Friday, January 27, 2012

A question of interest—CLOSED

I hate to admit it, but there's a much better, much more fully documented and informed article by Thomas Storck in The Distributist Review.  Go read that one.

*     *     * 

Most of us know that the key to successfully managing our money is to avoid spending more than we earn in a month.  While certain debts can never be cleared because we’re paying for ongoing services, we know to avoid spending on credit and obtaining loans as much as possible.

Paradoxically — not to say ironically — we also know the only way to establish a good credit history is to obtain loans and pay them off on time.  Since your credit report is, for all intents and purposes, your public reputation, and is becoming essential to maintain in order to get good jobs and decent apartments, more than ever there’s a social incentive to spend modest amounts on credit.  This is without considering Corporate America’s constant push for you to buy, buy, BUY a bunch of crap you don’t really need so you can keep the economy expanding (and money flowing into investors’ hands).

As I’ve written before, debt as an economic engine eventually leads to an unsustainable imbalance of wealth.  But moreover, despite its normalization, we can’t help but feel that the only difference between the multi-billion-dollar national lender and the street-corner loan shark is that the former pays some attention to federal regulations. Put differently, we feel that “predatory lending” is a redundant phrase.

But is it immoral? Didn’t the Catholic Church use to teach that all lending was de facto a sin? Traditionalists will insist that the answer is “yes”.

“Moral neutrality just isn’t going to cut it anymore”


The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option.  You can’t fight something with nothing.  Because if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.
—David Cameron

In “Lost in Transition: I”, the first of a three-part review of Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood by Christian Smith et al., developmental psychologist Thomas Lickona barely has room to give us an overview of the book’s segments. And yet the facts he pulls out of Smith’s ongoing longitudinal study gives one very little hope that the moral and spiritual malaise corroding our society from within will start reversing within the next 25 years.

Nearly three-quarters of Smith’s sample say they themselves, as individuals, intuitively and automatically know what is right and wrong in any given situation, and they normally try to follow their conscience.  They typically explain their “instinctive knowledge” of what’s right with reasoning that sounds like the traditional natural law notion that there is a moral sense embedded in our human nature.  Said one subject, “I think everybody has a sense of right and wrong unless you are clinically insane or chemically imbalanced.  It’s just kind of innate.  There’s a lot of gray in between, but on the far end of each spectrum you know what’s absolutely wrong and right.”

That’s all well and good … except that these same young people can’t see any tension between this instinctive “natural law” understanding of moral behavior and their non-judgmental individualism/moral relativism. “For about two-thirds of the 18-23-year-olds in Smith’s sample, extreme moral violations such as rape and murder are clearly wrong, but beyond that, ‘many of the truly moral features of life experiences are invisible.’ One interviewee said, ‘I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often.’”

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why the March for Life wasn’t “news”

I don't own the copyright.
Two days after record-breaking hordes of people, the majority of them under 25, marched in freezing rain in Washington, DC — between four and five hundred thousand; that’s almost half a million, folks — at the annual March for Life, the pro-life blogosphere is humming with barely-suppressed fury and indignation. 

Why?  Because once again the bulk of the MSM blew off what MSNBC grudgingly admitted was “the largest and longest-running peaceful human rights demonstration for the unborn” (which didn’t stop Andrea Mitchell from posting a slavishly sycophantic interview with Planned Barrenhood president Cecile Richards). 

Clay Waters at the Media Research Center noted that the New York Times blew the March off for the fifth year in a row.  John Jalsevac of LifeSiteNews noted that WaPo’s photo montage of the event “focused primarily on a tiny cadre of pro-abortion counter protesters that gather every year on the steps of the Supreme Court (mostly, I am convinced, just so that the mainstream media has pro-abortion counter protesters to photograph): a group so small that, if you weren’t looking carefully, you would probably miss it.”  Michelle Malkin writes sardonically that “it has become an annual ritual to watch the national media and liberal commentariat strain to ignore or marginalize the burgeoning movement of increasingly young and minority activists taking to the street to stand up for the unborn.”

