.

However, election is only half the loaf; the other half is re-election. As the Associated Press reported Sunday, “There’s no question which candidate is expected to win the black vote. In 2008, Obama won 95 percent of black voters and is likely to get an overwhelming majority again.” A second term for Obama would demonstrate once and for all that the first election wasn’t a fluke, that racism no longer has the power to deny the person of color any elective office.

But there’s some question among you whether you can conscientiously vote for a president who supports gay marriage. As the Rev. A. R. Bernard of the African-American Christian Cultural Center put it, “When President Obama made the public statement on gay marriage, I think it put a question in [black Christian leaders’] minds as to what direction he’s taking the nation.”

At the same time, many of you are reluctant to support a Mormon, Mitt Romney, in Obama’s place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And so many of your church leaders are asking you to stay home rather than vote this November 6th. I disagree: it’s not enough to just not vote for Obama.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Choices, parties and Catholic social doctrine

Philosophy?  I’m a Christian and a Democrat, that’s all!
—Franklin D. Roosevelt

I’m pretty sure most of you have caught the news that John Carr, Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has retired.  WaPo has a story on Carr’s influence and legacy in Washington politics that’s fairly laudatory … at least until reporter Michelle Boorstein turns to consider his as-yet-unnamed replacement.

Boorstein writes:

At a time when Catholics are watching their community become increasingly polarized along political lines, Carr is considered a dying breed: a Catholic moderate with a foot firmly in both camps.  He worked for the White House Conference on Families under President Jimmy Carter and was a Democratic candidate.  He has also zealously slammed the Obama White House for its mandate that employers provide contraception coverage to employees.  At a good-bye event this week at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops headquarters, Carr’s voice sounded angriest when he bemoaned the Bush-led Iraq War.
Catholics are becoming more divided over whether they focus on church teachings against war and poverty or the ones against abortion and gay marriage.  Catholic progressives are particularly worried about Carr leaving as Church officialdom in recent years has put greater and greater emphasis on defending the unborn [like Carr did anything to prevent or minimize it?  Carr is a pro-life Democrat!].

Okay, here’s the million-dollar question:  Why is there a division?  What makes anyone think that to be against abortion and gay marriage is to be for war and rampant poverty, or vice versa?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Matthew 7:1 and mainstreaming pathology

Publicity still from Yellow
According to director Nick Cassavetes, incest is “super-weird” ... but ultimately no real problem.

Cassavetes, whose new movie Yellow centers on a sexual relationship between a brother and sister, says his movie “is about judgment, and lack of it, and doing what you want.  Who gives a s*** if people judge you?  I’m not saying this is an absolute but in a way, if you’re not having kids — who gives a damn?  Love who you want.  Isn’t that what we say?  Gay marriage — love who you want?  If it’s your brother or sister it’s super-weird, but if you look at it, you’re not hurting anybody except every single person who freaks out because you’re in love with one another.”

This is wrong on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin.  Superficially, Cassavetes would seem to have a point if — and only if — we grant that people are entitled to be psychologically damaged so long as they’re not cutting throats or torching houses … that is, so long as they’re only hurting themselves.  This is nonsense on the face of it; it’s as if we were discussing a right to contract bubonic plague or an entitlement to leprosy.

… I don’t mind taking a stand on the side of inherent, human truth when twisting it confines people to psychological pathology and leaves them forever in pain.  So, here you go:  Sisters and brothers who have sexual affairs are not well.  They need help sorting out and overcoming psychological suffering and terrifying traumas that visited them long ago.I’m here to help them, in part by telling them that, even if they are in denial about the underlying suffering fueling their symptoms (incest), they will have to confront it, eventually.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

An outline of a secular argument against SSM (Part IV)

Well, here it is almost a week later, and I’m preparing to wrap up this extensive outline.  First, let’s recap the ground covered so far:

