"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The other theater of the war

Since I might be offline for a while, I thought I'd better get in my take on the Israel-Hezbollah war.

War is always and unavoidably horrific. It must be especially sickening for parents who get to see the mangled bodies of their dead children. I haven't seen that and hope I never will. But even so I am sickened—sickened by the assumption, made apparently even at the Vatican, that there's some sort of moral equivalency between the combatants in this latest theater of the war with radical Islam. Beyond backing Israel materially, our part in the fight is to discredit that assumption.

Hezbollah started this with an unprovoked attack across an internationally recognized border, behind which Israel had withdrawn her army six years ago, to capture prisoners for use as bargaining chips. Already under seige from Qassam attacks launched by Hamas terrorists from Gaza, from which she had withdrawn unilaterally last year, and correctly refusing to bargain with Hamas over prisoners, Israel decided to react by going for the jugular. Her aim, apparently, is to destroy Hezbollah's military capability; or if that's not possible, then to weaken it enough to make the threat it poses manageable by others, such as the U.N. and the Lebanese government. That is a legitimate aim, for Hezbollah's leaders are sworn to Israel's destruction and are the tools of a country, Iran, whose president regularly calls for Israel's destruction. But this enemy of Israel and of the United States, many of whose citizens it has killed, has a very powerful weapon, more powerful than any rocket or fighter: the civilians of Lebanon.

By adopting a military stance that interweaves combatants and their weapons among civilians as well as buildings designed for peaceful purposes, Hezbollah makes it impossible for Israel to fight for victory without killing civilians—many of whom are innocent—and destroying Lebanon's infrastructure. Israel has not let that stop her, of course; nor could she, if she is to achieve anything useful. The result: many innocent civilians are dying and Lebanon is being set back decades. That makes Israel, even more than Hezbollah, seem cruel and immoral—even though Israel would rather not kill civilians and uses precision bombs in an effort to avoid such deaths while Hezbollah, having no such scruples, fires volleys of rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilian targets. Thus is Hezbollah winning the propaganda war among the constituencies it most cares about: the Arab "street" and the Left around the world, on whom it's counting to help bring the IDF to heel via the White House.

Such is how Islamofascists fight around the world: they attack "enemy" civilians while using their own as shields. It's how they fight in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Palestine, and wherever else they can gain a foothold. And don't forget that it's all the same war: the jihad, whose purpose is to destroy the West starting with its outpost in Israel, so as to replace them with a new caliphate that would impose Sharia law on us all. Only the theaters differ.

The military euphemism for their method is 'asymmetrical warfare', which indeed is the only kind open to the Islamofascists given their enemies' superiority in weapons. Whether it's flying planes into skyscrapers, setting off remote-controlled bombs in train tunnels, strapping bomb belts to hapless suicides, or doing all the other cute things that Hezbollah and Hamas do, these people care not a whit for Western rules of war, which evolved out of another era and are much closer to the divine and natural law.

American and her allies, such as Israel and the current governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, will lose this war if they do not counteract their enemy's propaganda weapon successfully. I don't know how that can be done. I'm not a geopolitician, an intelligence agent, or a soldier. But our leaders must find a way to do it, starting with naming the enemy for what it is: a ruthless, cowardly, hate-filled, and mendacious bunch of fanatics whose main cloak of legitimacy is religion and whose main tactical defense is the blood of women and children. Once that perverse truth is made clear, if only by constant repetition, we will be in a better position to take on their biggest movers and shakers: Iran and Syria. In the meantime we must go on killing these terrorists at every opportunity.

That's why it's so important to stabilize Iraq. We must free enough of our troops for the next rounds on the eastern and western borders of that tortured country. What's at stake is everything good the West, and the Jews, have worked so hard for.

Thoughts on today's Gospel reading

The conclusion of Fr. Philip Powell, OP's homily for today:
To be blunt: the ignorant, the shallow, the skeptical, the despairing, the hard-hearted, and the stubborn out there will not receive the seed, will not hear the Word if they look at us and see ignorance, shallowness, skepticism, despair, hard-heartedness, and stubbornness. Nor can they receive the seed, hear the Word if they see us coming at them with disobedience, infidelity, dishonesty, dissent, anger, and quarreling. And why should they? Who in their right mind wants to hear whining dissent or wounded bawling from those who are supposed to be flourishing in rich soil!?

I’ll end with this question: assuming that you (that we) are broadcasting the seed, spreading God’s Word, are we also preparing the soil to receive it—are we ourselves noticeably thriving in the rich soil of the Father’s will, producing good fruit for others, and tending His fields with fidelity?
Read it all.

That's only common sense, but how very often it's forgotten! It sometimes seem that Christians can't stop wallowing in their own faults and trading recriminations long enough to reform themselves as they would have the preaching of the Gospel reform others. But the needed joy and strength are unattainable without unity, and the requisite unity is unattainable without common obedience to the ecclesial authority that Christ has put over us. Still another reason why I say that "authority is the issue."

