Saturday, December 23, 2006

Whence Christmas?

Mark Shea's got an excerpt from his upcoming book about where we got Christmas, or more to the point, why we have it when we do. I won't repost it here, being a bit long, but it's worth a read, and there's some good stuff in the combox that fills in a few other details. Just permit me to highlight a few details and then ramble on, on my own, for a little while.

Christmas was not merely a reappropriation of pagan winter holidays. Early Christians were very interested in how their Jewish forebears scheduled things, and not so much what pagans did.

While the Church did sometimes "baptize" pagan practices once it had the momentum and resources to evangelize whole nations, it wasn't simply a matter of putting a Christian skin on a pagan animal. Easter--still called Pascha in the Eastern traditions and in many other languages, and described with the adjective "Paschal"--near the vernal equinox, but more importantly it followed (and in the East, still does) closely the Passover, which is in the spring for its own reasons. Christmas, December twenty-fifth, is no more (even less so) pagan than exchanging rings at weddings. First of all, Christmas comes nine months after the independently scheduled (for the most part--when you've got imperfect record keeping, there will always be conflicts between placing an event when it's thought to have taken place and placing it in relation to another event a specific length of time away) Feast of the Anunciation, which gives any relation to Saturnalia a circumstancial flavor, and had been so set since before Aurelian's promotion in 274 of the celebration of Sol Invictus, which had been a minor holiday until the Emperor decided an alternative to the Christians' nativity feast was necessary. The Christians, turning the astronomical imagery into a metaphor for the Son Himself, were not having any of it.

There's no closer relation between Christmas and pagan holidays than there is between Santa Claus and Old Man Winter. The gift exchange doesn't even stem from Hannukah, which is a relatively minor Jewish holiday (you'll find the original events in Maccabees 1 and 2), but rather from the Feast of the Epiphany, which takes place a little after Christmas, but the adoration of the magi as well as of the shepherds got rolled together with the Nativity, at least in the U.S.

But anyway, merry Christmas. I'll probably have a little more for you around the Feast of the Mother of God. I always get good material when I'm hangin' with the fam. Pax.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Development of doctrine and priestly celibacy

There is currently a discussion about the history of marriage restrictions in priestly and religious life in the Church going on in the Bible and Christianity forum over at ISCA. One recent post briefly summarizes the nature and history of consecrated life; in the penaultimate paragraph, a few apparently androgynous mystical experiences are cited, and the piece ends with the following paragraph:

Why does the Catholic church still insist on celibacy and male-only priests? Their justification is still largely sacerdotal purity, though inheritance issues also drove the demands for celibacy in the 11th and 12th centuries. They claim that as priests are the representative of Christ on Earth, he cannot be represented by a woman. But the Catholic church is reaching a crisis point; many diocese are terribly underserved, as older priests retire and die and as the church weathers the storm of child abuse scandals. It's likely that, within our lifetimes, we will see a change on these fronts, but the pontiff will have to be forced into accepting it. If there aren't enough priests to maintain a parish, something has to give. Either accept married priests in the ranks or ordain women.

Some of the flaws in the argument are obvious. Two thousand years ago we learned the significance of a distinct, ordained male priesthood; one thousand years ago, we learned the value of a priesthood not divided between parish and family. These benefits aren't just practical; you don't solve a pragmatic problem by compromising principles. I can see a relaxing of the rules preventing married men from getting ordained, but not anytime soon; the tradition, though not the rule, of celibacy is two millennia old, and orthodox seminarians are on the rise. As for the pope being forced into accepting anything, the user who posted the article apparently doesn't understand papal infallibility; from the Church's perspective, a pope couldn't contradict Ordinatio Sacerdotalis even if he wanted to, and from an external perspective, the doctrine of infallibility itself would shield him from political pressures for compromise.

I've seen this pattern in the Church before, and I don't think it's a coincidence. Five hundred years ago, there were nascent Protestant movements promoting iconoclasm and simplicity of worship. What was Rome's response? St. Peter's Basilica. John Paul II was the most ecumenical pope to date, and what was one of his most favorite topics? Mary, perhaps presently the greatest stumbling block to Protestant dialog with the Church.

Why does the Church not take more opportunities for emphasizing common ground? Is schism not worse than heresy?

Well, it is, but perpetuating the scandal of heresy just to end schism isn't much of a bargain. My point is that this crisis is not a sign from God to the pope that the doors in all the seminaries and iconostases need to be flung open. I think it's an opportunity to emphasize how important a celibate, male priesthood is. In a time when the priesthood is at a nadir in number and quality (sorry, but the pedophilia angle is usually invoked by now), insisting on admitting only single men into the seminary is a dramatic sign of what the priesthood is.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Currently reading...

Science and Religion: some historical perspectives, John Hedley Brooke

A two-foot stack of neglected issues of Newsweek, AOPA Pilot, Flying, and This Rock. There's probably still an issue or two of Parenting mixed in for some unfathomable reason, too.

"Theology of the Body" Explained, Christopher West and George Weigl. Well, I keep starting it....

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I just got news that my dad's cancer is still playing hide and seek with his liver, so I don't really feel like posting anything right now. Prayers, for healing for my dad and strength for my mom, would be much appreciated.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Apologetic for a Random Reader (II)

The claim by fashionably skeptical secularists and a few para-Christian groups: "Santa Claus is a myth. We don't even know where the idea came from."

If by "we" you mean "those of us who prop up our own convictions with our own convictions, rather than careful study," then yes, you don't know. If by "don't even know" you mean "can't find evidence documented to 21st century standards," then you're only half wrong; we have documentation on where and when he lived and who he was, and then historical traditions that are pretty consistent in the relevant details.

The popular incarnation of Santa that we see today was started the better part of a century ago in a Coca-Cola ad campaign, but the trail doesn't exactly get cold right afterwards. The name comes from the Dutch "Sinterklaas," which is a contraction of the Dutch for "St. Nicholas."

Nicholas, an actual saint, was a fourth century bishop of Myra, in present-day Turkey. Especially in Europe, he's still depicted as a bishop, complete with miter and crozier. His feast day is December 6, when I should have made this post. He was known for giving anonymously to the poor, to the point that after his death such anonymous charity continued and was still attributed to his actions. He is also the patron saint of pawnbrokers; three gold balls are traditionally hung outside of pawn shops in honor of his best-known anonymous gift, three bags of gold secretly tossed into a poor man's house as dowries for his three daughters. Well, it was anonymous at the time, anyway.

The name Kris Kringle comes from the German for Christ Child (probably thanks to Martin Luther), in the interest of focusing on Jesus Himself over a man who...well, I needn't remind you of the whole commercialization-of-Christmas thing, which even then could have added to the distraction from Christ, if not added to the richness of a Christocentric holiday. Somehow the name and the saint were conflated.

There is the most tenuous of pagan ties through what we think of as Father Christmas. In some places in pagan Europe, around this time of year a man would dress as what we'd recognize as Old Man Winter; centuries ago, the old man would go house to house, where the hospitality shown him was supposed to reflect how gentle the winter would be to that household. There was no association with bringing gifts; the only material holdover I can see would be leaving him a snack, and even that one is mitigated by the fact that hospitality isn't exclusive to paganism, and that St. Nicholas traditions exist even where Christmas doesn't happen during cold winters, so placating a personification of the weather doesn't even have the remotest symbolic value.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Single parenting...

The December 4, 2006 Newsweek has an article about the boom of children being raised primarily by (i.e. in a household with) one parent. It starts with the usual examples of people who are surprised and then blasé when they play the odds on modern courtship practices and lose, and then gets into the sociological ramifications.

On the one hand, single parenthood is shown to be less than a tragedy, since people are getting married later and later in life (and, I infer, condoms will break at any age), so kids outside of marriage are just going to happen. On the other hand are the likes of Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, who draws a connection between single parenthood and child poverty, and with welfare dependence, both of which contribute to future births of children with unwed parents. Continues the article:

But sociologists say many of these kids actually fare pretty well, especially when two parents are involved. The determining factor seems to be family stability--and marriage has no lock on that.

Duh. Marriage might not have exclusive rights to domestic stability, especially in this day and age, but which arrangement tends to be most stable in the first place?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"Be excellent to each other" theology

I sometimes--often?--sound a little derisive when I use that term when people rely on Matthew 5-7 as a behavior guide to the exclusion of the rest of the Gospel, because while it revolutionized how we should treat one another, the first half of Matthew 7:1 is often used as the lens through which the entire Sermon on the Mount is viewed, with supporting evidence like "Jesus didn't condemn the adulterer" and "He ate with tax collecters."

Turning the other cheek is great, but there is more to loving your neighbor than simply damping down the cycle of violence. Refraining from judgment is great, but you're not loving your neighbor by telling him his sins are good. The last thing Christ told the woman was "Go and sin no more."

Correcting the sinner, instructing the ignorant, and counseling the doubtful are spiritual works of mercy. None of them runs counter to any of the others. Picking out a few at the expense of the others may be convenient, but saying something like "You don't have to be helpful as long as you're kind" is sort of like spoiling a child, and it's a sin against justice. Charity may be the greatest of things, but justice, too, is a good.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Joyful Mysteries

Almost thought I forgot, dinn'tcha? Or weren't you even keeping track? Well, I did almost forget.

