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

Friday, September 26, 2008

Surviving abortion, surviving Obama

The Obama campaign is doing its best to destroy the credibility of abortion survivor Gianna Jessen. She is what certain Catholic mystics like to call a "victim soul." But she's not just a victim: like all "victim souls," she's a weapon of the Spirit. That's why the Spirit's opponents are going after her.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tipping into insanity

In prayer of late, I can't escape the feeling that the world is at a tipping point. It is time to offer ourselves for whatever role God has in mind for us on the other side of that point.


1. The only creatures on Wall Street who seem able to make a deposit on a BMW this week are the pigeons. Congress blames the near-collapse of our financial system on the greed and heedlessness of basically everybody other than itself, just as most of its constituents blame it on the greed and heedlessness of...well, of everybody other than themselves. Meanwhile, the members of Congress chiefly responsible for investigating the crisis, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass), have been among their respective bodies' chief recipients of Fannie and Freddie largesse. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), is now under investigation for violating the very tax laws that his committee is responsible for writing and reviewing.

Beyond conflicts of interest, which the MSM consider petty for Democratic officeholders, the current wrangling is about a bill proposing that the long-suffering taxpayers of America pony up hundreds of billions of dollars for the salvation of Wall Street. Mind you, such a bill is on the table not because anybody thinks Wall Street actually deserves a bailout, but because we would like the consequences of the financial industry's collapse even less. The alternative to mercy for the few just does appear to be hell for the many. But the wrangling, which is entirely bipartisan, is about how many sugar pills are needed to blunt public bitterness about helping guys who had pocketed billions while the value of their companies' assets was tanking. (Maybe we should forget bailing out the Street directly, and just give all homeowners, including those currently in default, subsidized mortgages instead. People who pay their mortgages make money for the mortgage-issuers. Just not as much money as they had grown accustomed to.) If the bill's core provisions pass, appointed Federal officials will have virtually unlimited power over the nation's economy. And they probably won't be able to use that power with any confidence, because nobody can figure out how to price the junk securities that would have to be taken off the holders' books and sold off. I mean, $700 billion here, $700 billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money.

"He has scattered the proud in their conceit" indeed. But basically, we did all this to ourselves.

2. We are losing the war in Afghanistan. I'm sure it tickles Satan that we are losing despite a combat kill-ratio of at least 50-1 in our favor (and I'm talking dead militants, not civilian deaths that are tragedies it would be macabre to count in anybody's favor.) We are losing because the enemy has sanctuary in Pakistan but we are limited to fighting almost entirely within Afghanistan. This is the war that Barack Obama says ought to be our main focus. Given the impending "security agreement" with the Iraqis, the Afghan/Pakistan war front will indeed be the next president's main focus whether he wants it to be or not. But I wonder how he'd manage it. I wonder how anybody anywhere would manage it. We could win if we were free to eliminate the al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in the lawless FATA regions of Pakistan, but the Pakistanis fire on us if we so much as fly a chopper a few hundred yards over the border. Instead, the Pakistani Army has made costly and inconclusive efforts of its own to keep the enemy at bay. It is clear both that Pakistan can't win this thing on its own and that its government would not survive accepting from us the direct combat help they really need. So the problem just gets worse, and worse, and worse as the body count mounts on both sides. It's useless and tragic. Just the way the Enemy likes things to be.

The new President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, is not one to inspire confidence. He is president only because people really wanted his far more talented, dynamic, and courageous wife to be, but she was assassinated last year by the terrorists. This past weekend, Zardari barely escaped assassination himself when the Islamabad Marriott, along with about 60 lives, was destroyed by a suicide truck-bomb; he and most of the government leadership avoided incineration only because they decided at the last minute to dine at the Prime Minister's house instead. Such is the precarious situation of the only Muslim country in the world with a nuclear-weapons arsenal. That's right: a nuclear-weapons arsenal. Swell.

I hope that Presidents Bush and Zardari, who met last night in the White House, are able to come up with a workable strategy. But action that might make a substantive difference will probably have to await the inauguration of Bush's successor. By that time, things will be worse. I'd rather have an old warhorse like McCain than a lightweight like Obama dealing with such problems by then. But I don't even know that I have that comfort to look forward to.

We didn't really do all this to ourselves. Islamic extremism and 9/11 are not our fault, despite what some in the West prefer to believe. But a lot of people, including some who are not our enemies, think we've invited all this by how we've behaved before and since 9/11. And whether or not that's true, the fact that a lot of people round the world believe it's true means it might as well be true. Whether or not we broke it, nobody else is going to fix it for us. The Russians almost seem to enjoy the pickles we're in.

