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.