Sunday, December 09, 2007

"This is your Calvary," the priest told my dad.

(skim halfway down if you're not interested in medical details; skim all the way down if you're not interested in me getting personal)

I speculated later to my mom that maybe that makes her and my sister and I Dad's Mary, Mary, and John.

My mom called me late Saturday morning to let me know that Dad was, in the doctor's words, on a downward spiral, and that he asked to see his kids. I tossed a change of clothes in a bag and drove up right away (I just got back a little while ago); my sister's coming in Wednesday.

I'm glad in some ways I've been spared the emotional roller coaster of proximity to the situation, but I do wish I'd been closer so I could offer Mom a little more support, and maybe help her maintain a more balanced perspective, instead of extrapolating certain miserable death or probable complete cure every time a doctor comes in with dramatically bad or good news and tries to give a "big picture" analysis without, apparently, keeping the rest of the data in clear enough perspective for us laymen. She generally keeps me updated on major things, but when he's staying in the hospital or just visiting to get a battery of tests done, the news can cycle between bad and good by the hour. Since I can't be there all the time I usually end up with a pretty condensed summary of what's been going on.

After having been by Dad's side through the years since his diagnosis, though, Mom's gained a strength she didn't know she had (or, a grace she didn't expect to get). She's at the end of her rope, too, but for all my talk about wanting to be able to support her, I think she helped hold me together more than I did for her.

I guess that's just part of being a parent. The children can console the surviving parent, but the surviving parent is still Mom or Dad. Even Dad continues to look out for us; Mom's gotten pretty good at reading the euphemisms he uses to keep her from worrying, but he was the first to encourage me to get back on the road this afternoon so I could stay ahead of the bad weather.

It's still strange to us. We know that cancer is complicated and the human body, even more so, but we just can't read the signs for an illness this profound. He looks thin, but his color's very good. His vital signs are strong--better than mine, even--but his electrolytes are lower than some of the doctors have ever seen. His physical strength isn't bad, but his lack of stamina and balance make it hard for him to get around (indeed, during the weekend of Thanksgiving, there were a few times he had to stop in the middle of a meal and rest, but maybe it was simply because his sleep aid prescription was too strong--I just don't know).

His sodium level is where the big balancing act in treatment right now is taking place. He needs a certain amount to be able to function coherently; when his sodium levels drop, it gets hard for him to concentrate, and if they drop too much he risks heart arrhythmia and cardiac arrest. If his sodium levels get higher, fluid collects in his abdomen (causing discomfort and making it hard to eat enough at mealtime) and, now, his pleura (causing shortness of breath). Saturday morning was bad, but by the time I got there things had leveled out a bit, and by the time I left this afternoon, although he wasn't particularly hopeful, he was less skeptical about making it to Christmas, when I'll be coming home again.

We don't expect a miracle, but we still have hope for one, because all natural options are closed to us at this point, and because living without hope--even if we do have to talk to hospice managers and funeral directors in the meantime--is no way to live. I may write in the near future about the reasons for hope we had, which I alluded to a couple months ago, but right now I'm tired and I might just wait to see how the story ends before I go off confusing myself over disappointing speculation that hasn't been verified or rendered moot yet.

My parents' pastor showed up shortly after I arrived Saturday evening, and his comment put the whole weekend into a different perspective for me.

Dad's been suffering a lot, and while he told the nurse this morning that he wasn't in pain, you can still tell a lot's been taken out of him. How humbling it must be, to have your person stripped so bare that sitting up in a chair will make you lightheaded. Even now, though, these mortifications come with small mercies. Since the doctors are out of curative options, they can change their treatment philosophy a bit to maximize his comfort and functionality in the short run. They still have hope too, of course, despite being unable to do anything beyond the palliative; if there's any hope to be had for a return to a level of health where proactive treatment would be feasible, getting his electrolytes under control would be the place to start.