3. I said that Pakistan is the only Muslim country in the world with a nuclear-weapons arsenal. If current Iranian boasts, the IAEA report, and Israeli intelligence estimates are any guide (the CIA doesn't count any more), that may cease to be true sometime next year. The Thug-in-Chief is enriching uranium, testing ballistic missiles, and building swift-boats for the Strait of Hormuz at breakneck speed, even as Iran's oil production declines due to lack of infrastructure investment. He was in New York just yesterday to rub our noses in our problems, announcing before the UN General ASSembly that the end of both "the American empire" and "the Zionist entity" is at hand. (At least this time he didn't go uptown to my alma mater and inform the students that there are no homosexuals in Iran. Maybe he finally realized that he hadn't yet killed them all.) We had better take this creature very seriously indeed. I can almost hear those 3,000-plus centrifuges humming.

I once imagined that the Thug-in-Chief was just a garden-variety psycho, a convenient front-man and potential fall-guy for the real power, Ayatollah Khamenei. But each is just as vicious and focused as the other. They are not psychos. They are hate-filled religious fanatics who believe that the Mahdi is coming soon, and that it's their job as his servants to hasten the chaos and destruction which will make his return timely. They are serious about destroying Israel and driving the U.S. out of the Middle East. Their reverses in Iraq have only made them angrier, more determined than ever to hold The Bomb over our heads. Negotiations serve only to buy them time for their schemes, and sanctions don't hurt them enough to matter. I expect that the next Israeli government, currently in the process of formation, will be the one to proceed with destroying Iran's nuclear facilities—with quiet blessings and covert forms of backup from the West. It will be necessary; it is already necessary. But once it happens, more hell will break loose, even as it's been gathering force in Pakistan. Lovely.

4. The above are only the most obvious things to Americans who follow real events as opposed to celebrity gossip and media-driven gotcha politics. There's much more scary stuff going on in the world, and I'm sure I haven't heard the half of it. But the one thing I can't leave out is genetic engineering.

Scientists appear to be on the verge of creating the first artificial life-form. I do not believe that God will permit humanity to alter nature in that way to any great extent.That's because I believe God's plans for us are good but not yet ripe. He won't allow us to destroy the balance of nature, and thus ourselves in due course, before his plans are ripe.

I can't help feeling that we are approaching some sort of apocalypse. I do not say it will be the Second Coming; nobody has any idea when that will happen. But I sense that divine intervention, unmistakable to any with eyes to see, will be needed and granted. Prepare by learning complete trust in and love for God. You won't be able to control even your little patch when the world, which prefers other gods even when it gives lip service to God, tips more and more into insanity.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I wish I could do it now

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has just called Sarah Palin "disabled." You can read why here. This is on top of his current spate of ethically questionable financial arrangements, which Nancy Pelosi doesn't think merit any disciplinary action. The outrage is justified. But it won't last because, in this presidential campaign, one achieves outrage fatigue very quickly.

I ran for Congress against this guy in 1988. He was endorsed by both the Democratic and the Republican parties. Although he wouldn't debate me, I did better than his two previous opponents, getting more than 2% of the vote with just a little effort. Of course I was a sacrificial lamb, but I had made a point a few people listened to.

I wish more had. I wish I could make the point now. I bet more would listen.

The religious basis of religious tolerance

From the current issue of First Things:

In our day, ideological minorities seeking refuge in the protections of the Constitution frequently do so in a manner that pits the Constitution against the American people. That is understandable, but it is a potentially fatal mistake. Keep in mind the preamble and irreplaceable premise of the Constitution: “We the people . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” That is to say, the Constitution and all its protections depend upon the sentiment of “we the people.” Majority rule is far from being the only principle of democratic governance and it is not a sufficient principle, but it is a necessary principle. In the Constitution, the majority imposes upon itself a self-denying ordinance; it promises not to do what it otherwise could do, namely, ride roughshod over the dissenting minorities.

Why, we might ask, does the majority continue to impose such a limitation upon itself? A number of answers suggest themselves. One reason is that most Americans recognize, however inarticulately, a sovereignty higher than the sovereignty of “we the people.” They believe there is absolute truth but they are not sure that they understand it absolutely; they are, therefore, disinclined to force it upon those who disagree.

It is not chiefly a secular but a religious restraint that prevents biblical believers from coercing others in matters of conscience. We do not kill one another over our disagreements about the will of God because we believe that it is the will of God that we should not kill one another over our disagreements about the will of God. Christians and Jews did not always believe that but, with very few exceptions, we in this country have come to believe it. It is among the truths that we hold. And by which we are held.

Read it all.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Catholic voting in 2008: the best analysis so far

Cosmos, Liturgy, Sex has an excellent analysis of the issues facing Catholics in this year's presidential election. Appropriately, it relies on the bishops' well-balanced instruction Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.