The Ave Maria fiasco

Thomas Peters, blogmeister of the widely followed American Papist, has taken due note of a major article in today's New York Times about the serious problems plaguing the efforts of Domino's founder and Catholic philanthropist Thomas Monaghan. Peters himself is a graduate of Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which was founded and funded by Monaghan; and Peters' father has even taught there. I am deeply saddened for the Church, but also for myself and many Neocaths like me.

When, in the 1990s, Monaghan undertook to devote his considerable fortune to building up Catholic higher education, I was thrilled. We certainly do need more Catholic institutions, loyal to the Magisterium, that would facilitate the restoration of Catholic culture in this country; for many of the established such institutions have signally failed in those respects. When Monaghan decided to move Ave Maria and its law school to Florida so as to make them the core of a bigger and better university, I was more sanguine than ever. But it appears that he has let his ego and need for control generate too many enemies and too much waste. His desire to build the town of Ave Maria, Florida as a Catholic haven has been a particular boondoggle. It now seems that everything he has done is in jeopardy. Hundreds of millions of dollars may end up going for naught amid all the crying needs that they could have met. Read the article at Thomas' blog for yourself. It seems very well researched and reported.

Oh well. I had been hoping to get a job at Ave Maria University. I certainly have the right credentials, experience, and views. But another prospect bites the dust.

One might well view all this as evidence that it is God, not man, who ultimately runs the Church. I have often observed, both in a secular graduate school in the 80s and when I was an RCIA director in the 90s, that the best evidence of the Church's divine origin is how she survives her leadership. I had in mind the clergy, especially the higher clergy; but I really ought to include rich and influential laity in that too. Though the Church in the U.S. will survive and continue to bring people to Christ, it looks as though that will happen without some of the money that would have helped.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Fall and Rise of the Neocaths

I proudly admit to being one of those people whom their critics call "Neocaths," short for "neo-Catholics." I am a Neocath because I believe that to be one is to be neither more nor less Catholic than the Pope, and thus to be a mere member of the Church Universal rather than of an entrenched party of malcontents with a anti-Roman program. Catholics of such parties tend to be very anti-Neocath. I shall strive to illustrate what's involved in all the nastiness about Neocaths, especially by defending myself toward the end from a prominent critic of mine.

If only for credibility's sake, most Catholics who care about being Catholic claim some form of loyalty to the See of Peter. That can take some rather funny forms. On the Right, where one finds those Catholics known as "trads" (short for 'traditionalists'), there are many who believe they are more Catholic than the current and recent occupants of that see. A few, the "sedevacantists," even believe that the Pope is not the real pope—a personage who, if he exists at all, perhaps resides in relative obscurity somewhere in the Midwest. Many on the Left, whom I call "progs" (short for 'progressives'), are loyal only to the next pope or maybe the one after that—hardly surprising given that, for decades, they have encountered only popes who reject their agenda. These days most Jesuits, formally vowed to special obedience to the pope, are conspicuous in that respect; as Jesuit Paul Shaughnessy commented several years ago: “Jesuits are all loyal to the papacy, but to the future papacy—that of Pope Chelsea XII, perhaps—and their support for contraception, gay sex, and divorce proceeds from humble obedience to this conveniently protean pontiff.” Thus, while trads resent Rome for spoiling the oldie-goldie days of full pews and sound teaching, the progs resent Rome for failing to commit the Church to the liberal-Protestant agenda that their mythos still peddles as the wave of the future. Both sets of malcontents believe that the Second Vatican Council constituted a decisive break with the Church of the past; the main difference is that the trads, decrying the break, want the Council to become a dead letter while the progs, celebrating it as "the spirit of Vatican II," are impatient for the Church to complete what they take to be the Council's revolutionary work.

I am just old enough to remember the days before Vatican II, and with them the effect the Council had on the Church in the United States. That can best be described in two words: 'liberation' and 'confusion'. Those phenomena fed each other. Many Catholics felt themselves liberated from what they had experienced as the repressive legalism, musty liturgy, and school theology of the past; some of the same folk, and many more who had not been so discontented, no longer felt sure what they had to believe and do in order to accounted Catholic. The general impression was that everything was in principle up for grabs, even if the hierarchy wasn't quite ready to grant the laity the kinds and amounts of sex, power, and license that for many would be dreams come true. I was entering adolesence when all that broke forth; I came of age in New York City when it was in full swing; indeed it all seemed rather adolescent to me. Thus, while I found it congenial in many ways, I also couldn't help believing it was temporary and knew in my bones that it couldn't sustain me. The tipping point for me was having been sexually abused by one of my priestly teachers, right around the time I was reading such dangerous British eccentrics as CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and GK Chesterton. I didn't make a public ruckus about the abuse, and won't even now, believing that no good could come of that; but I knew and eventually named the spirit that had animated it.