  1. The Annunciation

    Mary can be seen as analogous to the Jews as a whole. They were chosen by God to be the ones through whom the Savior would be brought to the world, a societal tabernacle as well as possessing the gold and wood one. Then Mary was the tabernacle of flesh, the apotheosis of the tabernacles of flesh that we all are before the end of Mass.

  2. The Visitation

    I often wonder how much Elizabeth knew or suspected about her child or the child of her cousin. Zechariah no doubt wrote down everything Gabriel said for Elizabeth to consider, but imagine what she was thinking when she wanted to tell Mary the great news of finally having a son, one destined for great things, only to find that Gabriel had meanwhile told Mary of the great son she too would have. From her exclamation when John leapt in her womb, she must have known something great was afoot. What did they talk about during their three months together? Did they realize that the culmination of salvation history was actually upon them?

  3. The Birth of Jesus

    This mystery is bittersweet. Truly, the Incarnation, in sanctifying creation by God's entering it, is something monumental, and like the other third mysteries is a fulcrum, in this case the locus of the history of salvation. It is said later in the Gospel that Jesus was unwelcome in his home town. Jesus, in some ways, faced that fact right since the Nativity. Joseph and Mary could find no lodging, so they had to stay with the animals. When the magi came, one of the gifts was myrrh--not a sign that he had no place in the world, but a foreshadowing of death, a sign of how life in this world is transient. Soon the holy family would have to hide out in Egypt for a spell. In time Jesus would reveal that we who are in Him also shouldn't be thinking of this world as home.

  4. The Presentation

    This one also has a sad tinge to its joyfulness. The presentation itself, and Simeon's affirmation of the Christ upon seeing him? Great. Simeon's prophecy, that a sword will pierce her heart? Sad. Did Mary have any idea of what sorrows were in store yet? Prophets were usually called when God wanted them to begin speaking for Him; what was God doing coming to the mother of someone destined to be great (or in the case of Zechariah, the father)?

    ...but suffering is redemptive, and Mary was united to Christ in sorrow and joy from the beginning.

  5. The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple

    I like to think of this one in part as a reminder of the Eucharist. Look for Jesus: sure, you'll find Him amongst us, we who live in Him, but don't be surprised to find Him physically in the House of God, also. If it weren't for the Real Presence, He would not be there in any meaningfully different way than He is in the hearts of the faithful or in the Scripture.

    This mystery, like the others, is more complex than simple joy or sorrow. Jesus would not have been the kind of boy who got into trouble, so not seeing him for a while in a caravan probably filled with family and friends would itself not have been a great cause for worry. Finding that none in the caravan had seen him, and searching for Jesus for three days in the holy city, on the other hand, would have been. Where did they find him? In His Father's house, conversing with and impressing the teachers. While Luke tells us Mary and Joseph didn't understand why Jesus had to be there--Where was He even staying at night? Did the rabbis or scribes not think to ask after his parents?--they would have understood how a man leaves his parents to fulfill his own vocation, and in time they should have come to know the emptiness parents feel when their child strikes out on his own, and the pride in seeing the child now as a man.

    In the end, Luke gives us a sign that, like the wedding at Cana, prayers to Mary can be effective, for Jesus will give her what she asks of Him: When they find Jesus in the temple, they bring him home rather than leaving him to his Father's business, and (Luke 2:51) "He was subject to them."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Speaking of guns...

Gonna change things up a bit, try to cleanse the palate. I want to talk a while about the proper use of handguns in personal defense. I'll try to avoid the question, my answer to which I telegraphed in a recent post, about whether using guns to defend yourself is at all acceptable. I'm going to assume it is for the sake of the argument--the Just War tradition is enough of a precedent for these purposes--and that it's legal in your state and town. Throughout this post you may be motivated to contemplate whether using guns in self defense should be done at all; this question is a good one to try to answer for yourself before leaping into the fray, but first, ask yourself if it's effective self-defense you may be unwilling to engage in, or do you just have a distaste for guns? If the former, I hope you came to that realization before you got a gun and were facing down an attacker; if the latter, I hope you have a black belt.

Before I get to guns, allow me to pass on some advice given to me by a few people I know who have had some training in personal defense. Before you even worry about packin' heat, there are two things everyone can do to minimize the likelihood of becoming a target.

The first is to practice positive situational awareness. The nature and degree of your alertness may depend a bit on your circumstances, but always try to be aware of what's going on all around you. Who's nearby? What are they carrying or wearing? If one of them starts causing trouble, am I near easy egress or some cover, so I can slip away or hide? If I'm getting sized up or picked out as a target, can I do anything to dodge this unwanted attention or protect myself? Does anyone else here seem to be thinking the same thing? Does anything else seem out of place? Does anyone look suspicious?

Don't worry if it seems like a lot of questions to keep in mind. Usually you don't have to go beyond "Who's around me and where are they?" when you're walking down the street; if you habituate yourself, the others will come to mind when appropriate. I'm not saying you need to be paranoid, even alarmed, all the time. Just take it all in and casually keep track of it, like how you should watch out for other traffic and pedestrians when you're driving. You don't even have to react; most people aren't criminals whether they stand out or not, which leads to the second thing you can do.

You can make it apparent that you are paying attention to your surroundings. When you see someone, go ahead and make eye contact, but don't hold it--staring seems threatening--and comport yourself as if you're not threatened by anything around you: you're not overly casual, which would make you an easy target, but you're alert and relaxed and you're not looking for trouble. When asked what kind of people they'd target for mugging, killing, raping, convicts consistently cited folks who appeared clueless or timid or both, regardless of size, build, appearance, age, race, and gender (well, maybe not for rape).

When it comes to using guns, remember that they are deadly weapons, and lethal force is generally not appropriate for defending property. I heard a story about a cop whose policy was, in the case of a break-in, to wait at the top of the stairs with a shotgun and warn the intruders that they could take whatever they wanted before help arrived, but if they came up to where the bedrooms were, things would get ugly very quickly.

Shooting someone is a gravely disordered act. Grave disorder isn't the same thing as sin, though, so you may be justified in doing so when you're reasonably confident that you or your charges will be harmed or killed if you do not act first.

I said "reasonably," not "absolutely." There's no way to be absolutely certain that someone is going to shoot you until he pulls the trigger, and by that time, it's probably too late. You don't have to wait until you're bleeding to death to try to save your own life or the lives of your family members; then, it would probably be too late again.

You might not have to shoot, however. It's possible that drawing a gun is enough of a deterrent. I wouldn't count on it, but if all you know is that someone's in your house, you don't want him to get the drop on you, and if all he wants is your TV, he's not going to be interested in dramatics. Indeed, a burglar who hears you yell from upstairs "I've called the police and I'm armed!" especially if he hears you rack a shotgun, may surprise you with the speed of his departure.

Still, don't count on it. Like I said above, firearms are deadly weapons. Don't carry one if you're not prepared to use lethal force, and don't take it out unless you think lethal force would be warranted. Your purpose isn't to kill, your purpose is to stop him from killing you; his death may be justified under double effect, since his life is proportional to yours, and force sufficient to kill him is necessary to prevent him from exerting force you believe will kill you.

Some people, in the interest of not appearing bloodthirsty or due to incomplete acceptance of what wielding lethal force means and what it requires (and what may require it), may suggest or admit to firing a warning shot, or shooting someone in the leg to incapacitate them. These sentiments are well-intended, but profoundly foolish on multiple levels.

First, if you fire a warning shot, what are you shooting at? Not the intruder. Up into the air? The bullet will come down with the same speed that it left the barrel. Into a wall? Better hope the wall's thick if you're not using hollowpoints, or you might be hitting people in the next room. The floor or something else hard? The bullet might ricochet or fracture, going who knows where. Off in the distance, past the intruder? Better hope there's no one downrange, just out of sight.

If this guy's not intimidated by the sight of a gun, which is common in habitual criminals who've been shot before, especially if they're hopped up on drugs beyond all reason or awareness of pain, he's not going to be impressed by the fact that you're willing to waste a bullet making a big, scary noise. You didn't show him you're not afraid to use it; all you did was show him that you're reluctant to use your weapon for its intended purpose, which means you're a much softer target than you appeared before you fired. If you just missed him, or if he thinks your warning shot was just a near miss, don't wait for him to make the next move; if he's not scared off, you don't want to give him the chance to start shooting back or take your gun.

Second, if you fire away from the perpetrator or try to shoot him in the leg, from a legal standpoint you're saying that you felt using a lethal weapon was appropriate, but actually using lethal force was not. If you're not in a position where putting a perp on the ground is necessary, then taking out your weapon in the first place is a clear and dramatic overreaction. Once you draw your gun, there are only two proper resolutions: you incapacitate him, or he runs off before you get the chance; no theatrics that allow him time to evaluate strategies for retaking the upper hand, no trying to use a lethal weapon contrary to its legal purpose (which is a standard even cans of spray paint are held to).

Shooting someone in the leg might not even stop an assailant. He'll probably go down, but if he's used to the pain, the two arms he has left would still be more than enough to shoot you back, and it's a risk you don't want to take. Ask any seasoned cop, especially one from a city with a gang problem, and he or she probably has at least one good story about "bullet sponges," people who have taken a lot of bullets--even to the head and chest--but just don't go down

Further, if you shoot him in the thigh, you've got a decent chance of hitting the femoral artery, or of breaking the femur, which itself is liable to lacerate the femoral artery (a broken femur may be the only "hurry case" in first aid involving a broken bone because of the likelihood of severe internal hemorrhaging from such a laceration), so your attempt to wound rather than kill may backfire: because of these dangers from a thigh injury, it might be interpreted by the authorities that you weren't trying to stop your attacker (since a shot to a limb is often not immediately incapacitating), but were to give him a mortal wound instead of subduing him.