There's been a great deal of heated rhetoric on this topic from both left and right. I've tried to do my bit to moderate things, but CLS's approach is the best I've seen so for.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Prophecy from Thomas Merton

VI: In the Ruins of New York

Oh how quiet it is after the black night
When flames out of the clouds burned down your cariated teeth,
And when those lightnings,
Lancing the black boils of Harlem and the Bronx,
Spilled the remaining prisoners,
(The ten and twenties of the living)
Into the trees of Jersey,
To the green farms, to find their liberty.

How are they down, how have they fallen down
Those great strong towers of ice and steel.
And melted by what terror and what miracle?
What fires and lights tore down,
With the white anger of their sudden accusation,
Those towers of silver and of steel?

....The ashes of the leveled towers still curl with tufts of smoke
Veiling your obsequies in their incinerating haze
They write, in embers, this your epitaph:

”This was a city
That dressed herself in paper money.
She lived four hundred years
With nickels running in her veins.
She loved the waters of the seven purple seas,
And burned on her own green harbor
Higher and whiter than ever any Tyre.
She was as callous as a taxi;
Her high-heeled eyes were sometimes blue as gin,
And she nailed them, all the days of her life,
Through the hearts of her six million poor.
Now she has died in the terrors of a sudden contemplation
Drowned in the waters of her own, her poisoned well.”

Can we console you, stars,
For the so long survival of such wickedness?
Tomorrow and the day after
Grasses and flowers will grow
Upon the bosom of Manhattan.
And soon the branches of the hickory and sycamore
Will wave where all those dirty windows were--
Ivy and the wild-grape vine
Will tear those weak walls down,
Burying the brownstone fronts in freshness and fragrant flowers;
And the wild-rose and the crab-apple tree
Will bloom in all those silent mid-town dells.
There shall be doves’ nests, and hives of bees
In the cliffs of the ancient apartments,
And birds shall sing in the sunny hawthorns
Where was once Park Avenue.
And where Grand Central was, shall be a little hill
Clustered with sweet, dark pine."

From: Figures of New York
By Thomas Merton, OCSO
(New Directions: Norfolk, Connecticut, 1947)

(Emphasis added; HT to Spirit Daily.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Prof. McInerny on Pelosi

All too briefly we were permitted to savor the image of the Speaker of the House poring over the writings of St. Augustine in the watches of the night, looking for things of which the Bishop of Hippo had been unsure. Always mindful of the public, she did not keep her findings to herself. In an impromptu lecture to the press, she opined that she could tap into the putative Augustinian ignorance and go on killing babies and be as good a Catholic as he. Seemingly San Francisco had made her an honorary STD.

And then, mirabile dictu, the chiding voices of bishops were heard. Not one, not two, but half a dozen, perhaps more. Admonishing bishops have become almost as rare as theologians in Congress, but here we had corrective statements remarkable for their pith and point. There is no cover in Catholic doctrine for abortion, any more than there is in natural law.

Where did Nancy Pelosi come by the notion that she could offer alternatives to “official” doctrine and that this was actually the Catholic thing to do? Where would she have acquired the confidence that abortion is a live option, that everyone could just follow his own “conscience,” that moral absolutes are no more? The answer is simple. She is a typical product of Catholic education.

Read the rest.

Quotation of the day: on freedom

"...once you intuit the Absolute, humility is the only option. It is as natural as the urge to dump a bag of manure on Bill Maher."

—Robert "Gagdad Bob" Godwin

Did Palin have a choice?

by Perry Robinson

One of the lines beginning to codify as a criticism of the Republican V.P pick Sarah Palin is that she made a choice to have a child with Down syndrome but that she would deny that choice to other women. She is therefore a hypocrite. Dr. Rahul K. Parikh over at Salon.com is one of many Obama surrogates who puts forward what looks like an argument. But this in fact isn’t a good argument against voting for Palin or her political position. In fact it is far from clear that Dr. Parikh or others who I have seen put forward this line have even grasped the issue.

But before looking at the reasoning, it is useful to examine Dr. Parikh’s article for the way the popular press usually frames the matter. Often enough doctors are employed as political mouthpieces since our society holds doctors generally in high esteem. Doctors have expert knowledge in things medical, and abortion is a medical procedure. But there is logical legerdemain here. While doctors do have expert knowledge in medical procedures, they rarely have expertise in the ethics of those procedures or ethics in general. Vivisection is also a medical procedure but hardly moral. The question on the table is not a question of technique or skill but of permissibility and obligation. As Socrates warned, craftsmen were still fools, for while they actually possessed some knowledge in a few areas, they made the mistake of thinking they were qualified to speak as experts in others. Readers should treat physicians as laymen in the field of ethics unless they have good reason to think otherwise.

