Thursday, March 29, 2012

Making a mockery of reason

“Mock [believers], ridicule them in public, don’t fall for the convention that we’re far too polite to talk about religion,” Richard Dawkins exhorted an estimated 10,000 atheists near the end of Washington, DC’s “Reason Rally” on Saturday.  “Religion is not off the table.  Religion is not off limits.  Religion makes specific claims about the universe, which need to be substantiated.  They should be challenged and ridiculed with contempt.”

As the inestimable Bugs Bunny was wont to say, “Of course you realize this means war.”

Since we’re all presumably adults, we all know that neither mockery nor contempt demonstrates intellectual superiority.  Especially if one’s preferred form of ridicule relies heavily on four-letter words and sexual references; then you’re just demonstrating your immaturity.  And Dawkins himself has a penchant for an exaggerated incredulousness (“Do you really believe that?”) that has long since become tiresome.  Yes, Rich, we really believe that; prove it false or just get over it.  As I said yesterday, if you’re gonna claim to be more rational, it would help your credibility if you behave like a rational adult instead of like a middle-school bully hazing the geeky-looking wimp.

But more to the point, neither does atheism sit in a privileged place, exempt from the need to prove its assumptions about the nature of the universe.  Indeed, it’s impossible to prove that something does not exist; the best you can do is point out that its existence hasn’t been irrefutably demonstrated.  We can cut the atheist position a little discount: the atheist doesn’t need to prove the non-existence of gods or of a supernatural order so much as make a coherent, convincing case against.

But if you want to play rough ….

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stop with the whining! ... again!

I think this is where I came in ....

Back on February 1, 2011, I asked whether eating “Jesus chicken” makes you a homophobe, because LGBT activists of the supremely bratty sort were kvetching about the ties between Chick-fil-a president/COO Dan Cathy and various pro-life, pro-family organizations.  Cathy and his family, who own Chick-fil-a,  have yet to be accused of discrimination in hiring and serving homosexuals; nevertheless, their overt religiosity and opposition to same-sex marriage make them high-profile (or at least medium-profile) targets for the bullies in the LGBT lobby.

Now, according to LifeSiteNews (courtesy of Baptist Press), students on nine college campuses (campi?) are trying either to block franchise stores from entering their campuses or to close franchises that are already open precisely because WinShape, the Cathys’ charitable foundation, has made over $2 million in contributions to groups such as the Marriage & Family Legacy Fund, Focus on the Family, Exodus International, and the Family Research Council.

These donations, say NYU freshman Hillary Dworkoski, show that the restaurant is out of sync with her university’s “open and inclusive campus.”
“Maintaining a contract with an anti-gay vendor like Chick-fil-A undermines what makes this university so great,” she wrote, in a petition asking the school to give the fast food chain the boot.
Dworkoski, a bi-sexual, acknowledges that the Student Senators Council recently voted against removing vendors for “political reasons,” but argues that the school still allows the removal of companies that “violate human or labor rights.”
“As Secretary Clinton recently announced, ‘gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,’” she writes. “As such, I respectfully request that NYU remove Chick-fil-A from campus.”

Sunday, March 18, 2012

On marriage and mortgages (Part II)

I ended Part I by saying that the “warm, fuzzy feeling” most people associate with love is a good and necessary component for marriage but that it isn’t sufficient cause for marriage.  I suspect in saying that many people will feel that I’ve committed at least an impiety on the order of suggesting that St. John the Baptist was a cross-dresser.

First, we need to draw a distinction between the conscious motives people have for getting married and the underlying anthropological rationale for the institution’s existence.  Certainly people marry who have never had a desire to raise children, just as others have married for status or to cement political alliances or to make a public statement; nor do all such marriages end in divorce decrees or murder investigations. 

But just because somebody has used that butter knife to remove a screw from the wall doesn’t mean that it’s become a screwdriver or that it can no longer spread cream cheese on your morning bagel.  Why you got married and why you stay married doesn’t affect one way or another the reason marriage exists as an institution, just as the reason why you choose to have sex on a particular day with a particular person has no influence over whether you get pregnant or not.

But the “warm, fuzzy” feeling isn’t a sufficient cause for marriage in the sense that you don’t need to be married to maintain that feeling.  Indeed, if for some strange reason you believe love should require no effort to maintain, then — all moral and spiritual considerations aside — cohabitation is less expensive and has fewer complications.  They used to call cohabitation “playing house”, and in a large part it still has that essence of childhood games: we’ll pretend we’re a married couple, but only until it stops being fun. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Book review: Love song for Homo oeconomicus

I apologize for the long break between posts; I'm finding it more difficult to find time to write than I thought I would. Thanks for hanging in with me!

Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America, by Mark R. Levin (New York: Threshold Editions, 2012)

The political dialogue of today demands not only that complex subjects be reduced to black-and-white simplicities but that personalities be similarly reduced to “good guy/bad guy” homogeneity. It’s not enough that they be corrupt, jack-booted authoritarians trying to ruin The Good Life As We Know It: we must maintain an intellectual separation bordering on naïveté concerning the less savory aspects of our allies.

Such was my overarching impression on reading radio host Mark Levin’s Ameritopia. For the record, I’ve never listened to Levin’s show, nor have I read any of his previous books; the latter may affect this review more, because I may be missing some intended context if Levin didn’t expect Ameritopia to stand on its own. Also for the record, while I have sympathy for many conservative ideas, to identify myself as conservative would be misleading at best, for reasons which I hope will become clear as we go along.

In Ameritopia, Levin traces a quick sketch of the intellectual history behind what he calls “utopianism” and what I’ve called “progressivism”. That history begins with Plato’s Republic, wends through St. Thomas More’s Utopia and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan to fetch up at Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel’s Communist Manifesto. He also compares these writers to John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Charles de Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, along with their impact on the Founding Fathers, and includes the observations of Alexis de Tocqueville some forty and fifty years later.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

On marriage and mortgages (Part I)

After a few weeks back in the mortgage game, I’m reminded of why it’s better for couples not only to be married but to stay married.

Doctor Hilary Towers and Mike McManus provide a very strong argument for creating a counter-revolution against the culture of cohabitation and easy divorce. Especially haunting is their quote of Michael Reagan, who writes in his book Twice Adopted:

Divorce is where two adults take everything that matters to a child – the child’s home, family, security, and sense of being loved and protected – and they smash it all up, leave it in ruins on the floor, then walk out and leave the child to clean up the mess.

The center of the sexual relationship is the creation and rearing of children; because they require time and stability to come to maturity, they need a home environment not just of love but of commitment to love over the long term. For as we have forgotten but are being reminded, love does not “work” or last of its own accord; it requires effort, communication and self-sacrifice from both parties.

Living together without the commitment to stay together for the long run simply doesn’t work. Marriages preceded by cohabitation tend to split up in greater numbers than marriages that aren’t; second, third and fourth marriages have worse track records the higher the numbers go.

But it’s not just that non-traditional relationships don’t succeed as well as do traditional marriages in establishing that stable environment for childrearing. As Reagan so tellingly illustrates, it’s also that divorces are often nasty, ugly events, legal processes whose outcomes are often unjust and absurd, and whose effects can be felt years after the decree is issued. And nothing drives that point home like trying to refinance or modify a thirty-year mortgage on one income.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rush, Fluke and Ms-takes

Right now, there’s a lot of guffawing and name-calling over Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke’s testimony before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on Monday.  Among other things, Fluke estimated that “Without insurance coverage, contraception, as you know, can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school.”

Over a three-year period, that’s about $83 a month and change.  A quick browse through the Internet got me a range of prices on generic estrogen-progestogen pills going from $49.52 for a 3-month supply (≈ $16.51/month)[*] to $25.99 for a 1-month supply of Levora or Lutera.[†]  Craig Bannister figured it out at $1 a condom … largely for laughs.  Yet unless the braniacs attending Georgetown Law still don’t know how to go generic, or the Safeway Pharmacy on Wisconsin Avenue is deliberately ripping the rich kids off, there’s still quite a gap between $25.99 and $83.33 a month — Ms. Fluke’s numbers refuse to add up.

But Bannister’s joke calculation that Hoya students are boinking 2.74 times a day is simply another way to express the same point radio loudmouth Rush Limbaugh was trying to get across in his typical talk-first-think-it-through-later style.  “What happened to personal responsibility and accountability?  Where do we draw the line?”

So let’s strip away some of the misconceptions (uh …) about the HHS mandate debate.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Book review: The American hierarchy as empty miters

The Broken Path: How Catholic Bishops Got Lost in the Weeds of American Politics, by Judie Brown (American Life League, 2011)

I have never met Judie Brown of the American Life League.  After reading this book, though, I have a pretty good idea of what she's like.  In Yiddish, she would be called a bren, a real no-nonsense, take-charge person, the kind of woman who always walks with a sense of purpose, who runs both home and office with efficiency and energy.

This reflects even with her Introduction, which not only sets the parameters of the book but also its tone.  Although Ms. Brown doesn't say so, her target reader is not the "cafeteria Catholic" or the non-Catholic interested onlooker; if you're not convinced the Church in America has been on the wrong path for over four decades, she's not going to waste time persuading you.

To a certain degree, the subtitle is misleading.  Ms. Brown actually spends little more than a chapter on tracing the historical path the American hierarchy has taken, and doesn't go into a lot of depth.  A full chapter could conceivably have been spent detailing the growth and flowering of Americanism just by itself, or looking in-depth at the "Land O' Lakes Declaration" that was the 95 Theses of American Catholic theologians.