Finally, some studies show that only 30% of bullets in a gunfight hit their target, even in close quarters with shooters aiming at center of mass. If you're aiming at a smaller target, you're going to be even less likely to hit it, especially if he's walking or running. With the chaos of the confrontation and your adrenaline and the recoil, don't count on having an accuracy anywhere close to what you might achieve under slow fire conditions at your friendly neighborhood shooting range; if you aim for center of mass and miss, you're still more likely to hit some part of him, and while a gunshot to the leg isn't great, it's more effective than nothing.

If you're not prepared to use your gun when you need it, don't even carry it. The last thing you want is someone frisking you, finding it, and shooting you with it. You really don't have to be bloodthirsty, but it's not some game; your mugger isn't a schoolyard bully you can escape by wit or brown-nosing. If I'm asked for my wallet at gunpoint, I'll let him have it; if my wife is told to get in the car with him, I'll let him have something else.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Postmodern word magic: taking the realness out of reality

I think I need an editor. I thought I published this post back when it was still warm up north.

Something crossed my desk or my mind a while ago on gun control (Google "gun control logic" and look at the second item at the Freerepublic link, or the whole article at Posse Incitatus for a reasonable impression) that I kept forgetting to post about, and I was finally moved to try writing when I saw some adolescent on TV saying everything non-anarchic was fascist and yelling at people not to defend ideas she didn't like because the power of their words might compel others to believe them instead of believing the ideas she did like. Really high school caliber philosophy--which is only fair, despite how often I hear it from so-called adults on the Internet and elsewhere--but it captured the essence of a lot of what I see on the broader stage in the world at large: that facts don't matter as much as symbolic gestures. I've touched on it before, but I'm past due on making myself clear.

Well, as clear as I ever get.

Maybe the insistence of having reams of laws against guns, despite criminals not following them anyway, is based on this postmodern (although conservatives have their Orwellian moments as well, like the recent redefinition of torture) notion that words have power--not that they really have none, but the notion is that they have power above and beyond material facts. Thus the notion that it is not simply more convenient to suppress unwelcome ideas, lest someone be swayed by them, but actually better than countering them with words that are powered by such things as logic and truth; and efforts of pure propaganda are as valuable and effective as efforts of, well, work. Thus, banning guns makes neighborhoods safer, even though criminals will break laws anyway just to maintain a tactical advantage during a confrontation--or at least people will feel safer because something has been done--or at least people will feel useful because something has been done, and as long as it's a gesture towards safety of some sort, then the feeling of usefulness or accomplishment can be sublimated into the illusion of genuine safety.

A more accessible example may be free speech "safe spaces" on college campuses where criticism is curbed, but rather than guaranteeing the opportunity for dialog on unpopular issues, public opposition ends up being prohibited on the grounds that any critical rationale is itself suppressive or offensive, that the ideas that deserve to be aired also need to be protected from disproof all the more because the disproof may be so compelling. They say they're protecting free speech from being overwhelmed by some other kind of speech, but what's actually happening is unpopular speech is being protected from fair engagement. While it's true that unpopular speech might evoke irrational, drowning responses, there is a difference between giving unpopular ideas a fair chance to face popular ideas on a level playing field, and saying "Free speech means giving the unpopular idea the appearance of popularity; it will be protected and promoted, and popular ideas, which might run against it, will not be permitted to trample it." Almost a conceptual Affirmative Action.

Zombie has a good example (although the obscured sign's pretty tacky anyway) here.

After all, words are just labels anyway, or vice versa--trying to reclassify things that are offensive in PC terms to make people feel better (not that there isn't such a thing as tact); as if putting a good label on something bad heals it, and putting a bad label on something good taints it far worse than anything in reality could; or putting a label at all on something nebulous is what really causes it to manifest, as if we were God.

(Now that I think about it, I'm wondering: is this phenomenon of hocus-pocus relabeling, of making superficial gestures, with the presumption of a material improvement of some unjust situation even though the only apparent change is how we act around the situation, a mere coincidence, or is it a systemic mockery of a certain liturgical event where something changes substantially, at the speaking of a few words, into something greater, even though the change isn't visible?)

Philosopher Michael Levin made a similar point, particularly about language use and thinking. "The failure of 'comrade' and 'citizen' to induce political equality suggests that language does not and cannot shape thought in the manner or to the extent supposed by egalitarian reformers. Attempts to alter putatively biased thinking by altering the language which expresses this thinking reverse cause and effect." Positive thinking does have some power, but only God's will is sufficient to enact change by the strength of its own presence.

I saw such rhetoric in the Affirmative Action debates back when the University of Michigan's admissions policies were all over the news. Trying to correct, or even overcorrect, for systematic oppression is one thing, but they had folks who weren't just saying that a little reverse discrimination is the price we have to pay to rectify an injustice in our society, but were actually proposing that a little reverse discrimination was the magic bullet, an end in itself, because it gives the historically downtrodden minorities a tactical advantage, and it shows capable rich white students what it's like not to get what they want. At first I thought it was just anti-AA people tearing down straw men, but my impression wasn't entirely accurate.

Occasionally a dissenting professor would write to the local paper explaining how quotas hurt everybody, because students, who got quotaed all the way through grade school, would get quotaed--someone please suggest a better verb--into U-M (it seemed like usually the less affluent districts enacted such unnuanced policies themselves), so classes would fill up with students who didn't need a break from the admissions board so much as they got too many breaks in the classroom. Good, rich students had a harder time getting in. Even good, poor students got less help than advertised. What did the bad students who were admitted get? Lousy grades. They lacked the chops to handle college courses, not just the flowery extracurriculars that made kids in rich districts so appealing to the boards.

Before you ask, I'm not implying any connection between race and academic potential, or economic class and academic potential. I am only saying that when you favor nonacademic criteria, you tend to select against candidates who are more academically qualified, which should be self-evident to anyone but the most pathologically egalitarian. Preferential admission from a pool of qualified candidates may be a good thing to try; regularly cutting slack for individuals in underprivileged categories who've consistently underperformed is exactly the same thing that leaves colleges with all-star athletes who can't read or subtract.

So, what kind of response do these troublemaking professors get? A little bit of "We're stopping the buck with you. Find a solution; you're the instructor. Besides, social engineering takes time." Also a disturbing amount of "Shut up. We have Affirmative Action in place. The problem's solved, the trouble's over. The only thing holding us back is you saying otherwise." Not that "If it weren't for you" is exclusively a postmodern relativist's technique.

I guess it's only "fair," though. Smart kids end up without college degrees and jobs that don't make the most of their talents; illiterate athletes get sheepskins they don't need after getting professional contracts, or at the least don't deserve; mediocre students, having beaten out better applicants, drop out and fight smart, uneducated kids for so-so jobs or graduate with credentials that don't impress anyone and end up fighting smart, educated kids for so-so jobs.

Wow, am I being unfair? Life's unfair. Expect much from the one to whom much has been given; don't tear it away from him. I'm happy to help people who need it--which isn't fairness but charity--but rewarding people in inverse proportion to their achievements is even less fair.

We saw a lot of this "make a gracious gesture" thinking that valiant efforts are as important as--even the same as--successful efforts in the sentimentally pontificating "apology is policy" 1990s. The way the rhetoric was flying around ten years ago I wondered if people weren't so much interested in forgiveness and reconciliation as they were in getting a gesture at saving face in the public record.

On one hand, a little positive spin is fine if you want to do something like encourage an uncertain child in the face of an embarrassing situation, or to teach him that winning isn't everything, but finding the value in not winning is important because it's not the same as winning. A good coach, for instance, knows his athletes learn more when their team loses than when they win. He could fairly say that they're winners in different ways, like they learned something about themselves and probably gained a little humility, or by losing with dignity they've won some battle with themselves. If the coach claimed that they should go to the playoffs because they're the moral victors, though, he'd be laughed off the field.

May as well give every Little League team a trophy so they all feel like winners, or don't keep score so no one loses. Let 'em have fun but never let them experience anything akin to accomplishment! You're making the good effort, so the reality you choose to picture yourself in must conform to the success you desire. Let's see how well the kids who have never known defeat will handle it when they finally enter the adult world, fail to achieve what they want, and don't have someone to tell them how they're still good (or the other guy is good despite keeping the win from them) despite concrete signs that they're not the best. Yeah, let's give them a childhood free of any lessons like "there are hard things in life" and "you'll get over it," then we'll really shock 'em!

To be fair, I don't mean to pick just on contemporary feel-good relativists. "Be excellent to each other" theologians, not just politicians, need to try harder to explain why no one would come to a war if the U.S. just decided to stop hosting them, for one thing. For a lighter example, Christian rock bands also need to stop presuming that their music is better than secular artists' music just because it used a cliched, paraphrased pastiche of the Psalms for lyrics. Turning a traditional hymn into a power ballad is rarely an act of talent, nor of inspiration. If some people can praise God to a synthesized backbeat, good for them, but an artist should not come between his worshipful art and worship itself by doing things like butchering the art. I'll go with it in church because I'm worshipping too, but I won't buy it, and I wouldn't sell it.