Another way the matter is usually framed is in terms of being a scientific question. Authors drone on about this or that procedure dropping the litter of technical jargon as they go. Dr. Parikh wastes a good deal of his reader’s time describing and explaining genetic and statistical data as if the cause of disagreement was a lack of information on one side. The issue on the table is the ethics of abortion and whether Gov. Palin is violating some sound legal or ethical principle in wanting to deny the legal right to abort a child with Down syndrome or a perfectly healthy child for that matter. None of the scientific information that Dr. Parikh cites and elucidates moves the ball down the argumentative field.

Often the sympathy is moved from the recipient of the procedure to the hardships to be endured by the parents of a special needs child. Dr. Parikh makes this shift when he argues that the appropriate way of looking at the matter is not one of eugenics but of pity. “But try telling that to a mother who is told early on in her pregnancy that she will be raising a child who will have a host of medical and developmental problems, requiring intense medical and social attention for the rest of his or her life. It can be tragic and nearly impossible news to bear.” But no one doubts the hardship of raising a special needs child. What is more, it is difficult to see how we get from the hardship of raising such a child to the conclusion that it would be morally better to make the child the recipient of suffering in the womb. It is eugenics even if it is dressed p in an appeal to pity..

But even more so, Dr. Parikh begs the question. If the unborn entity is a human being and hence not capable of being classed in terms of property, then it is really quite irrelevant the hardship that the parents will face in raising such a child. And here is where Dr. Parikh has failed to grasp the issue. Are humans capable of being legitimately classed as property? If the fetus is my property, then it is my choice what I do with my property. If it is merely connected to my body but not my property, then choice goes out the window.

Looking at the matter squarely should remind American readers that we have had this discussion before in the debate over slavery. It is fundamentally the same debate just recast in the context of size and development. Slave owners made similar arguments in defense of slavery. They weren’t forcing their choice to own slave on any one else. They wished to leave that question open and this was because they presupposed that Africans were not human beings. They were “pro-choice” and the abolitionists desired to remove from the law that choice since the humanity of Africans morally trumped choice. As Kant wrote, objects have a price, but persons have a value.

The question that Dr. Parikh has failed to face is whether humans in the womb are legitimately classed as property or not. If not, then Gov. Palin is not violating some ethical norm or legal principle in advocating the removal from private choice the act of abortion. She is no hypocrite as Dr. Parikh suggests. In fact, for Palin, I’d argue it already is a matter of law. For her I’d suspect along with say Dr. King, the moral law trumps the written law of the land. For Palin, she never had the kind of choice that Dr. Parikh imagines she did. It is akin to asking me if I would torture my three year old for ten bucks. It isn’t ever going to happen. It might as well be a law of nature.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Why a vote for McCain isn't a vote for cannibalism

In June 2004, just as the American presidential-election campaign was ramping up, then-Cardinal Ratzinger issued a "memorandum" to the U.S. bishops entitled "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles." Undoubtedly timed to address the specific controversy about the worthiness of pro-Roe Catholic politicians, such as John Kerry, to receive the Eucharist, the memo also if briefly addressed the more general question whether, and if so under what conditions, Catholics can licitly vote for candidates who favor liberal abortion or euthanasia laws. Meant to be confidential, the memo got leaked; any Catholic can read it. Indeed, any Catholic who is literate enough to understand it probably should read it, for the same issues have come up again this election year. Yet now there's a special twist.

It is of course nothing new that we have a Democratic candidate who not only favors the Roe regime but also opposes banning partial-birth abortion. Without judging the consciences of Catholics who will vote for Obama anyhow, I cannot do so in conscience, and many American bishops seem to concur (see the USCCB PDF). For Catholics have a duty to oppose abortion by any and every morally legitimate means within their power as individuals; in a democratic society, that includes trying to persuade people to approve laws forbidding abortion, or at least voting for candidates who would favor such laws. But candidates who support the Roe regime are logically committed to holding that abortion should remain a "constitutional right," immune from infringement by legislation; hence, they are committed to refusing to return the issue to the people, where the normal processes of moral and political suasion can be put to work against the worst form of social injustice in contemporary times. That stance, to my mind, is morally indistinguishable from formal cooperation with abortion; and I do not believe there are any "proportionate reasons" weighing clearly in favor of voting for such candidates despite their formal cooperation with abortion. Even though that is an old debate, I shall have recourse to it in considering the new twist: the Republican candidate, John McCain, though morally opposed to most abortions and also anti-Roe, also favors, and hence favors Federal funding of, embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR).