  • Part I: Marriage isn’t simply a special relationship between two sexual partners. Rather, it’s a social institution which both privileges and guards the basic unit of the community: the nuclear family. It gives social and legal claims against the father for the benefit of the mother and her children, as well as establishing his vested interest in his genetic offspring and legitimizing their inheritance from him. Homosexual unions, sterile by nature, cannot and do not have this reproductive orientation.
  • Part II: Insofar as a society recognizes the biological imperative of sex — reproduction — marriage serves to legitimize not just the children of the union but the union itself as proper. In our society, however, other forms of sexual union — especially homosexuality — are losing or have already lost their illegitimacy, nullifying marriage’s “stamp of approval”. In this light, SSM is “a solution without a problem”.
  • Part III: In the current political climate, reliably neutral scientific study of gay parenting is impossible because both sides want too much to dictate the only permissible outcome. However, by looking at the effects on children of family structures other than traditional marriage, we find that none work so well as having both biological parents present and formally unified. Indirectly, then, we have reason to suspect that men and women can’t simply step into each other’s roles in parenting, that biological “hard-wiring” and blood relationship have their parts. Privileging gay unions, in this sense, is a misdirection of effort; we should be working to save traditional marriage, not promote “second- and third-bests”.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

An outline of a secular argument against SSM (Part III)

III: The other horn of the dilemma

So far, we’ve been speaking about marriage as a specific relationship that has a specific function in society.  But moreover, we’ve been talking about traditional marriage, i.e., one in which one man and one woman remain together for twenty years or more, and in which all children are products of that same union.

However, traditional marriage is not the only context in which children are raised.  For example, 1 in 3 American children are raised in a single-parent home, including two-thirds of black children, over half of Native American children, and two-fifths of Hispanic children.[1] Forty-two percent of all American adults have at least one step relative: a step or half sibling (30%), a living stepparent (18%) and/or a stepchild (13%).[2]  Many children are being raised by both biological parents, but not within marriage or any understood long-term commitment (11% of all children under 1, diminishing to 2% of children from 6 to 11 and 1% of adolescents).[3]

In Part II, I alluded to the rise of alternative family arrangements, such as cohabiting parents, single parents, grandparents-only, and blended families, to illustrate the point that gay marriage is “a solution without a problem”.  Traditional marriage may have sentimental pride of place, but if it’s no longer necessary, then gay marriage isn’t necessary, either.  In fact, it has all the appearance of awarding the happy couple a free cruise on the Andrea Doria.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

An outline of a secular argument against SSM (Part II)

[I don't often change my posts after they're published, except for minor edits (spelling, punctuation, syntactical errors, and so forth).  However, I'd completely finished Part III before I realized it had gone in the wrong direction.  So the last paragraph has been amended to fit the next installment.—TL]

One of my friends confessed, “I just don’t get marriage.  Why do people get married, anyway?”  This caused a bit of an embarrassed silence; the friend in question had left her husband and two kids for another woman, so there were all sorts of potential landmines for a well-intentioned idiot to step on.  Fortunately, I wasn’t there.

Again, we’ve been looking not at motivations, which are various and range from really good to really bad, but rather at marriage’s function in society.  I’m sure had anyone tried to discuss the matter, they would have dwelt on motivations while missing the fact that the question was really about the function. 

That no one automatically connects children with marriage anymore is hardly the tip of the iceberg; imagine my astonishment when, reading a thread on contraception, I came across a comment where a woman said, in dismissal of an argument: “What has sex got to do with reproduction?”  It’s as if we have started to believe that the primary purpose of eggs is not baby chickens but breakfast and baked goods, or that cars exist for satellite radio, Bose speaker systems and Corinthian-leather bucket seats rather than to get you from Point Alfa to Point Bravo.