And when Erik Wemple of WaPo used a story of a cat slain in Russellville, Ark., to claim a conservative media bias, Mark Judge of The Daily Caller hooted, “After The Post ignored half a million people, most of them young people, marching to let one million babies a year live, the paper’s media critic screams media bias because Fox didn’t break into ‘The Five’ with news that a cat had been the victim of a political hit.  Hang on, I just want to check that Post link again.  Nope, it’s not The Onion.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

Paul VI read the signs of the times prophetically

One of the hardest things for many people to understand is, “Why would the Catholic Church insist, after all these years, that contraception is wrong?  Moreover, why do they insist on resisting the tide?  After all, most Catholic women practice some form of it!  Can’t they tell that no one is listening to them anymore on birth control?”

Well, that’s not quite true.  While 98% of Catholic women have practiced birth control at some point in their lives, the most recent Guttmacher study only claims that nearly 70% currently practice birth control.  In this area, the Church is beginning to gain some traction.

Nevertheless, it is true that, when Pope Paul VI promulgated Humanae Vitae in 1968, it caused a severe rift within the Church, as many Catholics of the time expected and hoped for a change in doctrine.  Since then, it’s been the one area in which otherwise-orthodox Catholics have entrusted themselves to God’s forgiveness even when they confess other sins … that is, when they agree that it is a sin, which many don’t.

Of course, many people understand that the Church shouldn’t change its teaching to match every whim and fad of the people.  But after fifty years, it’s not really a “fad” anymore, is it?  Can’t the Church recognize the signs of the times?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Choose to say “no”

Hosted by Jill Stanek!
What do pro-aborts mean by “choice”?

For many years I’ve recognized that “freedom of choice” is simply a catchphrase aimed at taking the moral high ground.  More options = good, less options = bad, and if you force someone to do something they don’t want to do — like raise a child they didn’t plan on conceiving — then you, sir/madam/small child, are a fascist.

So I find myself amused whenever a pro-abort argues, “Women are gonna do it anyway.”  Besides the inherent meaninglessness of the argument, a dreary statement of the obvious that leads to no intelligent moral principle, it contradicts the very premiss of calling the pro-abortion faction “right to choose”.  If women are “gonna do it anyway,” then in what way do laws against abortion take away their ability to choose?

What’s really being argued for here is a right to choose without legal consequence.  But remove legal penalties and you haven’t removed all consequences.  In truth, the last thirty-nine years of legal abortion has seen the gathering of evidence that shows abortion — even so-called “safe abortion” — has physical, emotional and social consequences that compound the inherent horror and injustice of taking an innocent human life.  More to the point, though, is that there are some choices that should never be tolerated, let alone celebrated as a “right”.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Links, citations and the pro-life story

I recently made the mistake of trying to slap down a troll.  You know the type I’m talking about — the one who tries to pass off insults as arguments, then puts on the air of superior reasoning when called on it.  Let’s call him “Gorbag”.  Granted, it’s the name of an orc, not a troll, but it’ll do.

In one of his patronizing replies to my demand that he apologize for his snot-fest, Gorbag sniffed, “If [third person] wants to use actual quantifiable claims to back up her stories, then she needs to back up her numbers: ‘Porn addictions are now implicated in over 50% of divorces.’ — that’s a lot of implications, so a source should be cited, otherwise it comes across as a fabricated truth — something that religious types like to toss around all the time as ‘fact’.”

Okay, granted that Gorbag is guilty of a gross generalization that he himself won’t back up.  As I’ve said before, hypocrisy is by no means limited to us “religious types”.  I remember reading a claim in an extract from the late Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great that “most Christians are hypocrites”, and thinking, “Gee, for a guy who worships the Golden Calf of Scientism, he has a distinct aversion to backing up such a claim with scientific data.”