That is morally objectionable inasmuch as ESCR entails killing the embryos from whom the stem cells are taken. Given as much, some in the Catholic blogosphere call McCain a "medical cannibal" and/or "baby harvester," morally no better than his opponent. They are wont to conclude not only that they personally cannot vote for McCain, but that it would be at best inconsistent, perhaps even hypocritical, for Catholics who oppose any-and-all pro-Roe candidates to vote for McCain. My aim here is not to persuade them that they ought to vote for McCain—a matter best left to their own consciences—but to argue that it is neither inconsistent nor hypocritical for a duly pro-life Catholic to do so.

I begin with the Ratzinger memo. Here's the first part to note:
The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a “grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. [...] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propoganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it’” (no. 73). Christians have a “grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. [...] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it” (no. 74).
Undeniably, what Cardinal Ratzinger said above about abortion and euthanasia applies just as well to ESCR, a practice which involves directly killing the innocent. Catholics may not vote for legislation permitting or funding ESCR, or even in "take part a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law." Accordingly, the question be to considered is whether Catholics can, in good conscience, vote for a candidate who favors ESCR even if the candidate opposes most or all forms of abortion or euthanasia, as does McCain.

It would seem not. The memo concludes:
A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.
So, it is immoral for a Catholic to vote for a candidate on the grounds that the candidate favors permissive laws about abortion or euthanasia. And the same considerations apply in the case of ESCR. But it does not follow that no Catholic can, in good conscience, vote for a candidate in spite of the candidate's favoring abortion or euthanasia or ESCR. A Catholic may do so given sufficient "proportional reasons" to do so; in that case, the voter would only be involving herself in "remote material cooperation" with the intrinsic evils in question, which is not itself sinful. When a candidate favors laws permitting, even funding, the killing of the innocent, could there be such proportionate reasons?

Pro-Obama Catholics, such as Prof. Douglas Kmiec, say yes. In their view, the sum of Obama's policy positions would, if adopted, tend to reduce abortions by reducing the costs of childbirth for women, thus making abortion a relatively less attractive option for many women than it now is. Couple that with McCain's less generous, more typically Republican social-policy stances, along with his support for "wars of choice," and you get a calculus according to which Obama comes out de facto as the more pro-life of the two major presidential candidates. Now for many reasons, I don't find such a calculus credible. Not in the slightest. But this is not the place to explain why; the bishops and others have already done a reasonably good job of that. The point is that it is quite possible for a Catholic to accept such a calculus in good conscience. Such Catholics are, from my standpoint, just as mistaken as other loyal Catholics believe me to be mistaken about the Iraq war or capital punishment. But I wouldn't say they are committing sin just for being mistaken in that sort of way and voting accordingly. For all I know, their error could be perfectly innocent. So, voting for Obama in spite of his favoring permissive laws on abortion, euthanasia, and of course ESCR is not necessarily immoral even if it is objectively mistaken. In the circumstances, one can see why a loyal, informed Catholic might think there are proportionate reasons to vote for Obama even though, in my strongly-held opinion, there are not.

The same holds a fortiori in the case of McCain and ESCR. McCain does not believe that ESCR should be a constitutional right insulated from legislative infringement. He believes that, given the pre-existing stem-cell "lines" and the therapeutic promise of further research, ESCR should be conducted and funded. He is objectively and gravely mistaken, for scientific as well as moral reasons. But given how and why he's made this mistake, I believe McCain is educable on the subject—unlike Obama on abortion. So I believe a Catholic can, in good conscience, vote for McCain in spite of his ESCR stance, because there are arguably weighty "proportional reasons" to do so. He is morally opposed to abortion and anti-Roe, and he favors many other policies that I believe would, on the whole, be good for the country. Of course he is far from sainthood. In the USA, we will almost certainly never get a president whose policies comport perfectly with the social teaching of the Church. As always, the question is whom to hold our nose and pull the lever for. I don't believe that loyal, orthodox American Catholics would be either logically inconsistent or personally hypocritical in doing so for McCain.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sometimes it's just easier to do standup...

Wish I'd thought of that. One wonders how much more money I'd make with it though.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11: In memoriam

The best I could think to do on this anniversary is offer this podcast by The Anchoress. It is drawn chiefly from the Liturgy of the Hours' Office for the Dead.

Pray well, and remember.

[This entry is cross-posted at Philosophia Perennis.]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Two women I'm jealous of

The first is Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent for the London Times. And I'm only a bit ashamed to admit it. I'm not jealous because she has a significant other who isn't me; I don't know and don't care whether she has a significant other. For that matter, I don't know or care whether she has any money. No, I'm jealous about two other things.