And yet the future for the hosts of children born and raised outside of marriage is grim and looking grimmer. Researcher Kay S. Hymowitz argues:

We are becoming a nation of separate and unequal families that threatens to last into the foreseeable future.  On the one hand, well-educated women make more money.  They get married, only then have their children, and raise them with their husbands.  Those children are more likely to grow up to be well-adjust­ed, to do well in school, to go to college, to marry and only then have children.  On the other hand, we have low-income women raising children alone who are more likely to be low-income, to drop out of school or, if they do make it to college, go to a less elite col­lege, and to become single parents themselves.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

An outline of a secular argument against SSM (Part I)

A couple of days after Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, I posted on a comment Brandon Vogt had gotten on Facebook: “So not allowing certain individuals rights based on a religious viewpoint is not dictatorship?”  In the central paragraph, I contended:

He’s assuming that opposition to same-sex marriage can be based on nothing other than traditional Christian morality, that a secular case can’t be made against it, and that therefore one-man-one-woman state laws and amendments amount to an establishment of religion.  He’s wrong; but had he said just that, a fruitful discussion on the First Amendment and the place of religion in the public square might have followed.  But no-ooo-o! he had to phrase it in a manner that implicitly equates religion with totalitarian regimes.
Them’s fightin’ words.  Or, to put it another way, that’s not how you change people's hearts and minds.
The one response I’ve gotten so far at this writing — and it was a nice comment, too! — came from Abraham:

I cannot help but notice that you do not make any attempts to provide any secular argument against same-sex marriage. Couldn’t it be successfully argued that once removed from a religious context, there is no valid reason not to recognize homosexual unions in the same way as heterosexual ones?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Apologetics toolbox: Abortion and the silence of Jesus

[Vice-President Joe] Biden is not wrong on gay and abortion, Jesus NEVER took a stand on either of these issues.  Jesus only talked about love and a belief in him, you people better take a deep look into yourselves because he is coming back soon and not loving your neighbor and not taking care of the poor and the less fortunate goes against everything my lord taught and if you do not do the same you spit on him and I would hate to be in your shoes.

This combox entry appeared in Carson Holloway’s piece, “Paul Ryan, Joe Biden and Liberal False Equivalence”, on  Of course, besides our anonymous troll’s factual error — that Jesus talked about much more than love and faith in him is easily demonstrable from the Gospels — s/he also commits an argument from Gospel silence.  Such arguments, as I’ve said before, can become ad ignorantiam fallacies unless the argument to be made from the silence is consistent with what came both before the Gospels (pre-Christian Judaism) and after the Gospels (the New Testament letters; the writings of the Church Fathers).

And yet, there are those who will insist that Jesus the Compassionate would have understood, and implicitly given his approval to, a woman’s desire to abort her unborn child … especially if she were young, poor and in some sense downtrodden.  Not only is this argument hard to sustain without Scriptural proof-texts, it perfectly illustrates why asking “What Would Jesus Do” is bad moral advice: it invites us to turn the Lord into a sock puppet telling us to do what we want to do anyway.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Democracy, truth and the death of liberalism

©1980 David Horsey, Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.
—Winston S. Churchill

In First Things, Matthew Schmitz writes an interesting breakdown of some recent social-survey data which indicate that youth support of gay marriage is somewhat soggy and undependable as a sign of the future.  His basic premiss, of course, is that liberals in the media misrepresent the numbers; a couple of years ago I would have argued that the misrepresentation wasn’t all intentional … in fact, on another subject, I did.  (Now, after the blanket party they threw for Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A, not so much.)

As good as it was, I wouldn’t even bring the article up except for a disturbing “drive-by” comment by a person identifying himself as “Dan”:

I realize that this article pertains to generational opinions on marriage equality for gays and lesbians, however a larger issue is being ignored. The USA is the only nation on earth that has allowed the public to decide this important civil rights issue via ballot measures. This is a grossly immoral act which violates every principle of our Republic. Ultimately, the majority has no right to determine the civil rights of minorities. Have we learned nothing from the struggles of women for the right to vote or blacks to attend the same schools? Therefore, whatever young people think regarding this issue is irrelevant [bold font mine].

So much for “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.  Perhaps Dan merely wanted to throw a cold bucket of disillusionment over our grand national fantasy of representative democracy.  Perhaps in reality we were always just token participants in our government; perhaps even the modern cumbersome and expensive primary process is just an elaborate scheme for putting the élite’s Chosen Ones in office and judicial chambers.