However, once you clear away the arrogance and anti-Christian bigotry, Gorbag does have a point.  Many people who write blogs don’t come from backgrounds where sourcing one’s claims is necessary.  And while many if not most writers are good about linking back to story sources, backing data — not so much.  In debate terms, we’re the ones indicting the present system; therefore, we bear the burden of proof.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wealth inequality “somebody else’s problem”

Perhaps you remember this T-shirt from almost twenty years ago which had all the major religious belief systems classified according to variations of the expression “S*** happens”.  Catholicism was defined as, “If s*** happens, it’s my fault.”  Protestantism, by contrast, was defined as, “Let s*** happen to someone else.”

I happened to think of this T-shirt — and this definition of Protestantism — in reading Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ talk to the Pontifical Gregorian, “Has Europe Lost Its Soul?”  In it, he specifically mentions Max Weber’s seminal work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, one of the foundational books of sociology.  Weber found Calvinism to be highly influential in the development of capitalism, especially as income inequality was easier to rationalize through the doctrine of predestination: material wealth as a sign of God’s favor and blessing upon a policy of prudential spending, saving and investing.

Another Protestant influence shows up when we consider the effect of sola fide on distributive justice.  When corporal works of mercy and responsibility to the larger community are deemed irrelevant to salvation, it becomes easier to allow vague, impersonal “market forces” to drive wages and salaries rather than consideration of the employee’s actual contribution to the success of the enterprise.  Rabbi Sacks drove this point home for me even further by what he would probably consider an aside: “As for moral responsibility, it seems that that too can be outsourced. It is someone else’s problem, not mine.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Paving the road to an authoritarian government

Doubtless you’ve already read two or three posts from other people explaining why the House of Representatives’ proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)[*] is such a horrendously bad piece of legislation.  Jeffrey Tucker has a quick piece on The Chant Café which tries to explain how SOPA’s passage would affect the emergent renaissance of sacred music. 

There are several major concerns with SOPA’s current language.  The most disturbing of these is its placement of primary responsibility for enforcement, along with burden of proof, on host websites for policing not only themselves but sites to which they link for potential copyright infringement.  “A provision in the bill states that any site would be blocked that ‘is taking, or has taken, deliberate actions to avoid confirming a high probability of the use of the U.S.-directed site to carry out acts that constitute a violation.’[†] Critics have read this to mean that a site must actively monitor its content and identify violations to avoid blocking, rather than relying on others to notify it of such violations.”[1]  

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Sunday obligation


“I’m so tempted not to go to Mass,” Mom said as we prepared to pull out of the garage.  “I have so many things to do before we go over to Ted’s house tonight” — we were to celebrate the January birthdays together — “and I have a hard enough time hearing the Mass anyway even without Fr. George’s accent.”  (Mom’s hearing is severely impaired, though not completely lost.)

“It’s your decision, Mom,” I replied neutrally.  I don’t want to force her to go, but I don’t want either of us to fall back out of the habit of going, either, which we did while Bob was alive.

“Well, lead me not into temptation,” she sighed, and put the car in reverse.

The first reading, of course, was from 1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19, in which Samuel, called by God to be his prophet, responds, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!”  Deacon LeRoy gave the homily, building on that passage, telling us to listen for His voice, through all the noise pollution that surrounds us every day and in the stillness of quiet.  And, of course, the Communion hymn was “Here I Am”.

When we were walking to the car, Mom started talking quite enthusiastically.  Everything about this Mass had been perfectly timed to reach her where she was.  “I’m really, really glad I didn’t give into the temptation to skip,” she said happily.  “Well, next time,” I joked, “I promise I won’t give you an ‘out’.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Reversing Protestant acceptance of birth control

For a brighter-than-average guy, I can be pretty slow on the uptake.

Back in August, in “The ten percent solution”, I wrote: “A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute — if you can believe those puppets of the National Abortion Rights Action League — tells us how badly the Church has lost: Around 98% of sexually active Catholic women have used proscribed contraceptive methods.”  But what I skipped in the original Reuters story was this: “Nearly 70 percent of Catholic women use sterilization, the birth control pill or an IUD, according to the Guttmacher Institute research.”