One is that she's having a good time in Rome doing her job, as you can surmise from reading her most recent columns. I'd love to be working in Rome myself, and I'm pretty sure I'd have a good time doing it. Over the last few months, two well-placed friends have initiated contact with me about the possibility of teaching philosophy in Church-affiliated institutions there. It's been made clear, by the people in the best position to know, that there's a need for what I have to offer. So I've followed up. The problem is that the Italian Government, for rather understandable reasons, is very anti-immigration right now. They don't want foreigners taking jobs from Italians who could do them. I doubt it would help that I'm of Italian ancestry. Perhaps the solution is to go to Rome as a student to earn a papal licentiate in theology. I'd love that too, and I dream fondly of paying for it with a teaching fellowship. We shall see. In the meantime, Ruth makes me green.

Another thing I'm jealous of her about is her ignorance. In her most recent column, she writes:
...no-one has yet explained to me the moral justice of a situation where a priest sacked for child abuse could turn up at his local parish church and receive communion (after confession of course), while a perfectly good woman whose husband has run off with the nanny and who has been fortunate enough to fall in love and marry again but does not fulfil the requirements for an annulment, could be refused it.
Well, in the combox to that column, I and several others explained it to her. Given the Church's doctrinal premises, the juxtaposition of policies that Ruth finds so puzzling makes perfect sense. There have been times in my life when it would have been very convenient for me to be in Ruth's position of ignorance. But God has not granted me that luxury. So I'm jealous of Ruth on that account too.

The other woman I'm jealous of is Camille Paglia. Her most recent column for Salon.com, devoted chiefly to discussing the Sarah Palin phenomenon, reveals things about Paglia herself that are breathtaking in how they combine intellectual honesty and unapologetic vice.

A self-professed "atheist" and "libertarian," Paglia had never belonged to the herd of independent liberal-feminist minds. Consider this:
One reason I live in the leafy suburbs of Philadelphia and have never moved to New York or Washington is that, as a cultural analyst, I want to remain in touch with the mainstream of American life. I frequent fast-food restaurants, shop at the mall, and periodically visit Wal-Mart (its bird-seed section is nonpareil). Like Los Angeles and San Francisco, Manhattan and Washington occupy their own mental zones -- nice to visit but not a place to stay if you value independent thought these days. Ambitious professionals in those cities, if they want to preserve their social networks, are very vulnerable to received opinion. At receptions and parties (which I hate), they're sitting ducks. They have to go along to get along -- poor dears!

It is certainly premature to predict how the Palin saga will go. I may not agree a jot with her about basic principles, but I have immensely enjoyed Palin's boffo performances at her debut and at the Republican convention, where she astonishingly dealt with multiple technical malfunctions without missing a beat. A feminism that cannot admire the bravura under high pressure of the first woman governor of a frontier state isn't worth a warm bucket of spit.

Spot on, Camille. And her assessment of Palin is also spot on. But my question as I got into the article was, as always, about abortion. I soon got my answer:

But the pro-life position, whether or not it is based on religious orthodoxy, is more ethically highly evolved than my own tenet of unconstrained access to abortion on demand. My argument (as in my first book, "Sexual Personae,") has always been that nature has a master plan pushing every species toward procreation and that it is our right and even obligation as rational human beings to defy nature's fascism. Nature herself is a mass murderer, making casual, cruel experiments and condemning 10,000 to die so that one more fit will live and thrive.

Hence I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion, which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps of insensate tissue. The state in my view has no authority whatever to intervene in the biological processes of any woman's body, which nature has implanted there before birth and hence before that woman's entrance into society and citizenship.

On the other hand, I support the death penalty for atrocious crimes (such as rape-murder or the murder of children). I have never understood the standard Democratic combo of support for abortion and yet opposition to the death penalty. Surely it is the guilty rather than the innocent who deserve execution?

How many "pro-choice" Democrats, i.e. the vast majority of Democrats, are willing to admit openly that they see abortion as "murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful," yet insist that the right of women to "control their own bodies" should be upheld even at such a cost? A few, perhaps, but not many. How many "pro-choice" Catholic Democrats who believe the same are nonetheless far from being "pro-choice" when it comes to the death penalty? I love the way Paglia busts open the categories of syndrome thinking. In fact, I'm jealous of her for how she manages to make a decent living out of doing just that. Also, the majority of her enemies are the right ones. I haven't managed that yet either in my life.

Of course maybe I shouldn't be jealous of Paglia. Like me, she had a Catholic upbringing in New York State, so she probably has less excuse for ignorance than Ruth Gledhill, if she can even be thought of as ignorant. But she sure has fun knowing what she knows and acting on it. I want some fun doing the same on my own account.

OK, don't worry. I have now taken a deep breath, apologized to the Virgin, and repented.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Marian Papacy

I had meant to post this yesterday, the feast of Mary's birthday, but got rather full of myself writing about freedom. Still, I remain pleasantly surprised.