So on the one hand it's sad because I know they're giving him a little more leeway in his diet because getting a burrito from the place down the street instead of something designed by the staff nutritionist can't do any more harm. On the other hand, I'm glad that something as simple as rubbing his feet and giving him a sip of my Coke, after nothing but water and milk and foul-tasting nourishing drinks, can give him all the comfort that he can find right now. It's not much, but it's something I can do.

I think having a family is partly God's way of making sure we all have naked people to clothe and hungry people to feed.

Rubbing the cramp out of his leg and trying to get some of the swelling out of one ankle while Mom worked on the other one, I thought about the Last Supper, when Christ washed His apostles' feet, and the time Mary washed and annointed His feet as well. I had no oil (Mom usually has skin lotion within reach when they're at home), and my hair wasn't long enough to wipe his feet with, but I wondered how Dad felt to be in a place where the only comfort he could get was the physical administrations of his wife and son (and in a few days, his daughter). I thanked God that, while what I was doing was not much more useful than sitting at home and wishing I could help, He at least let me participate in bringing Dad as much relief and peace as he's been able to get.

He didn't express to me (he did mention it to Mom, who assured him it's not how it would be for us; even now, it doesn't crowd everything else out) any concern about our last memories of him being a once-vibrant, now frail man fading away in a hospital bed, but if he did, I would have told him that I'd always cherish this weekend, just being near him, making sure we said all the things people regret not saying when a loved one is taken suddenly, being able to care for him and each other in the small ways that are all we can do now. Even blinking away tears and stopping to blow my nose Saturday night, I was astounded at the beauty of an act that seemed so small, of massaging Dad's feet in a hospital room that for all the noise just outside seemed so quiet, that had that substantial stillness I usually only experience standing before the Sacrament.

Christian deaths are always bittersweet because we're gaining a saint while we're losing a big chunk of the only life we know, but while the smallness of our ministrations was sad on top of everything else, being there and being able to do them added so much on top of being able to say "I spent time with him at the end and got the chance to say 'I love you' one more time."

Barring a miraculous recovery and a comfortable death years from now (I wonder how I'll feel about making those caveats in the future, if he lives or dies), Dad's last days being this way will end up being a big part of my mental picture for a while because the memory will have been the last thing of his I would get to hold on to; I won't deny it. In this world it's natural for children to bury their parents, though, and whether it's sooner or later, his end won't be the end of me and eventually I'll be able to integrate it properly into the big tapestry called Dad that's hanging on the wall of my life.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wow, 106 weeks

I just realized I've been at this more than two years now. Not much to commemorate the occasion with, but it's been a month since I last posted (been writing a couple drafts but haven't finished any in the meantime), and I thought I should let both my readers know I'm still playing at this business.

So yeah. Happy birthday to me. So to speak.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Your prayers once again requested...

My dad informed me today that he's going to be moving out of the hospital--he's been in for several days to contend with pneumonia and an apparent abdominal infection--and into hospice care at home. He had abdominal surgery to remove some malignant tumors in the spring and has had fluid building up ever since. Right now all the readable signs are pointing to the infection actually being a recurrance of his cancer.

I haven't had a chance to talk with him in detail about what's transpired yet; he's supposed to call tonight. One or two medical cards may still be waiting to be played, but I think my parents have made a decision to scale back the treatments to less heroic levels. I'm sure I'm not the only one hoping for a non-mundane miracle, but after receiving several messages pointing to Dad being some kind of witness to God's grace and mercy, my folks are trying to prepare for the eventuality that he's not going to be doing so by going around and giving uplifting talks to groups of people.

A spontaneous recovery after all means known to medical science have been eliminated would be more glorious, I suppose, but we all know it doesn't always work in ways that make sense this side of the veil.

If you would send your prayers our way, especially strength for my mom and comfort for my dad and hope for both of them, I would be grateful. I'll also be praying for my readers, so if any of you have anything to ask for, feel free to mention it (or not, if you're confidentially minded) in the combox.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Rootless, de facto ecumenism?

I don't know.

The area where I live and work seems to have a high number of churches. A lot of them are fairly small, so maybe there's not much to be said about the local demographics. One in particular I pass on my workday commute is a Church of God. They recently put up a sign advertizing something that I think is supposed to become a regular event, a Friday night fish fry.