So, in college and after a brief flirtation with Orthodoxy, I became what is now dubbed a 'Neocath' as well as a Thomist. We Neocaths believed that the Council had been a Good Thing, and still do. But we also felt that many things done in the name of its "spirit" were anything but good, and that the trad counterreaction was almost as unhealthy. We were even then what Richard John Neuhaus, in a brilliant article that appears, slightly revised, as a chapter in his new book Catholic Matters, calls "continuants" as opposed to the "discontinuants" of Right and Left. But we were rather thin on the ground back then. I remember the very day, when I was still in high school, that Pope Paul VI, crestfallen over the widespread rejection of Humanae Vitae, lamented that "the smoke of Satan has entered the sanctuary." Judging from the trends in liturgy, catechesis, and higher education, the progs seemed to be taking over the Church. Priests and religious had been bolting in droves. Seminaries were not attracting many candidates—perhaps because, as I soon discovered firsthand, being heterosexual was in many quarters a disadvantage for applicants. I also found it curious that hardly anybody seemed interested, like me, in having the Mass celebrated as it was celebrated in Rome. The progs wanted not only the vernacular, all the time, but often and also a circus; the trads wanted the Mass not only in Latin but also in the Tridentine form that the new Roman Missal, whose editio typica was in Latin, had reformed and superseded. We thought even then that the Catholic Church was undergoing a three-way schism: between those loyal to the forms of yesterday, those loyal to what they took to be the wide vistas of tomorrow, and those loyal to the Rome of today. The "yesterday" crowd, the trads, dismissed us as merely naïve when not actually a part of the problem; the "tomorrow" crowd, the progs, crowed that we were destined for the ash heap of history along with the trads.

Since then, while the papacies of John Paul the Great and his old friend have not exactly crushed the parties of discontinuity, those papacies have substantially increased the numbers and the confidence of us Neocaths. John Paul is the pope whom younger Catholics knew when growing up, and the ones who are serious about being Catholic have been strongly influenced by him for the better. In the latter years of his papacy, vocations worldwide began to slowly increase, as they continue to do; indeed most younger priests are Neocath, much to the chagrin of many of their elders in the clergy. Benedict XVI, while not the media star his predecessor was, has inherited the good will: his Wednesday audiences attract huge crowds, even as he's proven to be gentler and more grandfatherly than the progs feared he would be; yet he maintains the sound teaching for which so many of us are deeply grateful. The progs are still powerful in Catholic institutions, of course; but they are increasingly on the defensive, ripe for replacement by the more conservative younger set because they are not good at reproducing themselves either intellectually or physically. The trads are still waxing, thanks largely to their prolific families and to the continued liturgical poverty in much of the West; but they have nobody of Wojtyla's or Ratzinger's intellectual caliber, and sooner or later will find that most loyal Catholics are never going to join them in trying to restore exactly what was.

Accordingly, while Neocaths openly worry about the Church's many problems and some even do something about them, there's no reason for us to see ourselves as beleaguered across the board. And by and large, we do not. That is why it's amusing to see one of the very few prog priests in the blogosphere and certainly the best-educated, the theologian Joseph O'Leary, announcing that the shrillness of some of his Neocath critics evinces that we're in trouble.

In his post of July 21, entitled The Decline of the Neocaths, O'Leary asserts that "the aggrieved, narcissistic tone" of Neocath responses to his earlier attacks is evidence of said decline. Such an assertion is indeed less aggrieved than those responses, but it is arguably more narcissistic. For one thing, it is based on a selection from the blogosphere, which shares the generally shrill tone of that world; but just like the older forms of Internet discussion groups and lists, the blogosphere is far smaller and more polemical than Neocatholicism as a whole. Indeed, the bloggers' shrillness is only to be expected given how provocative O'Leary enjoys being. Having followed O'Leary's comments at Pertinacious Papist intermittently for the last year, I note that he is deliberately provocative and sometimes quite weird. And that's the best evidence of where the narcissism truly lies. For it is narcissistic of O'Leary to take aggrieved reactions from Neocaths to his weirdness and provocations as evidence that it is they who have the problem. When people react angrily to things that can only be expected to anger them, is it not narcissistic to claim that there's something seriously wrong with them? O'Leary's look should be turned inward.

He has a few choice words for yours truly too, but in reply I shall be provoked only into pointing out the obvious.

He writes:

What are the signs of the decline of neocathism that have emerged over the past year?

First of all is their change of attitude toward Benedict XVI. They did not greet his Encyclical with any real enthusiasm and they have been complaining that he is not “nasty” enough (Michael Liccione), that his pontificate is shaping up as just a lull before the next storm, that he is not following through on the needed abolition of the “Novus Ordo” – the current liturgy of the Church, which many neocaths tend to see as heresy-ridden.