Considering Mitt Romney, I half believe it myself.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The road not taken

This morning I saw a Facebook post from my good friend StacyTrasancos:

Judging from the scene in my kitchen this morning, you’d never believe I used to dress in smart business clothes, march through labs where people did exactly what I told them to do, and sit in a quiet and tidy office solving complex problems.  Motherhood can be overwhelming — and sticky — at times.  Sigh.

I could just picture her in sweats, her hair put up carelessly with a comb and two or three pins, trying to exercise some calm and pull order out of chaos as five children noisily and messily ate their breakfasts, perhaps while swabbing up some spilled milk and scooping some free-range Cap’n Crunch off the counter.

But I can also picture the smile she had when she posted that thought.  This is the kind of moment Stacy will reflect upon as her children cross stages to receive diplomas, as they step nervously up church aisles to be wedded, as they themselves try to wrestle some kind of calm out of their own kids’ anarchy while Grandma looks on fondly.  And Time will embroider the scene in threads of gold and silver for her to carry through the rest of her days.

And so I couldn’t help but remember the final stanza of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.[1]

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hurt feelings a “human rights violation”?

“Chick-fil-A faces vandalism, ‘human rights violation’ complaints for defending marriage”

Almost as soon as I read the LifeSiteNews headline, I had to double-check the story.  I knew about the vandalism at the Torrance, Calif., unit, but … human rights violation complaints? Are you freakin’ kidding me?  I simply could not believe it — no, no, LSN had to be exaggerating something, or simply reporting one of the many bogus bits of information that spread like Captain Trips throughout the ‘Net (remember last year, when Jon Bon Jovi died in that New York hotel room — oh, waitaminnit, no he didn’t!).  Nobody could possibly be that petty and hysterical!

But no, the Civil Rights Agenda’s own website confirms the action, reporting sadly that “Chick-fil-A’s ‘intolerant corporate culture’ violates the Illinois Human Rights Act, which prohibits a ‘public accommodation’ from making protected classes ‘unwelcome, objectionable or unacceptable.’”  To get to the story, you have to click on a Photoshopped picture of a Chick-fil-A sign whose marquee proclaims, “YOU & YOUR GAY FAMILY ARE OBJECTIONABLE & UNACCEPTABLE”; the caption sullenly informs you, “Our lawyers are making us say: the above graphic is obviously a parody and what we believe LGBTQ folks see when they look at a Chick-fil-A sign.”

Not only will this story not die a natural death, it doesn’t appear even to be suffering a summer cold.  Could this be the year the left goes so far over the top that they lose all credibility even among those they purport to champion?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Some cold water for your chicken sandwich and waffle fries

Here it is, August 1, and the anti-Chick-fil-A crusade has reached “epic fail” proportions.  Far from hurting Dan Cathy through his pocketbook, the threatened boycott has generated the Atlanta-based QSR (and owner/CEO Cathy) millions of dollars of extra business plus new regular customers, assuring that the boycott will continue to generate revenue even after Mike Huckabee’s anti-boycott fades into memory.

The British Submarine Service used to have a saying: “Never mind your enemies; watch out for your friends.”  That was because a number of subs had been lost at sea when they were struck by surface ships from their own fleets.  Boston mayor Dan Menino and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel did the pro-SSM marriage cause more harm than good by their over-the-top threats to ratchet their zoning and permit laws against the chicken chain.  While other cities have joined the witch-hunt, the ACLU (mirabile dictu) has fired their own shot across the various cities’ bows:  barring Chick-fil-A over the personal views of its owner is an “open and shut” discrimination case.  The Boston Globe and the Chicago Sun-Times, neither of which qualifies as a right-wing paper, have both criticized their local leaders for their threats of repressive tactics, and even AndrewSullivan wrote a we’re-better-than-that piece for the Daily Beast [reposted to his blog on The Dish].  Put simply, the “ban Chick-fil-A” movement will die faster than Huckabee’s candidacy did.

What we’re seeing is an authentically liberal backlash against a budding ersatz-liberal totalitarianism.  However, we have to wonder if the backlash has enough staying power to open up space for traditional-marriage supporters to be heard.  The kids may eat the chicken, but will they listen to us after they’ve munched the last waffle fry?