Okay, seventy percent is still way too high, as far as faithful practice of Catholicism goes.  And some of the gap is attributable, no doubt, to women who have gone past menopause.  But it’s still a 28% difference between “ever used” and “currently using” — a big difference.  And I wonder how many other writers besides myself missed it in our rush to either celebrate or mourn the 98% number.  The penny didn’t drop, however, until I read Peter Baklinski’s review of Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control 1873-1973, by Dr. Allan Carson, in LifeSiteNews. 

The book itself demonstrates how Margaret Sanger and Planned Barrenhood played divide-and-conquer with Christians by using the Catholic Church’s opposition to birth control as a wedge issue, counting on a reflexive anti-papist sentiment to keep Evangelical communions from uniting with the Church on traditional reproductive values.  But more importantly, Baklinski mentions that “some American evangelicals are rethinking their position on birth control,” using as his example “the Quiverfull Movement who ‘eagerly accept their children as blessings from God,’ eschewing not only artificial birth control, but even natural family planning.”

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bucking the Established Paradigm

In his book Pragmatism, William James recounts a discussion he and his friends had concerning a squirrel on the trunk of a tree: Suppose it were to move from the north face counter-clockwise to the west, then the south, then the east, and then back to the north.  The question they debated (half-fun and in full earnest, I gather): Does the squirrel go around the tree or the tree go around the squirrel?

James answered:  Both answers are correct; it just depends on what you consider the fixed point to be … an answer of which I’m sure Albert Einstein would have approved.

This story popped into my mind when I received an e-mail from Stacy Trasancos concerning the Galileo Was Wrong conference.  As an honest-to-goodness, Ph.D.-and-all scientist who has actually worked in the field, Stacy is more qualified to evaluate the group’s claims than is a guy who’s still trying to pay off the BA in sociology he didn’t get.  (Story for another time.)  Granting that her doctorate is in chemistry, she’s still better prepped than I am: physics isn’t irrelevant to chemistry, after all.

So I gotta give Stacy props for at least considering the GWW’s claims in public.  She’s already demonstrated her courage under threat of physical violence; now she has the courage to risk being marginalized as a tin-foil-hat-wearing loon.  I say this not in detraction but in admiration; there are many scientists alive who will unthinkingly risk their lives for the sake of their children by assaulting a predator, but who won’t risk their reputation for the sake of the truth by bucking the Established Paradigm.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Catholic ≠ Democrat, Republican or Libertarian


Would he were alive ... and American ....
One of the things that frustrates me about the American two-party system is that there’s no viable third party a Catholic can join without rationalizing the odd platform plank or five that a Catholic should at least have some qualms with, if not outright oppose.  But this is equally true of the two major parties as well. 

So during every presidential election cycle, you have to wade through scads of blog posts and comments in which the author attempts to square support of (Mostly Protestant) Party X with Catholic social and moral teachings … usually to the detriment of Catholicism.  It’s one thing to rationalize support of Candidate N, who holds positions in conflict with Catholic teaching, in order to promote other good policies that aren’t in conflict.  As well, we do have to recognize that, within the teachings of Catholic social justice, there’s some room for prudential judgment as to which policies would better serve social justice.

But it’s another when support of Candidate N becomes not just a matter of being a “leftist”, “right-wing reactionary”, “pinko commie” or “fascist” but also prima faciae evidence of heresy. 

In this blog, I’ve taken progressive Catholics to task for reading the progressivist agenda into Catholic teaching, for blatantly ignoring or openly deriding irreformable doctrines and creating a “good Church/bad Church” paradigm for rationalizing disobedience and disrespect for the Church’s magisterium.  But if it’s wrong for liberals to make the Church a party organ, it’s wrong for conservatives and libertarians as well, as my friend Julie Robison said about another issue.  Sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik.

The tortured rationalization of torture

Wherever Christianity has had some cultural influence, torture has been increasingly regarded as intrinsically evil.  Because it’s still perceived to be useful, though, arguments increasingly turn on what constitutes torture … the classical “appeal to finer detail”.