John Allen, of the National Catholic Reporter no less, has convinced me that Pope Benedict is consciously placing his papacy under the mantle of the Virgin, just as his predecessor did. Actions speak even louder than words. I doubt the Pope knows something that Tradition doesn't; but he sure knows something a lot of his theologian colleagues don't.

See this page for a good account of the feast. Meanwhile, I suspect Rome is catholicizing Mr. Allen, in spite of who signs his paycheck.

Monday, September 08, 2008

You can't parody this

From The Boston Globe: "Kerry Kennedy talks about her new book, in which she strives to reconcile her Catholic faith with the teachings of the church."

Read that quote again. Then watch the video.

She even says at one point that certain "words and symbols" of the Church are "anathema" to her. If you know the context in which that word is traditionally used...well, my talents as a parodist can't begin to match this one.

This entry is cross-posted at Philosophia Perennis.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

"Crunchy" theology of the body?

I kid you not. Most of us have heard the phrase "the domestic Church". A few Catholics even use it. In the theology of John Paul the Great, it designates the Christian family. And in his "theology of the body," one gets quite an inspiring perspective on how conjugal sex figures in founding and nourishing the domestic Church.

Now consider this from the theology blog Inhabitatio Dei:
David Matzko McCarthy’s Sex and Love in the Home: A Theology of the Household is perhaps the best theological treatment of marriage and sexuality to be written in recent years. One of the great things about the book is the way in which it really explores what it might mean to think about sex “maritally” so to speak. McCarthy argues that sex only has its meaning and only is what it is in the context of a shared nuptial life which is in turn shaped and determined by the couple’s participation in the church-community.

I haven't read the book, but I get the sense from ID's discussion that McCarthy is developing JP2's theology of the body along lines that would make the Crunchy-Con crowd proud. Which makes it all the more surprising that the post itself never mentions TOB explicitly. If I had the time and money for such things, I'd buy the book and do a serious review.

Is this a model for evangelization?

It's a Jesuit one, of course. You decide

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Hell and Sarah Palin

The selection of the Governor of Alaska to be the Republican candidate for Vice-President has stirred a frenzy. She's just what the Republican base of activists loves; hence their new moniker "Baberaham Lincoln." By the same token, she's just what the Democratic base of activists hates; hence the revival of her old sports nickname "Sarah Barracuda." One might think, as I first did, that the frenzy is just another one of those tempests-in-a-teapot that politics yields up every few weeks or so. I no longer think so.

Made for ordinary political reasons, Senator McCain's choice has brought to the fore "the culture wars" that both presidential candidates would prefer to shy away from. The revival of the culture wars started with Obama's "Wright problem," continued with his dissimulation about his stance on the Illinois "Born Alive" Act, and proceeded apace with his performance at Saddleback. Catholics stayed focused on the culture wars when the bishops, in a too-rare display of magisterial muscle, took House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to task for her public account of Catholic teaching on abortion. But Palin's ascent has taken the wars to a new level. We're seeing here not just an acceleration of the news cycle, but a glimpse of a truly spiritual war.

I have been convinced of that by two writers I have long respected despite their flaws. One is Peggy Noonan, a former Reagan speechwriter, accomplished author in her own right, and self-confessed "Bubblehead," meaning somebody whose head lives in the inside-the-Beltway bubble. In Noonan's syndicated column about Palin, published yesterday, I find nothing to disagree with. What stood out for me, though, was this:

This new war on new turf is not good, and carries the potential of great harm. Everyone really ought to stop, breathe deep, and think.

I am worried they won't. A friend IM'd the day after Palin's speech, and I told him of an inexplicable sense of foreboding. He surprised me by saying he shared it. "Calling all underworlds reporting for duty!," he wrote. "The bed is about to fly around the room, the puke is about to come out." He meant: this campaign is going to engage unseen powers and forces. He meant: this campaign, this beautiful golden thing with two admirable men at the top and two admirable vice presidential candidates, is going to turn dark.

I agree. There are "unseen powers and forces" at work in this epochal election, and they don't like Sarah Palin. All the more reason to like her, worry for her, and pray for her. The flap about her pregnant daughter is only the beginning.

Then there's Robert "Gagdad Bob" Godwin of one of my favorite blogs: One Cosmos. A practicing PhD psychologist with degrees from secular universities, Bob is not the sort of person one would expect to talk about demons and mean it literally. But he does, not infrequently, as part of his brilliant, ongoing synthesis of scientific psychology, religious "esoterism," and orthodox Christianity. So, I take him very seriously when he says this:

Make no mistake about it: Sarah Palin is being tested, not just by the left, but by the demonic energy they embody. You will note that their energy is chaotic, disorganized, hysterical, shrill, bullying, harassing, disorienting, intoxicated, "over the top." The only way to make one's way through this storm of insanity is with divine assistance. There is no other way. One must surrender to the higher in order to master the lower.