The first obvious fact to point out is that I did not say, or imply, that the Pope isn't "nasty" enough. In April I posted a piece entitled Is B16 Nasty Enough?, which I believe is a question worth raising; but in the end, I had to say that yes, he is nasty enough. Much as some of us Neocaths would like to see him lower the boom on progs and trads, I must concede that Benedict is wiser and holier than most of us, so that I can only give him the benefit of the doubt as he dines with the Küngs, kisses the babies, negotiates with the SSPX, and writes encyclicals about love. As for the so-called Novus Ordo, many of us Neocaths have some criticisms of it, as does the Pope himself; but few of us advocate returning to the Tridentine Rite as the norm. Most of us are willing to live with the papal indult allowing that rite while preferring a "reform of the reform" that would make the currently normative liturgy more organically continuous with the great tradition of the past. The Pope's book The Spirit of the Liturgy advocates nothing different.

O'Leary's second reference to and criticism of me is more substantive if not much more accurate:

The sterility of the neocath mindset is seen in the prodigious labors they devote to showing that official Catholic doctrine has never contradicted itself. See especially: http://mliccione.blogspot.com/. These extraordinary exercises, predicated on the alleged infallibility of “Humanae Vitae”, stand refuted by the clear facts of history, as found for instance in Charles Curran, ed. “Changes in Official Catholic Moral Teachings”, Paulist Press, 2003. Cardinal Dulles, favorite neocath theologian, carries this Parmenideanism so far as to maintain that the Church today, as in 1866, upholds the compatibility of slavery with divine and natural law.

First off, O'Leary has got two facts wrong. I do not claim that "official Catholic doctrine" has never contradicted itself, if by 'contradicted' is meant 'taken back' or 'changed'. On all the specific topics it tackles, my little treatise Development and Negation assumes that changes have occurred, and that some of them entail negation of positions long held by the Church. What I do take great trouble to show is that such changes have not negated any doctrine that has been "infallibly" taught according to the Church's own criteria for infallibility. I derive said criteria not from Humanae Vitae or from any theologian's arguments in defense of it, but from Vatican I, Vatican II, and Ratzinger's CDF responsum ad dubium (1995) on JP2's Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. I maintain that HV's teaching that "direct interruption of the generative process" is intrinsically evil, as distinct from the type of document HV is, meets Vatican II's criteria—as applied by Ratzinger to the women's-ordination issue—for infallible teaching by the ordinary and universal magisterium of the bishops. I also argue that the question which teachings meet such criteria cannot remain, irreducibly, a matter of opinion. Thus, when the Magisterium says that such-and-such a teaching meets such criteria, the matter is closed. Ratzinger's responsum on OS is, historically, one of the few examples of that and certainly the clearest. And I believe the same should be done on behalf of HV.

I don't take O'Leary personally on all this because he tars even Cardinal Avery Dulles with the same brush. But even there, the tar can't quite stick. Dulles' position is not that slavery is perfectly OK, but that the Church even today does not teach that all involuntary servitude is intrinsically wrong. The Church today does condemn slavery, but not, e.g., as a form of punishment for convicts; otherwise, it would be intrinsically wrong for legitimate authority to force inmates pick up trash from the highways or make license plates. Rather, the late pope took for granted that in today's world, involuntary servitude as a social phenomenon is maintained and accompanied by practices that are intrinsically evil and thus cannot escape condemnation itself. He was of course correct. But that entails no contradiction of any teaching that had been propounded infallibly according to the authoritative criteria. Nor does Charles Curran or anybody else show otherwise.

Some of the arguments made by Curran in the book that O'Leary cites are indeed worth rebutting in detail. A few theologians have attempted that in academic journals, and I expect to do so myself when I develop my treatise into a book and publish it. But O'Leary's careless, cavalier way of characterizing his opponents' views does not serve his cause well. That's not uncommon among progs: I've noted as much in the style of Sr. Joan Chittister, in my Christifideles article "Playing the Chit" (see the link in the left sidebar). As much as anything else, that's the sort of thing that signifies the intellectual decline of the progs.

At least the trads suffer not from intellectual decline. As best as I can make out, they have no peak from which to decline.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The book meme

Before I sign off, I note that the Pontificator has memed me and several others with a list of book questions. I'm delighted to oblige.

1. One book that changed your life:
C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (I prefer his fiction to his apologetics, though the latter ain't too shabby either)

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
J. R. R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings (eleven times, actually, and that's the whole trilogy)

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
The Bible (no-brainer, that)

4. One book that made you laugh:
John Tyerman Williams, Pooh and the Philosophers (you'd laugh too, if you've ever studied or taught philosophy)

5. One book that made you cry:
Henri Nouwen, Adam (those who know me personally won't need an explanation of that)

6. One book that you wish had been written:
Gregory Palamas, Why I Love Thomas Aquinas (let's get the chronology right)

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
Ariel Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs (yes, there really is such a book, and it made me want to retch)

8. One book you’re currently reading:
John F. Haught, Is Nature Enough? (my review is forthcoming in First Things)

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church (heck, I've used its themes often enough)

Still here, with apologies

Apologies to my vast readership for my lengthy absence. My computer got zapped by a thunderstorm several weeks ago, and that was with a surge supressor. With a little help from my online friends, I've managed to replace the damaged parts and am back up and running. But I sorely regret having missed the lengthy discussion in the combox about methodological naturalism. I will post as I can about it and about many of the timelier things that have occurred this month.