Consider water-boarding, as illustrated to your left.  Granting that it’s drawn and written to provoke a specific reaction (notice the brown skin on the victim!), the effect is accurate enough: the victim isn’t really drowning … he only thinks he’s drowning.  No harm, no foul, right?

At least, this is the conclusion that Teresa Rice of Catholibertarian wants us to draw:

What the Japanese did to American POWs which some now conveniently classify under the contemporary term “waterboarding” was in reality one part of a larger torture regimen known as “the water cure”.  During the “water cure” torture the Japanese did not place a cloth over the person’s mouth. They poured water over the person’s face which caused actual drowning.  The water went down their victim’s throat after which some would go into the lungs and some into the stomach.  It de-salinated the victim’s blood and often ended up drowning his intestines.  In other words, there was often actual physical harm involved and always the very real danger of serious physical harm.  That is a key morally relevant difference between the Japanese “waterboarding” technique and the way the CIA practiced waterboarding under the Bush administration.  For the latter there was never any physical harm inflicted nor was there any real danger of serious physical harm.  There was no actual drowning, only a psychologically convincing simulation of it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bloggers who have helped me

So yesterday I was adding a quote from Richard Collins of Linen on the Hedgerow to my sidebar widget, “What They’re Saying about OTA”.  To be taken seriously by other writers who are (or should be) taken seriously — even if they write humor — is both a great honor and a great aid to getting the message out.

It’s also an invitation to let your head swell.  There’s a quote floating around in the back of my mind, which I paraphrase here:  All writers, no matter how humbly they present themselves, keep an outrageous vanity locked within their breasts. Fortunately, blogging with a combox open also presents many opportunities for other people to puncture your balloon, letting your ego deflate a bit. 

It also helps if, now and again, you step back and acknowledge the help you got.  One of the reasons why confession works is because it forces you to accept ownership of your sins in a way that merely flicking a mental prayer heavenward (“Sorry, God!”) doesn’t.  In the same way, publicly saying “Thank you” to people who have helped you is to own the fact that you didn’t “do it all by yourself” — the great heresy of the Church of the Autonomous Individual.

Now, not all of these writers have plugged OTA or linked one of my posts to theirs.  In a couple of cases, I’m not sure they know me from a hot rock.  That’s not the point: either they’ve boosted me with their support and encouragement, or they’ve been people I’ve learned from — in one or two instances, what I’ve learned from them is as close to an epiphany as I’m likely to experience.  In many cases, they’ve done both.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Further thoughts on “Judeo-Christian Sharia”

Yesterday I stripped apart a post by comedian Dean Obeidallah on CNN, in which he regurgitates the boilerplate liberal “establishment of religion” red herring under the label “Judeo-Christian Sharia”. 

My main focus was on the examples he brought up of the horrible dhimmitude Rick Santorum, if elected President, would somehow manage to force on an unwilling electorate all by himself … almost all of which social conservatives of every religious background have been calling for, including some atheists and agnostics.  No porn!?  No federally-funded contraceptives!?  No gay marriage!?  O the inhumanity!!!

Particularly objectionable is how Obeidallah equates a law based on traditional Judeo-Christian morality with Sharia to play upon American anti-Islamic feelings:  “Santorum wants to base laws on the Bible; Arabs want to base laws on the Qur’an; what’s the difference?” [Not his exact words, I add in honesty.]  Sharia creates oppression; Sharia is based on a particular religion’s sacred scripture; laws based on religious scripture oppress; Santorum wants our laws to be based on Christian scripture; therefore Santorum wants to create a Christian Sharia.

Not only is this kind of “see Spot run” association implicit in Obeidallah’s argument, it’s illogical, counterfactual and reprehensible.  And as his examples of “Judeo-Christian Sharia” demonstrate, like most pampered children of the West since the “baby boom”, Obeidallah has no real grasp of what oppression is.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A “Judeo-Christian Sharia” … really?