Friday, November 17, 2006

You may be able to legislate morality, but you can't outlaw apathy

Sometimes someone will recommend compulsory voting to enliven the franchise. I'd like to discuss why I think it's as effective as using a sledgehammer to clean a window.

The motivating complaints usually include voters thinking their votes don't count (particularly when the candidate they vote for loses), or are ignored by the real decision makers, voters aren't interested enough in election issues to bother making the trip, and voters being so dissatisfied with all the candidates that they effectively vote against every candidate by staying home.

Well, we have mandatory taxation and jury duty, so why not command performances at the polling location?

Okay. Would it really help, though? How many people look closely at their taxes just because they're required to pay them? If the IRS filed 1040s for everybody and just sent a copy of the form with a check or bill for the refund or debt, how many people would really review every line to make sure every item was in order? I think someone's trying to make a horse drink, here.

"Oh, but you can still refrain from casting a ballot once you've gotten to the poll, if you want to abstain." If I am allowed not to vote, why should I have to show up to abstain? Is gambling on apathetic voters thinking "Well, as long as I'm here" really what we want? I'm all for an equal vote for every citizen, but how many citizens who wouldn't have bothered to vote are going to try to make a concerted effort in preparation and figure out how they feel about the current issues and candidates?

Not as many, I suspect, as the ones who vaguely recognize political headlines and sound bites that go into or run counter to the policies they already hold, and then try to find some way to apply it all to the unfamiliar-looking names and proposals they now see in the ballot before them.

People have the right to vote that way, but how is getting more people to vote poorly an actual improvement? Practical suffrage aside, there are many other important issues out there that I'm not involved in but could be. Maybe I don't have a knack for them, or I'm not interested, or maybe I can only spread myself so thinly. After a point, I end up accomplishing less by trying to do more. Perhaps I've underprioritized a few things, but being told or strongarmed into rearranging my priorities isn't what will convince me that a new arrangement is better.

Unless apathetic voters see good fruit come from being forced to show up at the polls, they're not all going to magically see the wisdom in executing their civic duties. Frankly, the problems that keep them away are not close enough to the polling locations for any meaningful connections to be made.

"Well, it worked in Australia! When they mandated voting in 1924, voter turnout rose from 60% of the electorate to 91%. It's never been below 90% since then, and is often even higher." Yeah, see, it's really funny, because enforced laws by their nature force law-abiding people to do what is prescribed. If you're forcing people to show up, you don't have a magical happy democracy, you've got fascism. I bet a lot more people would drive 55 mph on the interstates if we required them to do so, too.

It's that postmodern word magic again. A situation that is problematic as far as it's symptomatic of larger problems is identified, and corrections are proposed. The corrections, heavy-handed and blind as they are, achieve exactly what they were intended to do, no more and no less; and the bigger problem, now with fewer symptoms, is declared resolved. Whatever.

"Higher voter turnout, even if many voters don't actually cast ballots, legitimizes a political system and what comprises it." No, I'm afraid it doesn't remotely do so. Sure, it looks nice when fractions of the electorate near unity show up with enthusiasm and confidently vote for or against something, to the best of their judgment and desire, and if things actually happened that way, then they would actually be pretty good, but mandating an appearance isn't the same as mandating enthusiasm and diligent preparation. The former may fall within the bailiwick of Caesar, but the latter is impossible.

Saddam Hussein had great voter turnout, and he always won by a landslide. The only people who thought his self-perpetuating administration was above the board were in the throes of a rectal-cranial inversion.

Then again, we do pay people a pittance for jury duty. Maybe we could do the same for voting, or at least make it a national holiday. With some of the talk I hear about minimum wage and socialized medicine, it's a wonder nobody's made the argument that some people can't afford to stand in line and read a ballot for a couple hours, even just one hour, instead of working. There's a lot we could do to make voting more convenient, beyond opening the polls really early and closing them really late so people can stand in long lines before or after work.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Political fallout from last week....

So many conservatives and others with traditional/Catholic values are looking at the election results as a major blow.

I'd just like to say "Yes, but."

Okay, I'd actually like to say a bit more, but you already know pithy ain't my strong suit.

Granted, things don't look great. The Dakotan abortion ban failed, Rick Santorum's out, and Missouri's amendment 2 passed. However, the margins were very small. See for yourself. Seven of the eight states voting to protect real marriage did so, some by wide margins and some by narrow margins; the eighth state, Arizona, had its marriage protection bill fail 49% to 51%, which is also quite narrow. What does it mean? It means we're on very even footing, not fighting a battle that would appear hopeless. The culture of death, having momentarily gained the upper hand, lacks what the GOP would have called two years ago a mandate.

What's that you say? Most of the governors, representatives, and senators are Democrats, too? Okay, I'll give you that much, but look again at the numbers: the Democrats control the Senate by one seat, and the House by 33. I'm not trying to equate the Democrats with death and the Republicans with life, but a few more of the big issues this season happen to fall on the right side of the aisle; if you saw fit to vote liberal because you believed there was more potential to accomplish good in other areas, I'm not faulting you. I'm just saying the pro-life movement did better than I, and probably a lot of other people, would have expected ten or even five years ago, considering what it's up against; marriage is being protected more often than not, and sentiments for abortion are dwindling, in some cases hanging on by little more than health-of-the-mother reservations...and Congress?

Democrats control both houses by small margins. Margins that are too small for anything to be accomplished without help from across the aisle. I'm going to hope that there aren't enough CINO (C stands for Conservative in this case) Republicans to cooperate when bills that look like they were written in Amsterdam make it to the floor.

Thomas Jefferson (or was it Thomas Paine?) said "That government is best which governs least." There is good the government can do, but I'd rather it have a hard time doing anything than an easy time doing ill.

It may be a very fine lining of silver, but I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Don't like abortion? Don't have one."

When people make this argument, are they trying to say that abortion is only about what you or I like, not about something objective, or are they saying they believe that pro-life people are just wrong, and abortion is completely okay, so we should just mind our own business?

If it's the latter, then they should assert that argument. "Morality depends on your preferences" amounts to mob rule, not a principle of justice.

If pro-choice types were more bewildered at our opposition than upset, if they really were surprised by how seriously we were taking something they viewed as merely an incidental detail of lifestyle, then I would be willing to consider the former, but rarely is "don't do it if you don't like it" the most personal argument made for abortion.

I'm male, so I can't make a choice either way. Do I thus deserve no opinion? If not, aren't we back on "The Minutemen are not a legitimate voice in the debate on immigration," which falsely presumes that debate--even dialog--is just people agreeing with each other?

Let's apply this template to something more obvious:

"Don't like murder? Don't commit it."

Less compelling, isn't it? Maybe the tactic is robust enough for teaching your toddler the Golden Rule, but it's the beginning of conscience, not the end of it.

We could even turn it around. "Like murder? Commit it" clearly doesn't work, but it doesn't violate the original rationale. "Don't like it if I commit murder? I'm not murdering you, so mind your own business..." and we're right back where we started.

No reasonable person would argue that murder is right, so the last argument they come up with is "Buzz off, I'm not listening?" Pretty bottom-of-the-barrel logic. Hopefully yesterday's elections and the future ramifications thereof will just be a dead cat bounce, as far as early-life issues are concerned.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

How to vote (well, not which way to vote...)

With the elections right around the corner, I thought I'd cover a few things about voting. Some of them have been routinely covered elsewhere but deserve to be emphasized for completeness and, well, emphasis. Some seemed like no-brainers when I was getting my elementary school civics lessons, but I still sometimes hear them used as excuses for voting contrary to one's preferences, or for not voting at all.

Living in a democracy, we are generally obligated to vote, just as we're generally obligated to jury duty when we're called, to pay our taxes, to drive the speed limit, and so on. It doesn't mean we have to mark our ballot for every item we see; if we're ignorant of some of the issues, it's quite plausible that abstaining on one or more issues would be prudent.

There might also be a valid argument for abstaining completely, for exercising your right (it is treated more as a right than an obligation, generally) not to vote, but since you're effectively increasing the proportion of people voting against whatever you'd be voting for, I can't think of a scenario where total, active abstention would be a compelling choice. Feel free to chime in if you can think of any.

Don't listen to anyone who tells you to leave your religion or personal morals and beliefs out of the voting booth. In a free democracy, you can vote however you want. If you are conscientious, you will vote sincerely for the candidates or bills you believe are best for the common good, and against those you believe are not. "Best" may mean clearly and gravely good, and it may just mean minimal remote material cooperation with evil, to the best of your judgment. Voting what you believe is right is what voting is for. If someone has a good reason for you to vote the way he or she wants, against the way you want, let them try to convince you so that you are willing to vote the other way; don't let them convince you that you shouldn't vote a certain way, regardless of your belief that whatever you would vote for would be a good thing (or what you'd vote against would be bad). It's just another case of "tolerance for me but not for thee," or "You're not a valid part of this debate because your position is the one contrary to ours." You're not imposing your morals or religious beliefs on others, you're not obligated to separate religion from government. You're just trying to participate in the public decision making process about what's in the best interest of your society, and using your morals (and hopefully your reason, too) to make that decision, exactly like what the other guy's doing, only he's saying his morals aren't morals at all because they're not traditional, or that his atheistically rooted position alone is proper for informing government because if religion (not just an establishment of religion) shouldn't interfere, then an assertively anti-religious philosophy (which flirts with interfering categorically with establishments of religion). It's not your job to separate religion from government; it's the government's job to stay out of religion's way and to refrain from incorporating religion into itself.