The lesson applies to her would-be boss too:

Perhaps it is fortuitous that John McCain is our candidate, since he has literally been to hell and back. No, not the Hanoi Hilton. Rather, he was once the darling of the barbaric media whordes. Now he is their demon. He, better than anyone else, should now understand that he was treated well so long as he served as a useful idiot for them. He capitulated to them in a way he never did to the Vietnamese, perhaps because they are more seductive and flattering. Does he understand what is going on? I mean, the lesson could not be more vivid. What does he need, a signed affidavit from the Father of Lies that he is under spiritual attack? What else do you call this frenzy? It is designed not just to counter the light, but to exhaust and demoralize. To make people say, Okay, I give up. It's just too much. We'll replace her with Tim Pawlenty.

Now each in their own ways, Noonan and Godwin can be over-the-top, especially the latter. But I don't think the observations I've quoted are at all over-the-top. We know why hell doesn't like Sarah Palin and John McCain: they are against legal abortion, and the latter in particular has been turned by bitter experience into a servant of God. Now the role of hell in opposing them is unmistakable, for those with eyes to see.

Friday, September 05, 2008

McCain's theological rationale

[OK, I lied. When I started Philosophia Perennis last week, I gave out the impression that I would close down this blog. But I've come to realize that some of my thoughts are better expressed here than there. I want to keep PP as a place for high-level philosophical and theological discussion. But even I can't limit myself to that. I have much more to say, politically and personally. The place for that is here.]

Given how much theology and pseudo-theology have been swirling about Barack Obama as a candidate, I thought I might transfer something of that interest to John McCain. The thing is worth doing because there's gravitas there.

I listened to McCain's acceptance speech (full text here) last night. Much of it bored me, as most political speeches do. But I started perking up toward the end, when he related his POW experience, how that experience changed him, and how the result relates to his campaign for the Presidency.

What he said, in effect, is this: being imprisoned, mistreated, and manipulated by the North Vietnamese for years, reducing him at some points to complete dependence on his fellow American prisoners, but never causing him to accept his captors' cynical offer to release him out of turn, taught him that his life was not about him. It was about serving others in a cause greater than himself, and being constantly grateful to God for the opportunity to do that, no matter how much suffering and how many setbacks that might involve. That is the pivotal factor which has made John McCain the man he is. That is what makes his candidacy worthwhile.

Of course McCain has wanted to be President of the United States for many years. That means he has quite an ego, like most politicians—especially most Senators, who would love to be President if they could be. He is quick-tempered, unpredictable, and often takes pleasure in irritating, even alienating, ostensible allies as he reaches out to those they consider enemies. He is not a saint, any more than Barack Obama is a saint. But unlike Obama, McCain is an authentic hero. He didn't just go through a hazing rite. He didn't just kill. He was forged for a long time in a searing crucible. He professes to believe that his political career is justified only in terms of what motivated him then and what he learned then. Even if I thought he was insincere in that profession—which is not for me to judge—I would believe what he professed.

It is those terms, not his rather vague and understated theology, which explain why he is what the pundits call "pro-life." Years ago, his wife induced him to adopt a sick child she had taken off Mother Teresa's hands in Bangladesh; and this year, he has picked as his running mate a gun-totin' "hockey mom" who bore a Down's-syndrome child, as her fifth child no less, rather than abort him. OK, so he's wrong about some things, including embryonic stem-cell research. So what? I've never encountered a politician who's right about everything; I've never even encountered a pope who's right about everything. But I would vote for McCain over Obama even if Obama were pro-life, which he manifestly is not.

Obama is a smart, ambitious young man who, like McCain, benefited hugely from having a strong, loving mother. A law professor for nearly a dozen years, he has more academic smarts then McCain. He's a far more polished speaker than McCain. He professes to be about "change", so much so that the word has become a mantra; and the change is supposed to be from the partisan politics of division to the bipartisan politics of accomplishing what the American people so clearly want and need. But when one looks at Obama's record, what one finds is the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate. If such a man could reach out across the partisan divide as President, that would only be to toss a few crumbs he could afford to toss to a shrinking, demoralized Republican minority in Congress. McCain, by contrast, has a legislative record which proves he can work with Democrats, even liberals, to get things done. A lot of people, especially a lot of Republicans, don't like what thereby got done; but that, to me, is a truly secondary matter.

Thanks to Wendy's, the American lexicon now includes the question: "Where's the beef?" The important thing to me is that McCain has the beef to be President—not just as an agent of "change," whatever that would amount to at day's end, but more importantly as a man. In a world growing ever more dangerous and challenging, that's what we need. I don't expect all my readers, even all my blogmates, to agree with me. But I think I'm giving voice to a spirit that will move many voters, including many Catholic ones.