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.