If you hold what I'm calling unconventional morality or don't believe in God, don't be offended at my use of you as an example. I still want you to vote your conscience. I just see traditional people of faith told to vote against their consciences most often by people who claim to be beyond what the average person regards as morals and faith. Each citizen gets one vote, deserving of it or not, and each citizen can decide on his or her own where it should go, from all the options available. If a person shouldn't vote a certain way for reasons not grounded in the issues, if there are choices that would effectively be unconstitutional, then they should never have made it to the ballot in the first place. Once it's an option in the booth, it's fair game for the voter. Still don't like it? Contest it in court; don't interfere otherwise.

An election is a race of sorts, but you are not a competitor. You can't "waste" a vote by voting with the losing candidate any more than you can waste it by voting for a candidate who doesn't need your vote: a candidate who wins by more than a one-vote margin. The polls are about determining the will of the people. Everyone already knows that people generally want to win; getting on the bandwagon is just an abuse of the franchise.

Whether your candidate wins or loses, the margins can tell us something about the sentiment of the populace. Better to take a principled stand and throw in with an unpopular candidate who, you think, is right, than to fall for some celebrity-worship "I was on the same side as the guy who won" rationalization. You know those "Don't blame me, I voted for the other guy" bumper stickers? They may have a point, but a narrow victory can say more than a bunch of whiny post-election rhetoric; the former can indicate how public opinion is shifting, but the latter tends to make people just look like sore losers.

Cast your ballot on Tuesday. Vote for what's right, as best you can judge, and pray for guidance just in case. Abstain on an issue if you feel an ignorant choice would be worse than refraining from choosing, or if all the options are so qualitatively indistinguishable that you can't find a meaningful way to judge one better or worse than the other. Just don't treat your vote like a resource that can be squandered or a windfall that should be hidden in a mattress instead of invested.

Monday, October 30, 2006

In defense of Halloween

Lint Hatcher has a book, and a few other things, available at the linked site about the place Halloween has in Christian society. An excerpt of the book is available for download, too.

I just want to make one point that Hatcher didn't quite directly address in the press kit available at his web site. He talks about how many people, especially Protestants, are trying to get away from Halloween because they find all the costumes and trappings are pagan, or at least morbid, and if either one isn't satanic enough, the two together must be.

Well, I think it's crap. Something isn't satanic, or even bad, just because someone who wasn't baptized used to do it. A non-costumed, no-skeletons-in-sight "harvest festival" party is as pagan as anything, but folks know better than to fly off the handle at the staging of one because, hey, harvesting crops is important no matter whom or what you worship (or don't).

Not that I don't believe in Satan. I do believe an angel named Lucifer made a bad choice and has been malicious and spiteful ever since, and I don't think he's one to take lightly--

no, let me rephrase. Satan is not one to dismiss lightly, but he's already on the losing side, and the only One we need to take seriously (although He does have a sense of humor, and is exquisite in joy) is God, the one who's actually in charge. Satan can do us very little harm, perhaps all of which must come through temptation, one way or another.

What I'm saying is don't mess around with stuff that's obviously geared to bringing you supernatural power or making contact with otherworldly forces, but don't give the devil more credit than he deserves. He doesn't deserve that honor. Further, too much of "the devil made me do it" really cuts into your own spiritual growth. It wouldn't be honest for you to deny that there is temptation to which you have succumbed, or to deny yourself the opportunity to learn to deal with temptation when you can't avoid it.

Go ahead, laugh. The devil hates your laughter more than any other reaction you might have. Don't afford him so much gravity that you're more worried about him jumping out from behind every tree, waiting to reach out from under every rock, than about God and the state of your relationship with Him. We make light of death and morbid things not to make friendly with ghostly bullies, as the pagans did, but because death is an integral part of life, one we must remind ourselves that has no permanence, no sting.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Eat Lettuce

I saw "Super Size Me" a while ago. The story should still be pretty familiar: a guy named Morgan Spurlock eats only McDonald's food for a month and puts on weight and gets sick. While the consensus of the major players in the film, that fast food is through and through dangerous, doesn't stand up to more cautious experiments of the same nature (e.g. eating fast-food salads more frequently [which at least have more fiber and nutritive variety than burgers, if not fewer calories], choosing to stick with standard portions, abstaining from non-diet pop, skipping dessert most nights, and perhaps most significantly, not eliminating exercise for the whole month--see "Alternative Experiments" here, or get a broader perspective from any of the sites here), it does serve as a dramatic object lesson in where a lot of America's obesity is coming from. We eat too much, we don't eat a good balance of food, and we exercise too little. "Super Size Me" isn't so much a condemnation of McDonald's, or fast food in general, as it is of some major trends in our lifestyle in recent decades.

Not that I'm exonerating fast food, but my point is that it's just part of the equation, and a single Big Mac will not have a measurable, detrimental long-term effect on a normally healthy person.

There's also the social justice assertion, that McDonald's targets nonaffluent demographics, so the poor suffer the brunt of malnutritious gluttony. I'm skeptical; you can get a flimsy cheeseburger for under a buck, but a "meal" is closer to five, which--I'll give you a hint--is not less than it would cost someone to cook up some chicken breasts and bell peppers, or beans and rice, what with buying in relative bulk instead of oversizing individual meals to get more "value." After the Just In Time revolution in the 1980s, fast food may not even be faster than staying home and cooking something you planned.

"Oh, but they build in poor neighborhoods!" No, they build in commercial districts. Richer neighborhoods might be farther from mainstream shopping areas, but it's going to take a little more to blame Big Drive-Through for economic gerrymandering. Either way, I'm not going to a restaurant I can't afford just because it's close. If decent grocery stores are farther away, don't they also share some of the blame? It's not like McDonald's suddenly swept in to steal all of A&P's previously established generic-label business.

Still, it's convenient if you're on the go (I can't tell you how many times when I was a grad student that I'd leave work, hit the drive through, and go back to eat in my office and continue working); and maybe they do advertise too aggressively a product that is mostly harmless only in modest quantities (maybe we should talk about the Cola Wars next); and that "meal" typically is a burger or other high-octane sandwich, french fries (not "Freedom" fries; "frenching" is how the potatoes are prepared), and a generous fizzy beverage loaded with more corn syrup than...well, they just put too much corn syrup in everything. Save it for the E85!

So anyway, in a fit of whimsy, I was inspired by Spurlock's piece to open a Spreadshirt store where I could hawk shirts admonishing people to bone up on their roughage. There's no threat to my status as an amateur Catholic; I wouldn't get rich even if I sold a lot, and the shirts cost enough by themselves, and some of the designs are less than professional, but sometimes mediocre quality is charming, and anyway I was amused to bring the idea from virtual space to meatspace, and maybe you would be amused to have something to throw on when you're running Saturday errands that's got a message so direct it's cryptic. If not, I'll still be friends with you. Both of you.

(If for some reason it does appeal to you but you don't like the garment or its color, lemme know. I'd also like to get some "Separation of Church and State does not meat separation of religion and the public" stickers, but last I checked they weren't doing stickers yet, so if you'd be willing to ask them to consider stickers, as I already did, it might have an impact.)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Science in the Service of Agitprop

Mark Shea and pals have a lively discussion on whether "naturalness" is a valid basis for arguing whether things like homosexuality in humans are good or bad or not.

In short, it's not a valid basis.

Before we can go that far, we need to understand that "natural" gets used in different ways. To quote Brendon, "the term "nature" speaks of a thing's formal and final cause, insofar as the form of a thing is the principle that moves the thing towards its proper end," when used in Catholic and philosophical circles. It's about the essence and purpose of an entity (and not just what feels correct to that entity). In common parlance, "nature" refers to the physical world, particularly the parts of it that are not altered or damaged by man.

So the "homosexuality is natural because we see it so much in nature" argument is based on the fact that it's observed in so many different species...albeit without great frequency in these other species, and mainly in situations where a population is under great stress (which in some species, like certain frogs, will induce a change in sex in some of the individual organisms).

So what? Some species eat their own poop, eat their own young, kill the young of competing groups. Is anyone going to argue in favor of coprophagia? People sometimes argue that infanticide of one sort or another is necessary, but I've yet to see anyone argue that it's fundamentally natural.

"Mating pairs often go their separate ways after having offspring, and sometimes are not loyal during the mating season." Yeah, and some, like certain swans, mate for life.

Don't swans count as natural?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Was Mary's Fiat Willful?

I've been following a discussion this week over at ISCA regarding the question of whether Mary willingly consented to become the Mother of God. Usually topics over there get recycled every few years, sometimes every few months, depending on how the conversations drift and how often new blood comes in asking to rehash old subjects. The conversation is pretty mellow and charitable right now, but I think they were kind of dancing around what may be the central point. I'll summarize a few of their ideas, pro and con, and then get to what I think is the critical junction.

"Didn't God respect Joseph as Mary's husband?"
Certainly, but marriage's ultimate purpose isn't the honor and satisfaction of the husband.

"Isn't not asking for sex rape? Isn't 'Let it be done to me' the typical response of a rape victim too despairing to resist?"
First of all, "'Let it be done' as 'I give up'" is one of the most profoundly bitter interpretations of any historical or literary event I have ever seen, one that says volumes more to me about the interpreter than the event itself.