Fish fry? Did they get a Knights of Columbus chapter recently?

Sorry, I don't mean to make light of it. It just seemed a peculiarly Catholic thing to be doing. On the bigger blogs you can read about how in various places in Protestantism, the groups that have rejected the various sacraments eventually come around to replacing them with pale imitations of sacraments. You could probably even make that argument for the end-of-October "harvest festivals" that replace Halloween, which categorize all the macabre and supernatural stuff as demonic and opt for a merely pagan celebration, are trying to get back to the idea that material creation itself is good, after having flirted at times (and in some cases more) with such things as puritanism.

So, some protestant circles are looking back to some of the older practices that are definitely Catholic, but perhaps predate some of the troubles that led to the Reformation, or at least have some antique historical continuity and were neglected by those outside of the institutional Church.

Even with the vaguest hand-waving explanations, though, I can't see how a Friday night fish fry really fits. Is it just one of those things that has worked its way into our culture that they're trying to make a special event out of, the way the KoC does as a fundraiser/service for all the Catholics in town who would be eating fish at home anyway? I'm having trouble buying the idea that it's just a nice thing the Catholics do that they want to adopt, the way some are starting to adopt the rosary or the Stations of the Cross. Sure, we eat fish on Fridays because we abstain from other meats as a penance, fine, but you can fast or abstain whenever you want, and even though Good Friday is an obvious good model to follow, how do you get from there to communal fish cooking events?

No idea. I'm not criticizing, mind you; I have a feeling that I'm going to come off as a little incredulous, but I don't mean it that way. It's just puzzled me these otherwise fairly dull few weeks, so here I am, mentally masturbating over it.

Actually, speaking of dull, something that isn't is the near-death of my main computer. I hope to replace the hard drive, which I've managed more or less to back up, but it's well past its prime so I mean to relegate it to travel use only. I hope to get a new one maybe this weekend; we'll see how things hold out. So...posting might be even more sparse than usual for a while yet.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Subway Hero

On January second of this year, Wesley Autrey jumped onto the tracks of a New York subway to save a man who had collapsed and fallen from the platform. Autrey, for his part, was rather modest about the whole thing; writing off any assertions that he did something remarkable, he visited the man in the hospital and went back to work.

Charles Colson's article at CERC makes a point I want to elaborate on a little:

While Autrey didn’t think that his actions were spectacular, other people did. At a time when most of the news is disheartening, Autrey’s actions inspired millions of people. Americans have become jaundiced and skeptical. We need heroes every now and then, a role model — and that’s what Autrey has become.

There's nothing wrong with recognizing that your actions might be considered objectively heroic because you put yourself at risk to accomplish something. In a way it's doubly heroic to do so under the assumption that saving lives is just what you're supposed to do, "I'm just doing my job, ma'am" cliches aside. When I first read the article, I was thinking it was kind of sad if we're so jaded that a small act of heroism can really inspire millions of people, if only briefly. Not that saving a man's life is small--Autrey's actions just made me speculate in that direction. Then I thought, while it might be sad in some ways that an isolated act of heroism by an ordinary person is newsworthy for seeming unusual, it's also great that we can inspire people at all with the most basic gestures of human charity, how natural it is for us to make some effort to help someone who really needs it and to make us all feel a little less lost, how easy it is to be made a little more willing to do something good for others in the future, even if it's just for a little while.

How often do we become disheartened because we look at the heroic actions of others and think "I could never do as much good as they do?" We never should. Most of us won't ever have an opportunity to make a single grand gesture of heroism, to save one life and inspire a million others in one fell swoop. It doesn't mean, though, that we can't make a difference. Most of us have our heroic moment smeared out into a million tiny events throughout our lives where we make a difference in the lives of a handful of people at a time. We may not get to take the mantle of inspiration and wear it in front of more people than we've directly helped (if even them), to serve as an example to everyone, but we can still help people around us, and still be a good example to them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Is religion dumb and dangerous?