Alas, I will be moving this weekend and do not know when I'll be able to post to this blog from my own computer again. It could be days or even weeks. Please keep me in your prayers so that this blog can somehow contribute to the work of God. Perhaps that means my getting out of his way for a bit. It has sure seemed that way. But it won't always be so.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A homily worth absorbing

Check out Fr. Martin Fox's homily on today's reading over at Bonfire of the Vanities. It is pithy, topical, and obeys all the other rules of good preaching that I've heard about.

These days, that alone would be worth the price of admission—and in this case, there isn't any. You can't lose!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

At the science prom in your underwear

I could think of no better attention-grabbing title for this post than Zippy Catholic's of the same name, which is linked in the title. He is doing philosophy of science at its best, in a way that has direct implications for apologetics and even the philosophy of religion.

He notes a claim in contemporary physics that, as far as I know, has gone unchallenged. Two theories in quantum mechanics, the "Böhm" and the "Copenhägen," have exactly the same experimental consequences but are nonetheless "radically different" theories. Each makes the same predictions about what is likely to happen, given initial conditions, thus fitting the data equally well. But the former is stochastic, i.e., it works random chance into its statistical calculations; whereas the latter posits that "events can instantaneously affect other events a vast distance away." The upshot is that

...the two theories share the same formalism - the same outer mathematical structure which is a way of making the theory formally correspond to the data of experiments - and yet they have very different interpretations, that is, understandings about how the world actually works. It isn't that any theory at all can match the data - that is, can share the same formalism. Obviously many theories exist which do not match the data. But in quantum mechanics more than one mutually incompatible theory exist which match the data perfectly, and the reason one is taken to be true (Copenhagen) is a matter of historical contingency; it isn't because Copenhagen comports with observation and Bohm doesn't.
If, as in this case, more than one formalism yields the same successfully testable results, then reasons for preferring one over the other are metaphysical, not scientific. Such reasons are consistent with the science but not necessitated by it. Nobody disputes that. But why is such an arcane fact from a discipline that is beyond most people pertinent to religion?

Consider the standard, neo-Darwinian theory of evolution: that the origin of species can be explained purely as the result of "natural selection," i.e., random genetic variations that survive, or do not survive, according to their relative reproductive success or failure. Is that theory a "formalism," in the sense that, by plugging in the relevant data, we can be told "in a fully generalizable way how reality will behave?" No, it is not. That doesn't make the theory of evolution false, of course; but it cannot be formalized in such a way as to make predictions according to which the same results will always be got out of the same data. Thus the theory is partly an "interpretation," not a "formalism" as are the theories of physics. And that in turn means that the data do not, just by themselves, show that the theory can be generalized to explain everything about the emergence of life in general and species in particular. There might be good reasons for preferring such a theory to its competitors, but those reasons are not scientific reasons and are not ironclad. They are metaphysical—to use a word that is as embarassing to many scientists as would be showing up to a prom in their underwear.

That Darwinianism is partly metaphysical ought not to be controversial, but it is. Scientists do of course proceed on the basis of what's called methodological naturalism, the thesis that, in looking to explain physical realities, we should seek only natural not supernatural causes. There is nothing wrong with that; in fact, to do otherwise would not be science, as that form of inquiry has been so successfully practiced for centuries. But methodological naturalism does not logically entail metaphysical naturalism: the thesis that Nature is all there is. Neither, therefore, does it entail scientism: the thesis that what can be known by purely scientific means is all there is to know. Methodological naturalism is simply science; metaphysical naturalism is—well, metaphysics, and scientism is its epistemology.

That's not to endorse "intelligent design" as science. ID is metaphysics too. It can no more be verified scientifically than metaphysical naturalism. Thus Darwinianism and ID should not be seen as scientific competitors. Both are consistent with the data. But the value of ID is that it points us to another fact that ought to be obvious: explanations of reality can be and typically are layered.

Suppose somebody asks you why a pile of wood is burning in your yard. You then proceed to explain the physics of combustion. But back comes the retort: "I know all that; I wanted to know why you are burning a pile of wood in your yard." You haven't gotten the point of the question; it's after a purpose, not a mechanism. The answer might be that you could think of no better way to prevent termite infestation, given that you failed to use all the wood last winter for firewood. Or it might cite some other purpose. But whatever the purpose, the mechanism of combustion remains the same. The mechanistic and purposive explanations are not only compatible; the former is layered within the latter.

For all that "science" tells us, the same might be true of the universe in general. After all the strictly physical explanations of events are given, the question "Why?" remains. It either has or doesn't have an answer in terms of a purpose. If it does, then the science tells us something about how the purpose is embodied. If it does not, then what the science tells us is all there is to tell. But in either case, the science remains the same.

That should offend neither scientists nor theists. Nobody need worry about turning up at the science prom in their underwear. That's for a different venue.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Why "the Rodney Dangerfield economy"?