Technically, there was no sex, since Mary remained a virgin, so rape isn't any more accurate a term than adultery, but the question of God using Mary as a tool without her consent may still be worth asking. Let me broaden the question first. If Mary were willing, would it still be God objectifying her as a mere, albeit consenting, tool? This question comes up a lot more than just in regard to the Incarnation; how many times have we heard people rail against being treated as (or hearing the unique roles of womanhood being reduced to) a baby-making machine? If being a mother isn't necessarily objectifying--and it's not--then Mary's motherhood isn't, either.

"Mary didn't really have a choice. Even if a woman might consent to rape by an overpowering attacker in the interest of surviving the attack, no one could resist God's will."
This argument sounds more like an atheistic assertion--no worthwhile god would violate our free will, an omnipotent god can't help but impinge whenever it interacts with us, therefore there is no god who deserves our adoration and is capable of interacting with us--than a complaint against any particular Marian dogma. The Fiat is just one instance where we can see the Deity's sovereignty meeting but not invalidating the free will that each of us has. It's a mystery, sure, but if you can accept it elsewhere, there's no reason not to accept it here.

God is infinitely more powerful than any rapist, but He is no bully.

"'Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord' is a fancy way of saying she was oppressed as a woman and conditioned by her culture to obey authority, especially God."
We all should be so oppressed that we are conditioned to obey God. He wants what's best for us and knows better than we do, so it's not like by disobeying we're going to get something better.

"That she would not hesitate to accept the role of Theotokos is probably the key reason she was destined by God for that role."
Ah, free will and causality again. This point leads pretty much to the point I wanted to make.

Given a choice between good and evil, the righteous man sees no choice at all. He still has the will to choose other than the good, but he does not imagine that God is slighting him for providing only an appealing option and an unappealing option. Most of us make such non-choices every day, and even say "I had no choice" when an alternative to some course of action is not so much unreal as unthinkable, without even looking at it as external coercion. The Bible tells us not to kill; how often do we really need to be reminded of that commandment, and do we really feel oppressed when someone does?

Making such a choice is not always clear for us, but God, knowing Mary would accept His Motherhood, set aside Mary as special from the moment of her conception, and caused her to be Immaculately Conceived, free from the taint of sin. If a friend or loved one asks you to do him or her a favor, is your first reaction to gauge the political impact on your autonomy and the convenience of the favor, or to see how well you can help the person? How much more willing would she naturally be inclined to be towards doing the good than your average good person off the street?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Well, I did say I had another post an abortion coming up. I'm just fisking an editorial I read a couple weeks ago about a parental notification bill that was being debated. I don't mean to be too condemning of the editorial as an editorial; it's not like the person was writing a feature article for The Economist, but for an article that's supposed to be factual in a periodical that's not supposed to be yellow, it would be nice if the writer had not tried so hard to cover every point that none of them ended up getting adequately supported.

Well, it makes my job easier (and hopefully their faulty rhetoric more transparent to everyone), but for the sake of journalism, I mean, it would be good for would-be journalists to learn to value of scope.

I'm omitting identifying details, not so much to protect the actors in this drama as to emphasize the universality of the debate.

The writer starts by saying "Last week, under pressure from active conservative organizations, the [state] Supreme Court announced it would strip young women of their reproductive rights. Well, they didn't quite say that...." Of course they didn't, because it's not true. The matter is whether a law requiring parents to be notified before their children can get abortions.

It's not about women, and it's not about rights; girls don't have the right to engage in statutory rape any more than they have a right to drive or a right to vote.

You might have noticed I'm begging a question. I trust you'll indulge me long enough to answer the question, too, especially since the writer begged it first.

Some legal experts have criticized the law because of how poorly it has been enforced, how difficult it has been for pregnant girls to find a court that will let them file a request to circumvent notification, let alone a judge who would grant it. I'll agree that the law is the law; if we accept parental notification as a compromise between unrestricted abortion and a total ban, at least for the time being, then we're obligated to work within the law. However, short of dereliction of duty, a judge should be permitted the same freedom of conscience as, say, a pharmacist.

Certainly, the improper enforcement of a law may be a valid reason to rescind it, like the Separate but Equal doctrine (which was wrong anyway, but SbE was overturned on the grounds that Separate was never Equal in practice, and I couldn't think of a better example). Is the damage done by giving a pass to men with a taste for the childlike really less, though, than the political "violence" done by not letting schoolgirls sleep with college students or graduates?

It is also said that parental notification laws tend to help least the girls who need the law the most. Why, then, doesn't Planned Parenthood step up to the plate and shave off a few of the quarter billion dollars they get from the government, in addition to donations and service fees, for some pro bono guidance through the legal system? I'm sure plenty of affluent pro-choicers would be more than willing to help defray the legal costs for this for-profit charity. If a female is mature enough to deal with sex intelligently, shouldn't she also be mature enough to approach the legal system with some intelligence?

Ah, but who is really benefiting from the parental notification laws? It's touted as being motivated by concern for women's well being, but isn't it more about preventing abortions? Okay, yes, it is; we believe that abortions are terrible, and that by any standard (permissive or otherwise--safe, legal, and rare, remember), abortion is chosen far more often than it ought to be. What I'd like to know is what masked agenda is behind requiring or allowing parental notification for, well, every other non-emergency medical situation, even as trivial as school nurses handing out OTC painkillers, but not for something that can end up being major, elective surgery. Okay, kids can get prescriptions in some states, and condoms (not that they're a drug), and STD testing, but I won't let anyone use them as a counterargument until they can show STD testing and free condoms are not tautologous to the abortion access question.

Oh, I see: it's the girls "whose families would kick them out of the household for an attempt at controlling the fate of their own bodies." Wait, maybe I don't see. Underage sex, especially promiscuous sex, is about control? Are we talking about abortion as a means of control, or is choosing to give in to your new, erotic impulses supposed to be the act of self-control? I thought sex was about love, or at least pleasure; if it's about power, then all it seems to add up to is plain old rape.

In many states, such as where the writer resides, the age of consent is 17, not 18. Is it this age that is everyone's concern? Am I to believe that they would really be happy if consent were raised to 18, so only high school seniors would get some leeway if their greatest mistake was having an overly seductive boyfriend? Probably not; the real concern is not girls who have an accident on prom night, but girls who usually get described in these debates by the pro-choicers as "14 year old women."

I'm sorry, but a 14 year old female is a girl, not a woman; I don't care if she's physically capable of motherhood. Some societies marry off their girls at that age, and it's a pretty stable arrangement, but I don't believe it's an optimal arrangement, and adults are not merely children who have sex, any more than children are just really short adults. Simply throwing sexual activity into the mix isn't treating schoolgirls like women; treating schoolgirls like schoolgirls but accelerating them to the threshold of adult relationships does not make them more mature; and without maturity, liberation, especially in intimate matters, is really misplaced. Shall we also throw off the shackles of kitchen safety and let a toddler feel his own way through the forest of hot stoves and pots of boiling water?

The writer finishes with "...the fact is that most Americans have a much more complex view of abortion than simply allowing or disallowing it." Too true. Most Americans actually believe that abortion should be restricted or prohibited under most circumstances, not generally available with a few particular restrictions (and if going behind parents' backs shouldn't be one, I can't imagine any others that would be much more plausible).

Monday, October 09, 2006

Gay Groups Fight "Don't Ask Don't Tell"

From the International Herald Tribune:

Three young men who tried to enlist at a U.S. Army recruiting station here appeared to be first-rate military material. Two were college students, and the other was a college graduate. They had no criminal records. They were physically fit and eager to serve at a time when wars on two fronts have put a strain on U.S. troops and the need for qualified recruits is great.

But the recruiter was forced to turn them away, for one reason: They are gay and unwilling to conceal it.

I don't know enough about military politics and policies at the moment to be comfortable saying "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is good or bad. I understand that many soldiers would have trust issues with unit members with SSA, and I do recognize that trust is very important in combat, but I also wonder why more people don't advise them just to get over it. It generally seemed to work for racial integration of the armed services.

Yes, I know race and orientation are completely different issues, but I'm not confident I'm seeing the compelling arguments for personal tastes really mattering in the trenches. If the policy is not to talk about it at all, then I'm thinking none of the arguments is really durable.

Whatever; I'm not interested in sussing out that point at all. I just want to ask Justin Hager, one of the three attempted enlistees, a question about his reaction to the recruiter's rejection:

Don't judge me because of my sexuality. Judge me because of my character and drive.

Why, then, did you tell the recruiter about your sexuality? It's a nonissue as long as they give you want you want? Pretty clear case of the "If it weren't for you" fallacy, if you ask me.

The recruiter obviously wasn't going to ask. Soldiers who are married to each other aren't given any concessions on duty. Even straight sex talk in the mess hall is a no-no. Aside from the matter of SSA itself, they still made themselves unappealing candidates by violating "Don't ask don't tell." The policy means that orientation isn't going to come up, so approval or disapproval shouldn't even be on the scopes.

Did these guys have some weird idea of what would or should have been accommodated to them, or did they just get assigned enlistment from the gay agenda?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Battling Ms. Magazine

Via Mark Shea

Amy Pawlak wrote to Mark:

You probably came across the story regarding Ms. magazine publishing a petition of 5,000 names - women who've had abortions and aren't ashamed of it.

This petition will be sent to Congress, the House, and the White House.

I feel it's important that a counter petition - hopefully with 5,000 and more names - also be sent. Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, wrote in a commentary that when she saw a Ms. announcement of the project, "the evil practically jumped right off the page."