I'll save dumb for later, aside from observing that today's active atheists often seem to be interested in reaping the gloating and other perquisites of being a freethinker, without all that tedious mucking about in actual thought, instead quoting catch phrases like so much duckspeak.

Maybe more people have been killed for religion than for anything atheistic; after all, atheism didn't gain ascendency until the 20th century, whereas people have fought over religion--but also other things perpendicular to religion, like territory or other resources--for millennia before then. Well, howsabout we tally up the deaths under regimes and philosophies that are post- or anti-religious, or anti-Christian, at least?

I'm not trying to make excuses for or take attention away from the things nominally God-fearing people have done wrong. Most of the crusades after the first were ill-executed, if not ill-conceived. We sin doubly when we claim there exists and we abide by an objective and absolute moral standard, and fail to hold ourselves to it. The fact that I'm mostly picking on communist/fascist historical events is also not meant as a relativistic exoneration of injustices enabled under capitalism; capitalism isn't theistic or atheistic, but in proportion to how Marxist they are (theism under economic communism being hypothetically possible as well), socialist or fascist systems are specifically atheistic or otherwise opposed to organized religion (organized government by definition not deigning to suffer competition for institutional loyalty).

Most of these deaths are executions. Many, however, are from starvation and neglect, such as Mao's five year plans failing to take reality, in the form of lack of industrial expertise and infrastructure and noncompliant weather for farming, into account; or Stalin shipping off trainloads of actual or potential troublemakers to Siberia where they could hardly sustain themselves. While not all the non-execution deaths were malicious, they still indicate a failure of a post-theistic system to be of any benefit to large numbers of people. Some sources put Stalin's and Mao's death tolls at twice the upper limits I have listed.

Papa Doc: 30-60k. Small potatoes--I include only because even the lower range outstrips the total deaths under the Inquisition, even the harsh--and meticulously documented, if you'd care to see for yourself--Spanish Inquisition.

Pol Pot: ≤ three million
Sukarno: half a million, not counting ethnic Chinese in Indonesia (this regime was somewhat theistic, but otherwise was pretty faithfully Marxist)
Khmer Rouge: 1.5-3 million
Mao's cultural revolution: 30 million
Stalin: 10-30 million
Hitler: Hitler was fascist, but anti-communist, and he was no Christian, despite any early political rhetoric that might still be on record (claiming there was no bull of excommunication shows you don't understand how the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith works); in addition to the six million Jews that were killed, three million Christians in Poland alone were also slaughtered, with Christians elsewhere and members of other suspect groups adding up to another million or two. Let's say 10 million--it's nice and round.

See Mass deaths and atrocities of the twentieth century at Wikipedia for more details. You can look up the data somewhere else if you don't trust the numbers there; they cite plenty of other resources for you to compare, so it's at least a worthwhile starting point even for Wiki snobs.

What's our total? 55-76.5 million, just counting the top six causes (that I could think of) during the twentieth century--not even taking up the whole century. That death toll is as many as the black plague worldwide in the middle ages. Do you still want to argue that the Crusades--a million or so over the course of two full centuries--can hold a candle to these figures? Even adding in deaths at the hands of the Saracens (religious in their own right) during the same time period, it's just a drop in the bucket.

Have there been more religious deaths all throughout history than atheistic ones? Maybe so, but the irreligious sure made up for lost time in the 20th century. Sure, we also have more people nowadays, so the proportions are different, and most religions are more laid back than they were a thousand years ago, but these caveats don't exonerate the modern era's mass murders.

The world population--never mind Europe--during the middle ages was around a quarter billion. It grew over the centuries, but a quarter billion's a convenient average. The Crusades and the Inquisition don't account for two million people, 0.8% of the total population, over a few centuries.

In the first half of the 20th century, it was around two billion people. Contra-religious deaths are as low at 55 million, as high as 100 million if you include abortion, but let's stick with 55 million: 2.75% of the world population, over a few decades. Making up for lost time, indeed.

Never mind that in our enlightened modern era, we're all supposed to be above such horrors as genocide, but apparently only the Church learned anything from the scandals of the Crusades.