A respectable young academic who's got his facts straight wonders why the economy, like the immortal Rodney, "gets no respect." Despite the best overall numbers in a long time, nobody seems bouyant. The author suggests that it's dat' ol' nemesis, liberal MSM bias, not wanting President Bush and the Republicans to get the credit. That's part of it, I'm sure. But not the main part.

The main part is that Americans know our lifestyle is not indefinitely sustainable. Every day, we consume lakes of fossil fuel and produce mountains of garbage. By any number of measures, the planetary ecosystem is degrading. Rents and home prices trend up no matter how much housing is built. The family continues to unravel. Health care and decent education get ever costlier. Of course material objects such as clothes and electronics are getting cheaper, relative to incomes, since their makers always move to countries where the labor is cheapest. That's why we have a stratospheric trade deficit. But even as we acquire more and more, we seem to have less and less time to enjoy it. We all know, deep down, that something is very wrong. But nothing really changes because we can't agree on how to change it. And we're more interested in playing the blame game while we eat our share of the pie.

Nothing will change unless we really come to believe that loving God and neighbor is more important than anything else we do or anything that happens to us. It's not easy to attain such love. In fact, it's a gift not an attainment. We can only receive it in faith. And we can receive nothing from God without the humility to know that, next to him, we are nothing and have nothing to boast of. I think that's the hardest part for all of us. Americans especially.

One place to start on that is with humor. Like Rodney's. Here's a true story about him. (I will not reveal the source for legal reasons.)

One night in Manhattan, a young comedian opened for Rodney Dangerfield at a well-known comedy club. At the intermission between his routine and Rodney's, the customers had so crowded the bathrooms that he had to go outside to the alleyway to take a leak. As he was doing so against the brick wall, none other than Rodney sidled up next to him and proceeded to do the same. Once they were working in tandem, Rodney broke the ice: "Well kid, welcome to the big time."

Where's the beef? Right here...

Thanks to Catholic World News, I have just learned that something called "The World Summit of Religious Leaders," held this past week in Moscow under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church, has issued a joint statement signed by leaders of every one of the world's major religions. Now statements that emerge from meetings devoted to "inter-religious dialogue" are normally cheap and effective cures for insomnia. But this one seems different. It has beef worth biting into, not just fluffy bun. It is not ideologically predictable; and its generic but substantive theism seems to be something that the American Founding Fathers, as well as the conference's disparate attendees, could agree to. The Vatican seems to have thought the meeting important enough to merit dispatching five cardinals to. I think the Vatican is right.

If the people who signed the full text, which follows below, really mean it, then we've taken a big step forward in forming a common, and substantively religious, front against all the major evils in the world today—a front that includes a significant element from the Muslim world too. Let's start getting Catholics to care.

We, participants in the World Summit of Religious Leaders – heads and delegates of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Shinto religious communities in 49 countries, met in Moscow on the eve of the Group of Eight Summit. Having at length discussed issues of mutual concern, we now appeal to the heads of states, to our religious communities and to all people of good will.

We believe that the human person is religious by nature. Since the dawn of history, religion has played the key role in the development of thought, culture, ethics and the social order. With the ever growing role of faith in contemporary society, we want religion to continue being a solid foundation for peace and dialogue amongst civilizations, and not to be used as a source of division and conflict. Religion has the potential to bind together diverse peoples and cultures despite our human fragility, particularly in today’s context of plurality and diversity.

Human life is a gift of the Almighty. Our sacred duty is to preserve it, and this should be the concern of both religious communities and political leaders.

Dialogue and partnership among civilizations should not just be slogans. We need to build a world order which combines democracy - as the way of harmonizing different interests and as people’s participation in national and global decision-making - and respect to the moral feeling, way of life, various legal and political systems, and national and religious traditions of people. Comprehensive, just and durable solutions of international disputes should be reached by peaceful means. We reject double standards in international relations. The world should have many poles and many systems, meeting the requirements of all individual and nations rather than matching lifeless and oversimplified ideological patterns.

The human being is the Creator’s unique creation whose existence reaches into eternity. Humans should not become either a commodity or an object of political manipulation or an element of the production and consumption machine.

It is, therefore, necessary to assert constantly the highest value of human life from conception to the final breath and natural death. Thus the family needs support today, for it is the privileged context for cultivating the free, intelligent and moral personality. We call for more assistance to the family, particularly in its formative mission by national and international law and the practice of states, various public institutions, religious communities and the mass media. Linked to this is our concern for the status of women and children in many societies.

Promoting the unique character of every person, women and men, children and the elderly, as well as people with disabilities, we see that they all have their special gifts. Protecting them from violence and exploitation is a common task for the authorities, the society, and religious communities.

The human being is the supreme creation of the Almighty. Therefore human rights, their protection and respect at the national, regional and international level is an important concern for us. Nevertheless, our experience also shows that without an ethical core, without understanding our duties, no society or country is exempt from conflict and collapse. Sin and vice ruin both the individual and the society. For this reason we are convinced that law and social order should seek to bring together in fruitful harmony a commitment to rights and freedom as well as an awareness of the ethical principles that are constitutive of human living together.