If you could link to the petition I'm generating, I'd appreciate it. I know it will probably be a drop in the bucket, but I'm so bothered by this "feature" that I have to do something.

Thanks and God Bless!

What rot.

A weekend activities insert in today's paper contains an adult advice column. Someone had written in asking the "experts" to talk about how AIDS is important to everyone, not just the ones who wind up as statistics.

They started out by summarizing how someone can get AIDS, and pointed out that despite the ubiquity of this knowledge, there are still 40,000 new cases each year, half of which are with people under 25. It's certainly nothing to be happy about.

Well, they feigned mystification at how prevalent the disease still is, even though everybody knows better. They were just trying to be rhetorical, but I think they actually don't understand.

"Why do so many people get AIDS with all this information out there?" the experts asked. "Can't they change their lifestyle? Maybe they could, if they had the means to do so."

What? Young people get AIDS because they don't have the resources to stop sleeping around without enough condoms? Sort of:

"Racism, sexism, and other bigotry serve to repress minorities and other disenfranchised groups. We need to overcome bigotry so no one is hit disproportionately hard by AIDS."

Oh. Not only are rich white Christians keeping condoms out of the hands of college and high school kids, they're also trying to keep them from learning about how they work 80-90% of the time, and from developing some other sort of discipline or self control that doesn't include simply refraining from sex.

I'd say this argument was flimsy, but I wouldn't want to spoil a post I have coming up on abortion.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Since it's Life Sunday and October is Life Month...

Consider the assertion that pregnant women are often in circumstances where they have no choice but to have an abortion.

Don't they? Do other choices just seem more difficult to endure for a longer period of time? Almost two thirds of women who have had abortions said they felt forced into an abortion by circumstances and pressure from people around them.

Her body, her choice?

If you're truly pro-choice, you should be making sure that no woman is without multiple options. A single choice is no choice at all. Maybe you provide one choice yourself, by offering abortions; if Choice is the end you serve by this means, should it not be more important to acknowledge that options resulting in live birth are often workable, even preferable, than to worry about life-only advocates stealing your business?

If not, then aren't you only pro-abortion?

Friday, September 22, 2006

A waning shame of Americans' spirituality is not theocracy

"Your government suppresses the science that doesn't fit its religious, political and economic agenda, forcing present and future generations to pay a terrible price," the ad says.

Suppress? No. Decline to advocate and support? Yes. I will presume that the use of "suppression" is hyperbolic.

There is an understandable but misguided movement to take religion out of the public sphere, to ban religious factors from the political calculus. There is, after all, wisdom in the First Amendment, that secular authority and sectarian authority work best when they work independently.

However, people don't have to be high-ranking clerics or lay religious professionals to have a serious and natural investment in spiritual matters. For most folks, thinking of a transcendent reality is important.

Some folks don't feel such a need. So be it. Some of them think that the ones who do recognize that need are societal dead weight and their indulgence in this vice should be curtailed or at least hidden (which makes me wonder why there aren't more aggressive eugenics advocacy groups in this country, pushing not only to euthanize the chronically and terminally ill but also the severely handicapped). Some look around at a few zealous noisemakers, lump the few thoughtful people who follow a higher wisdom than man's in with the choleric wingnuts on Sunday morning television, and the suddenly hesitant typical religious Americans appear invisible or indifferent at best to religion; and so religion seems a fad finally abandoned by society, or at least successfully marginalized by the choleric moonbats who define themselves as the center of culture.

Well, it's bunk. You don't have to be a scholar of Constitutional law to see that prohibiting the government's entanglement with organized religion has nothing to do with people with a sense of religion participating in government. No, I don't think bishops and priests have a proper place in Congress, or in the president's Cabinet, but it's folly to say that the people at large must also look at religion--the sphere of morality, amongst other things--and politics--the sphere of governing the world--as completely, mutually insoluble things. 'Congress shall not respect or prohibit' doesn't impinge on citizens just because we're a democracy

You don't have to be religious to be moral, but most people go that route, and by and large it's worked as well as any alternative (by which I mean, if you say "Crusades and Inquisition," I reply "Pol Pot and Mao"). No one argues with the basic principles honoring life and property, security in one's person; yet somehow the ones who rely on millennia of teaching inspired by revelation--sorry, superstition--are so dangerous and irrational that only people who claim to derive their morals from pure science (or at least refer vaguely to someone who may have done so, or are willing to subordinate their faith to such self-styled philosophers), whether or not it's a robust or tenable moral system at all. (Hopefully soon I'll have something adequately composed that addresses false triumphalism and psychosis derived from a compelling faith in intentions and premises devoid of effort and reason; remind me to hurry up and you'll see that it makes more sense than it sounds like here.)

What's that? The sound of disenfranchisement? Wasn't I just saying we're in a democracy? We're only not allowed to prevent women and minorities from voting, huh?

(Never mind the bipartisan voting fraud blather. If you didn't like the electoral college, you should've pushed for an amendment before it would have gotten you a different president on the backs of disenfranchised voters from the sparsely populated majority of the country; otherwise you just come off as bitter and ignorant.)

Come on. Is it only science that these folks are upset about being affected by the national leadership's "religious, political and economic agenda?" They look down on Bush because his decision was, to them, primarily religious. If we take religion out of the equation, am I supposed to believe that the president or any of the policymakers under him who tend to perform their duties also shouldn't rely on their political or economic sense, even when politics and economics, not having been barred by the Constitution, are the name of the game?

What else is there? Get elected and then only make policy decisions based on polls in New York City and Hollywood? Are the Flyover States really that Stalinesque, that their will should be thwarted at every turn--wait, if they were Stalinesque, you would be the one unable to choose a leader or express regret over someone else's choice, wouldn't you? Is it the fascists who are holding you down, or the regular folks just living their lives who are so unenlightened they don't even know what you're speaking out against?

Don't say "both" just because some people and the president agree. Consensus is not conspiracy. If you don't like an idea, tell us why you think it's bad. If you don't think someone with a bad idea should get to tell us why he thinks it's good, then the most pressing problem probably isn't his bad idea.

Friday, September 15, 2006

If it's just supposed to be "Jesus and me"...

...and not the Church, a community of believers, then why does the Lord's Prayer start "Our Father," rather than "My Father?"

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Nontheistic sources of morality?

James Fitzpatrick at Catholic Exchange has a few words to say about the conservative Christian habit of praising God's mercy every time something good happens and every time something bad happens that could have been worse, but not blaming God for when things are worse than they could have been. The point was more about how the religiously inclined tend to rely on an external, ineffable, personal source for the morality of the world, while atheists don't. I'm not really being representative here but I needed to provide a little context for my own point.

It's often said that without a transcendent and absolute moral reference, then the only alternative is relativism. Broadly speaking, I agree, but on a case by case basis it's possible to resist the grayness that comes from trying to reconcile disparate moral codes (some of the time, perhaps by declining to reconcile at all) on the grounds that if we all have the same moral authority and all our codes aren't wrong then there must be some unifying principle behind all the codes being in some way right. It's not news that someone can recognize, without being told, that it's good to be excellent to each other and it's better to couple excellence with fairness, in all those specific ways like sharing, not stealing or killing, and everything else. From the article:

It is just that they "look elsewhere for a sense of order, valuing the rule of law for its transparency to all rational minds and debating Supreme Court decisions without reverting to mystical precepts of 'natural law.'" [Heather MacDonald] argues that "[s]keptical conservatives do not look into the abyss when they make their moral choices. Their moral sense is as secure as a believer's. They do not need God or the Christian Bible to discover the golden rule and see themselves in others."

I dunno about this "look into the abyss" line. Maybe it's a Nietzsche reference, although any theist will tell you there's a difference between contemplating the divine and contemplating the nil, whether or not an atheist will look for himself to check. I don't expect most atheists to bother with Catholic-steeped philosophy, either, but I do hope that MacDonald isn't on the "Call us Brights! It's more accurate less dour!" bandwagon. Independently discovering the golden rule and seeing yourself in others is a classic example of natural law. Isn't that much self-evident?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


n. The substitution, or event of substituting, an excessively negative word for one that is milder or inoffensive. Antonym: euphemism.

I don't remember why I wanted to define this word. I thought about it months ago but it wasn't until tonight that I remembered to look for a proper opposite of eu-. Oh well.

It's not merely an exaggeration; it's specifically a bad one. It's not just hyperbole, which is obviously nonliteral exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis or drama, but is a concrete overstatement of the real or imagined negative aspect of something for the purpose of shock or dismay.

Dark, I know, but it's late, and 911 isn't a cheery day.

I can almost guarantee it would have seemed suitable in the context in which I meant to present the word. Probably something about politics or postmodern word magic (which I'll get to in a couple weeks, I hope--remind me).

Monday, September 11, 2006

Condoms do not prevent cervical cancer

Why would they? HPV is a common cause of cervical cancer, and HPV lives in the skin, not just in the reproductive tissues, so it can be transmitted just by skin to skin contact. Wearing a condom to protect against HPV is like brushing half your teeth; it's slightly better than nothing, but prophylaxis failure is still likely and will result in an unmitigated infection.