I keep thinking there was a time when, if a media outlet wanted a respectable opinion written or spoken — something the public would read/watch and consider carefully — they would ask a prominent politician, or a “think tank” analyst, or eminent scholar.  Alas, how “infotainment” has bankrupted our culture: to make an analysis of Rick Santorum, fresh from his Iowa triumph, CNN asked Dean Obeidallah.

The editor informs us, “Dean Obeidallah is a comedian who has appeared on Comedy Central’s Axis of Evil special, ABC’s The View, CNN’s What the Week and HLN’s The Joy Behar Show.”  So even if the title of the hit piece — “Santorum wants to impose ‘Judeo-Christian Sharia’” — didn’t give it away, you would still be warned that Obeidallah would hardly give Santorum a bouquet of flowers, judging by the venues he’s playing.

Imagine if either of the two Muslim members of Congress declared their support for a proposed American law based on verses from the Quran. The outcry would be deafening, especially from people like Santorum.
One of the great ironies is that Santorum has been a leader in sounding alarm bells that Muslims want to impose Islamic law — called Sharia law — upon non-Muslims in America.  While Santorum fails to offer even a scintilla of credible evidence to support this claim, he continually warns about the “creeping” influence of Muslim law.

So okay, Obedallah’s first complaint is hypocrisy.  I might buy that if Santorum weren’t speaking in the context of a democracy where the concept of God-given inalienable human rights obtains as a Christian legacy (despite secular humanist attempts to take credit for it).  As it is, Obeidallah’s attempt to make the two equivalent merely strike one as ludicrous.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Clohessy’s double standards—UPDATED

SNAP director David Clohessy told CNA on Jan. 3 that his organization should be held to a “different standard” of transparency than Church leaders and dioceses, which he described as “organizations that enable and conceal thousands of pedophiles to rape tens of thousands of kids.”

I read this paragraph in Michele Bauman’s CNA story and my jaw dropped.  Surely this must be a misquote, even a false quotation!  Not even David Clohessy could be this nakedly hypocritical and hysterical!  But no, here’s his response as reported by the adulatory National Catholic Fishwrap:

Asked whether he thought his organization’s refusal to hand over certain documents contradicted its calls for transparency from diocesan offices regarding allegations of sex abuse, Clohessy said he believed there “are two standards of transparency.”
“Our view is that agencies that counsel and help sex crimes victims should never be transparent about the people who call them desperately in pain and seeking guidance,” Clohessy said.
We believe that there are two standards of transparency,” he said.  [So he’s honest about having double standards.]  “One for institutions that have enabled thousands of pedophiles to assault tens of thousands of kids and conceal the crimes.  And another standard for organizations that enable kids to be safer and expose heinous crimes.”

In other words, “We should be able to hide whatever information we want because we’re the good guys.  Our intentions are noble, right and just; rules are for bad men, like those sneaky, lying bishops.”

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Beef stroganoff and whine


There’s a reason I prefer writing out my opinions: it’s easier to control the flow of an explanation when you’re writing than when you’re discussing the matter with a clutch of contentious Irish-Americans after a heavy meal and three glasses of wine.

Sunday night was a case in point.  I was cast in the role of defending the responses in the revised liturgy against the complaints of my mother and older brother, with kibitzing from his wife (Methodist) and daughter (lapsed).  Such discussions never take place according to the rules of Lincoln-Douglas debate, and sometimes barely observe Marquess of Queensbury rules.  You can’t even get a good foundation for the affirmative case going before you’re dealing with the negative team’s objections and cross-ex.

Well, at least the beef stroganoff was good.  And the wine was a ’10 pinot noir (Hob Nob).

So it was with a rueful smile that I read Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s savage fisk of Fr. Richard McBrien’s crab-fest over the revised liturgy.  People who write to be read by the general public — including Your Humble Blogger — set themselves up for equally public spankings, and Fr. McBrien’s errors of fact and logic practically beg for ridicule.  But wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall if ever the two had to share dinner at a rectory?  Not knowing either priest personally, I have no idea who would come out on top should the topic of the Mass revision come up.