We state the importance of religious freedom in today’s world. Individuals and groups must be immune from coercion. No one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his or her own beliefs in religious matters. It is also necessary to take into account the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

We condemn terrorism and extremism of any form, as well as attempts to justify them by religion. We consider it our duty to oppose enmity on political, ethnic or religious grounds. We deplore the activities of pseudo-religious groups and movements destroying freedom and health of people as well as the ethical climate in societies. Using religion as a means for rousing hatred or an excuse for crimes against individuals, morality and humanity present a major challenge today. This can be effectively addressed only through education and moral formation. School, mass media, and preaching by religious leaders should return to our contemporaries the full knowledge of their religious traditions which call them to peace and love.

We call for an end to any insult to religious feelings and defilement of texts, symbols, names or places held sacred by believers. Those who abuse sacred things should know that it wounds the hearts and stirs up strife among the people.

Through education and social action, we must reassert sustainable ethical values in the consciousness of people. We believe these values to be given to us by the Almighty and deeply rooted in human nature. They are shared by our religions in many practical ways. We feel responsible for the moral condition of our societies and want to shoulder this responsibility in working together with states and civil associations enabling a life where ethical values are an asset and a source of sustainability.

Human life is also interrelated with economy. International economic order, as all other spheres of global architecture, should be based on justice. All economic and business activities should be socially responsible and carried out using the ethical standards. It is this what makes the economy really efficient, that is, beneficial to the people. A life lived only for financial profit and facilitating production progress becomes barren and meager. Being aware of this, we call on the business community to be open and responsible towards the civil society, including religious communities, at the national and global levels.

It is imperative that all governments and the business community alike be responsible stewards of the resources of our planet. These resources, as given to all generations by the Creator, should be used for the benefit of everyone. All nations have the right to use these resources, as well as to develop technologies for their effective use and preservation. The responsible distribution and use of the Earth’s richness, in addition to active humanitarian involvement, will help overcome the poverty and hunger suffered by billions of our brothers and sisters. Poverty and social vulnerability become the cause of mass migration generating more and more problems in both poor and rich countries. The concentration of the majority of the world’s wealth in the hands of a few, while an enormous number of people, especially children, live in abject poverty, is a global tragedy. It will most definitely continue to destabilize the world, threatening global peace. We call upon all nations to return to a life of moderation, self-restraint and active justice. This will secure a hopeful future for upcoming generations and effectively function to cut the ground out from under the feet of extremists and terrorists.

The governments, religious communities and peoples of the world should work together to face the challenges of today, such as infectious disease epidemics, particularly AIDS, as well as drug addiction, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. No country, regardless of wealth and power, can cope with these threats on its own. We are all interconnected and share a common destiny. This requires concerted and united action by all member states of the international community. Moreover, the spread of diseases is not a concern for doctors alone, and the dissemination of lethal technologies is not a problem for law-enforcers alone. These challenges should become a common concern for the whole society.

Interreligious dialogue should be maintained by the religious leaders and experts, and be enriched by the contribution of ordinary believers. It is inappropriate, and history shows that it is dangerous, for the actions of religious communities to be dictated by political interests. We also deplore attempts to artificially ‘merge’ the religious traditions or to change them without the will of their adherents in order to bring them closer to secularism.

Our communities are also ready to develop dialogue with the adherents of non-religious views, with politicians, with all civil society structures, with international organizations. It is our hope that such a dialogue continues, permitting religions to contribute to concord and understanding among nations, a common home founded on the truth, built according to justice, vivified by love and liberty. This dialogue should be conducted on an equal footing, in a responsible way and on a regular basis, with openness to any themes, without ideological prejudice. We believe that the time has come for a more systemic partnership of religious leaders with the United Nations.

Making a special appeal to all the believing people, we urge them to respect and accept one another regardless of their religious, national or other differences. Let us help one another and all well-intentioned people in building a better future for the entire human family. Let us preserve peace given to us by the Almighty!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence, but from what?

Unfortunately, I find myself forced to agree with The Gonzman, though as a once-and-future academic I couldn't get away with putting things as he does. And considering the news constantly tracked by AFA, it's even timelier for today to repost, in slightly revised form, what I said one year ago.

On this day in 1776, the Founding Fathers signed a Declaration of Independence containing the following statement: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." On that basis, it was said that "the laws of nature and of nature's God" impelled them to "separation," thus forming the basis of the new republic. Thus, to those who so boldly risked their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" to found said republic, it was actually "self-evident" that there is a Creator who is also a Lawgiver! Such is the religious and moral foundation of the United States, whatever the other religious and philosophical differences among the Founders may have been.