Come on. Try abstinence. Why is it so repulsive an idea in light of the risks? Why are people so insistent that teaching abstinence is naive, doomed to failure? I know several people who have successfully practiced continence. I sometimes suspect the ones who say the continent are a statistically negligible group (i.e. a minority--aren't minorities supposed to be protected and respected?) are trying to assuage their own guilt after naively succumbing to temptation and being surprised with some serious heartbreak and disappointment. Does misery not love company?

I wonder what portion of the "Just get your bad first impression of the activity over with" crowd was also taught, directly or indirectly, that abstinence was not a possible or even worthwhile goal. I know I would have a much harder time being a good boy if I'd always been taught that it was impossible.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Visit Cura Animarum and his wonder puppy, Oliver!

You'll have to go back to August to see the newer photograph of Oliver, but while you're there, please read around. Cura has a regular thing called Thirty Second Thoughts where a wide variety of topics is tackled very pithily. Adding brief and discrete, and even light-hearted, posts to the mix is something I've been struggling to do since day one, and I doff my fedora to ye.

Primitive church, or Church of Rome?

I used to be a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I still like it, but I don't watch the DVDs like I watched the broadcast episodes, so take it as you will.

I do occasionally like to see what the stars and behind-the-scenes folks are up to. Seth Green has had a string of highly amusing TV projects, and Anthony Stewart Head was supposed to have a Buffy spin-off over at the BBC that I've managed to lose track of, for instance--and Joss Whedon's Firefly is not to be missed.

Thus, it was not long ago that I found Robia LaMorte's web site. I was interested to learn she's a born-again Christian. You can read her conversion story under the "God" link. It's a classic and charming tale of a vaguely spiritually minded person in the modern world who is almost surprised into a relationship with God. You can almost hear her laugh when she mentions the Hell's Angels, and I had to smile, myself, when she explained who they really were.

Her faith is evident. She's in a church that's clearly from a Protestant tradition, but I'd like to quote her advice on finding a church:

I recommend a nondenominational, Bible teaching, Spirit Filled Church that is not a specific denomination of Christianity, and believes in all the gifts of the Spirit. That means that everything that happened when Jesus was walking on the earth still happens today. You want a church that is alive and full of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Church is important because being around other people who believe what you believe will strengthen you. The reason that going to church is the first step you take when becoming a Christian is because the Bible says that spiritual growth comes from hearing God's word being taught.

It sounds like she's more charismatic than the average Christian, but aside from her emphasis on the Bible to the point of silence of the sacraments, it sounds a lot like she's describing the Church Catholic.

Should I be surprised, or just surprised that I'm surprised?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I was looking through my archives on the off chance that someone might have left a comment, and I stopped to reread a post I'd made on abortion. I quoted some pro-choice person and argued against her position, but I realized just now that I'd overlooked what might have been the most fundamental aspect of the pro-choicer's thesis. Allow me to repost the passage in question:

Please do not ask the question that way.

Very few abortions take place after viability, and those abortions are for health reasons. There is a difference between believing that abortions are "okay" and believing that a woman and her doctor, rather than state legislators, should make the decision.

Our concern should not be whether abortion is "okay" with us. It should be with who should make the decision.

This person is saying that people in general should not decide whether abortion is murder, and therefore wrong, but only the individuals involved in the would-be abortion should decide whether one should be had or not. Sounds pretty utilitarian to me, or at least presumptuous enough to make me wonder why attention is being drawn away from the moral question.

Some things are private. Some moral situations are not cut and dried. Each should be examined closely by the involved parties instead of being conclusively judged by a broad-stroked and abstract presentation. Many things, however, are so dire that society lays down rules in advance. Murder is one of them. In fact, murder isn't just a crime against the victim, or against the victim's loved ones; it's a crime against the state, against society itself. If the family wants retribution, they can sue for wrongful death after the criminal trial; if they don't, it's not their place to refrain from pressing criminal charges. I'm not saying the arrangement's flawless, but it shows that killing is always a bigger issue than the killer and the killed, which is also why premeditated killing has historically been permitted to the government, either for executing a criminal or for waging war.

If you think it shouldn't only be judges and generals who get to make life and death decisions, you don't want a doctor. A doctor is an expert in medicine and knows a good deal (I would hope) about medical ethics, but if you are trying to decide whether something is fundamentally right or wrong, the least you should have is an expert in philosophy, an expert in morality and medical ethics in particular. Doctors should be in the dialog because it's their profession, but expecting them to get the job done with only the guidance of the patient is like expecting a general practitioner to perform good neurosurgery like Dr. McCoy in the "Spock's Brain" episode of Star Trek.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Currently reading and recently read....

Foucault's Pendulum, by Umberto Eco

AA-1025, The memoirs of an Anti-Apostle, by Marie Carre

I thought I first saw FP on my parents' bookshelf in the early 1980s, and the title struck me--and with an author named Umberto, it was just exotic enough to hold my interest--but I was too young to read it then, and as it turns out, it was first published in 1988, so I don't know what I thought I saw.

As for AA-1025, it's a collection of autobiographical notes from a communist agent who became a priest in order to subvert the Church. It's an interesting read--I particularly enjoyed #1025's dismay at Vatican II not being as postmodern/secularly materialist in its results as he'd hoped--but the reader reviews at Amazon are almost as interesting. They're divided between folks who ascribe all the "modernizations" that accompanied the Novus Ordo to the likes of #1025, and folks who find the plot too convenient, and the story elements too trite, to be anything but fiction. In the words of one of the few uncategorized reviewers, "True or not, what it claims has actually come true."

*** UPDATE ***
I forgot to ask: Does anyone have any idea why Belbo's home town is only written as ***, and never actually named? Maybe it does in the last hundred pages of the book, but by now I'm skeptical.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Logical fallacies

Maybe some of you can help me.

I've encountered--you probably have too--some debate tactics that are flawed but don't seem to have a formal name. I'm wondering if proper names do exist, and if not, I'd like to come up with some. I often find that challenging someone on an erroneous logical shortcut is more effective when you can show that someone has already dissected and labeled the error. It's not a logically consistent tactic, itself, but sometimes the appeal to authority is the only thing that works when someone's experienced other lapses in reason.

The first one I've been referring to as the "If it weren't for you" fallacy. Consider two parties disagreeing on some topic. With neither side able to persuade the other, one asserts that the other is at fault for starting or prolonging the argument, so it is guilty of simply being disruptive of or maliciously contrary to the other position (implied to be correct by the conceit of such an assertion), and thus does not deserve to be taken seriously: "We wouldn't even be having this argument if you just did what we wanted!"

The second hovers somewhere between begging the question and Pascal's Flaw. Begging the question--not raising the question--is where an argument makes an assumption in its proof that is not explicitly stated or itself justified.

Pascal's Flaw derives from Pascal's Wager, which states that given the risks and rewards of believing in God versus not believing in God, it would be most prudent to believe in God, whether or not He exists. The Flaw is the logical gaps in the proposition, such as the complete disregard for whether God exists after all, or the presumption that God would be the sort of entity that would reward worship and punish dissidence. It may not be begging the question so much as oversimplifying an argument; while not thoroughly rigorous, the God of Pascal's Wager is one he and his contemporaries would be most inclined to think of.

This second fallacy I've been calling "presumptuous caution." It masquerades as the honest caution one might use in tentatively settling an unresolved debate, such as "Building a new commercial district on the edge of town could revitalize the city, but we shouldn't commit ourselves unless we can determine that enough of our residents would be willing to drive that far to patronize the new businesses."

Presumptuous caution makes such an assertion prematurely, and uses a gap of knowledge or logic as positive evidence for one position rather than as a mitigating condition that can bring us to a decision when no formal resolution is imminent. The above example would take the form "Building a new commercial district on the edge of town could revitalize the city. We're not sure if enough residents would be willing to drive that far to patronize the new businesses. Therefore, the district should not be built at all."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

No open communion?

Some people think the closed Catholic communion is a bad thing--it's elitist, uncharitable, whatever. Other churches (some of 'em, at least) practice open communion as a forward-looking, optimistic expression of common faith. I can appreciate that sentiment, and I'm not faulting other traditions for having different practices; their different eucharistic theologies can lead to understandably different standards and expectations.

Please, try to understand the Catholic perspective, though. The Eucharist is a sacrifice--the Sacrifice--and a meal, but it's more than a commemoration/reenactment and incidence of fraternity amongst those like-spirited people who have gathered for the occasion.

It's a nuptial event, an intimate union of God and human. We can no more have universal communion in anticipation of universal union than I could spend the night with my fiancee in anticipation of our wedding night. The effective difference between an early honeymoon and a proper one might be quite fine in many eyes, but please recognize that, to us, it's still no less important for its subtlety.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Excerpted from Mark Shea's combox

"Do you feel that [imagining] offends God? Why are you afraid of God? I imagine God as something good...."

The context was about John Lennon's song "Imagine," which isn't really germane to my point.

If God is good, then no, we shouldn't fear Him like we'd fear a criminal or a rabid animal. However, because God is good, we should fear him in proportion to how we offend him. I do not fear the devil for offending him by doing good, for good is right. If I do wrong, then I should not be too keen on myself or my actions.

We should love and trust God first, of course, but forgiveness is beyond saying "It's okay"--doing something wrong isn't okay--and repenting of sin calls for recognizing that sin is, in fact, rather dreadful.

A relationship, with God or human, shouldn't be based on fear of reprisal, of course, but sin does displease God, and if He's that great and you love Him that much, you should take care not to offend Him just as you'd take care not to hurt the feelings of your loved ones.