"Freethought" indeed. I know of a respectable number of theological skeptics who aren't afraid to cogitate on the hard questions, but most of the time the only response to "What about Mao and Stalin?" is "Uh, Hitler had to be a Catholic in good standing, and besides, their governments weren't atheistic; they were just political entities rather than religious," as if being expressly anti-theistic was really no different from mere silence on the issue.
More like "Thought-free."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A little while ago I was reading an article Mark Shea had written for a local newspaper. The article was mainly a clarification of the CDF's clarification of the pope's recent document about the Catholic understanding of what a church is. As is often the case, the readers' comments were as interesting as the article itself, if not in a terribly worthy sense.

My personal favorite was where one person said 'Yes, you politely point out that the pope is just clarifying how Catholicism understands Christianity differently from Protestants, but I have to disagree that there's nothing to be upset about; really it was just just a diplomatic covering for the pope's actual words, that other churches are defective.'

If I'd read the article and comments early enough that I thought the person who left that comment might still be around to read the followup, I would have pointed out that his so-called disagreement was still agreeing with the principle. Mark spelled out the differences between groups as "adding to or subtracting from" the deposit of faith. If subtracting truth or adding something artificial doesn't constitute a defect, I don't know what does, and if he's going to come out in public and criticize someone for making a public and concrete criticism of groups that criticize Rome for being defective, as well, then I'm not sure what his understanding of debate or dialog really is.

A few others took some cheap shots at priestly celibacy, not cheap in the sense of underhanded or unfair so much as cheap in the sense of "religion is almost beneath my contempt but I'll attack it anyway as long as I can use pithy sound bites from other contratheists as a crutch." To wit: "the Marian doctrines of the immaculate conception and the virgin birth are based on a mistranslation of the Hebrew word almah, which means "young girl," for the Greek work parthenos, which means "virgin" as we currently understand that term. From this comes two millennia of sermons about sexual continence, which has caused unbelievable amounts of human suffering."

Parthenos fits under the umbrella of almah, may have even been its defining criterion, so the orthodox interpretation would hardly be implausible, even if the Apostles who knew Jesus and Mary--who would have spoken Greek and Aramaic and at least been literate in Hebrew--hadn't been around to clarify this point for the communities that had only the words spoken by the Apostles and disciples and the earliest written sources to rely on. Still, "unbelievable amounts of human suffering" stemming from advocacy for not having libertine sex? Really? As a microcosm, are we really suffering less in these past 30 years than we did before the sexual revolution? Sure doesn't look like it to me; I'd probably take "sadder but wiser" over "ignorance is bliss," too, but then you can't say "well, they just covered it up and oppressed people more before the sixties," and I wouldn't really say we're wiser for our sadness, just less hopeful. Trading naivete for despair isn't exactly a sage's choice.

I'll wrap up with just a few unrelated points that arose from discussion of Mark's article, since writing overly long and broad posts rather than pithy and self-contained ones seems to be more my thing.

  • Adulthood nowadays seems to be defined as the point where a person becomes capable of making informed decisions. Maybe not with fully developed faculties, but I suppose that since adults make mistakes we shouldn't prevent children from making mistakes, and only enable them to make informed mistakes. Once upon a time, adulthood was defined by the ability to restrain one's impulses. Did anyone ever try to justify "Never mind the disciplines you were taught; if it feels good, just go for it," or did we just slide into it because it was easier?

  • It does seem a little sad that theists argue that without a Lawgiver they would be violent heathens, to which most atheists object; yet it is usually these same atheists who argue for an arbitrary or natural law that pretty closely coincides with the mores of western civilization. The Catholic will recognize this as the Natural Law that it is; no atheist I've met so far has bothered to explain how the values he holds that coincide with Christendom's but do not seem to have been well-recognized in other societies are merely coincidental.

  • "The god of the OT is a genocidal, misogynistic monster."