That is why the direction of the Supreme Court for the last few generations, validated in the mainstream media and the universities as well as the legal profession, consists in an ever-firmer rejection of the very spiritual foundation of this Republic. Consider the following passage from the majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v Casey (1992), which prevented the overturning of Roe v Wade. It was quoted with approval by Justice Anthony Kennedy, an ostensible Catholic, writing for the majority in Lawrence v Texas (2003), striking down state anti-sodomy laws:
These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.
What's the upshot? It is now a premise of constitutional law that government may no longer embody in positive law any "concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe"—i.e. any religion or philosophy—that leads, logically, to forbidding "intimate and personal choices" embodying a different concept. What the signers of the Declaration took to be the universal basis of natural rights is now viewed as a violation of such a right when applied in positive law to the most basic issues of human life. The result: the holocaust of abortion continues and the absurdity of gay marriage begins its encroachment.

The horror and filth is all around us. I pray that the new, Catholic members of the Supreme Court help to start turning all that around. Mary Immaculate, Patron of the Americas, pray that God's mercy change us.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Yup, I'm pro-choice...

Just like Karl Keating of Catholic Answers:

1. The government shouldn't be able to tell me whether to paint my house yellow or green. It's my house, and the choice should be mine. I'm pro-choice.

2. No one should pressure me to buy a foreign rather than a domestic car--or the other way around. It's no one else's business whether I drive a Toyota or a Chevy. The choice should be mine. I'm pro-choice.

3. On election day, I should be able to vote against any scoundrel I wish. I don't want to be nagged into voting against this guy or that. I can choose my own scoundrels. It's my ballot and my decision. I'm pro-choice.

4. In these E-letters, I should be able to express any opinion I want. If a reader doesn't like what I say (or doesn't understand irony or parody), tough. It's my E-Letter and my writing. I'm pro-choice.

Precisely because I am so consistently pro-choice when it comes to my own choices, I acknowledge the right of others to make choices of their own. Just one example: I think every child should have a choice about whether he will come into this world. If he chooses not to, we should respect that choice. Of course, his choice will have to be manifested in a sufficiently clear way. When the rest of us make choices--to hire a house painter, to buy a car, even to vote--we sign a contract or somehow make our choices known on paper. The same should apply here, for consistency's sake.

Thus, if an unborn child signs a waiver or agreement or contract (or whatever the document would be) indicating that he doesn't want to come into this world, his choice should be respected. Absent such a signed document, we have to presume that his choice is to come into this world. After all, everyone I know who ended up being born preferred it to the alternative. Whatever the unborn child decides, we should respect his choice--and we should not allow it to be overruled by someone else's choice. That's my opinion, and that's why I'm pro-choice.

Any questions?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Is Anselm's "ontological" argument ontological?

With hat tip to Ben Myers, I note that rising theology professor Cynthia Nielsen has attracted some interesting academic commentary on her treatment of St. Anselm's Proslogion 2 argument (which I shall call 'AP' for short) for the existence of God. The interest of that argument is twofold: it is generally rejected for the wrong reasons, and considering whether there are right reasons to reject it is a philosophically fruitful exercise.

Nielsen's combox discussion confirms that the most common point of contention about AP is Kant's. Thus AP is interpreted as premising that something called "existence" is a "predicate" (or, on some accounts, a "property"). Indeed, if that claim be taken to mean that it is a perfection of anything that there is such a thing as it, then AP does rest on a simple logical error. But Anselm didn't appear to be that dense. He meant that (a) it belongs to the concept of God that God is "that-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be- conceived (TTWNG), and (b) a God that existed in his own right, independently of our minds, would be greater than a God that exists in our minds as a merely imagined or "intentional" entity. If so, then God cannot exist only "in the mind" as an imagined or intentional entity. By itself, of course, that does not prove that God really exists; all it proves is that, if God exists at all, he exists really not merely intentionally. As Norman Malcolm once suggested, the question is really whether God, as TTWNG, is relevantly conceivable to begin with, so that it would make sense to say that such an entity really exists.

Given as much, the traditional Thomistic objection to AP is that, since what-God-is (i.e., the "divine essence") is not properly conceivable by us, the premise that God is TTWNG lacks enough content to allow the needed inferences. Now prima facie, that objection seems a bit of a cavil. All AP needs is the claim that, however else the divine essence can or cannot be conceived, it must be conceived as TTWNG and that something which is TTWNG cannot be a merely intentional object. And that claim seems true enough. So the main question really boils down to whether anything which is TTWNG is conceptually possible. And this is where the Thomistic objection gains its real force. In order to show that a TTWNG is conceptually possible, we must possess a fully perspicuous account of what the concept of it entails. But on most classical-theist accounts, we possess no such account. If there is a God, we can say many true things about him; but we don't have a clear enough idea of what they mean to enable us to demonstrate, from incontestable premises, that such an entity is conceptually possible.

And so I take the value of Anselm's argument to be how it shows that, if God's existence is possible at all, then it is necessary. It is not logically necessary, but really so. 'God exists' does not have the force and clarity of a logical theorem; rather, it entails that there is something existing eternally, uncausably, and unpreventably and is God. The value of AP, which isn't really an "ontological" argument like Descartes' and criticized as such by Kant, is that it tells us something about what sort of existence, if any, to ascribe to God.