    I'll grant you that YHWH was stern, even harsh with the Israelites. To write Him off as a monster, though, requires that you skip over all the passages where people try to dialog with Him; not simply the places where He says "leave none of them alive, lest one of your men comes to worship their idols," which perhaps only makes sense to a theist in the first place, but the places where he relents from the strictest punishment they knowingly incurred, as soon as they asked for mercy. Doesn't exactly sound like something you'd expect from Baal or Pazuzu, is it? Wiping out pagan peoples wasn't common in the Old Testament, even between Egypt and the Promised Land, and it was always prophylactic; when punishments did come, they were always slow in being delivered and were never without warning. If the best criticism you can levy is "genocidal, misogynistic monster," then you really lack the perspective necessary to judge how a god-figure, Abrahamic or pagan, figures into human society.

Eh, I won't go over any of the rest. They're lame comments dripping with ignorance of history like "Rome would tortue you for being a heliocentrist if it could" and American provincialism like "Never mind Pol Pot and Stalin, it's Torquemada and Law who really brought war and suffering to the world whilst trying to hide behind the First Amendment." Yes, I know I'm splicing some thoughts together; they're not really any smarter in their original and less compact forms.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Pagan (etc*) divorced mother denied custody of children

*Most of the stink being raised orbits the fact that the woman in question is some flavor of neo-pagan, most expressions of which involve libertine ritual (sometimes symbolic, sometimes actual) sex.

The level of discourse I've observed has for the most part been higher--at least a little--than what one normally expects from the Internet, especially on such topics as religion, morality, and politics. Still, for the most part, the discussion seems to glide over the most damning factor in the court's custody decision. From Volokh's excerpt of the decision:

[Mother] has undertaken to engage in a lifestyle that is extreme by normal social standards and [mother] testified that she is a devotee of sado-masochism; that she is bisexual; that she engages in paganism; that she has used illicit drugs on a semi-regular basis; and that she spends a great deal of time online where she has two to four websites of so-called "blogs."

Now, the mother has the right to raise her child as she sees fit, short of exposing the daughter to disproportionate harm by doing so (however the magnitude and type might be defined by legal minds), including raising her as a neo-pagan. One of the commenters at Volokh even points out that any number of legally permissible things can be considered in a custody hearing that push a judgment to disfavor one party or the other, since the question isn't about legality, or just about what's good for the child as what's best for the child within the court's purview.

So the mom has weird sex with a guy she hasn't quite married yet, and worships some sort of abstracted natural forces, and spends a lot of time online, probably writing about these activities.

However, they're all dodging--and perhaps it's because the decision doesn't emphasize it more, but the judge did write that it appears unlikely the mother and her fiance (not the father) will be able to adequately protect the daughter from her practices (like sadomasochism in the bedroom) that are, shall we say, difficult to explain to children. I think blogging is the slightest hazard of these three, but maybe the fear was that the mother spent too much time on the Internet relative to her working and parenting responsibilities, and that the daughter might find out about her mother's activities from exploring her mother's online activities.

Why is the judge fearful of these likely turns of events, and not just of the mother's fringe interests themselves?

For one thing, the mother also "has used illicit drugs on a semi-regular basis." Remember that bit from the ruling?

Stop the presses, people. I don't care what religion or orientation you are or what fetish you indulge or refrain from indulging. If you're a drug user, a big black mark goes into your "not fit for custody" column. You can pretend you're a victim of Christian heteronormative narrow-mindedness, but don't think for a second that your propensity to flout the law and use chemicals that are demonstrably harmful to users, people close to them, and society in general is merely the repressive work of some "sex-negative" people who can hardly help but violate your First Amendment rights with glee. No; first you have to step back and explain why lighting or shooting up or whatever is your reasonably harmless entitlement. Then we'll discuss if it's really a medieval/fundamentalist judge that has the chip on his shoulder.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Violent crime has been dropping in recent decades. Some attribute it to the relaxing of gun laws--law-abiding citizens becoming more able to protect themselves, and potential criminals either being stopped by them or deterred by this knowledge. Others attribute it to a corellary of the Roe Effect: more potential criminals are getting aborted, so they never grow up to cause trouble and put more stress on troubled homes to drive even more people into crimes of desperation.

I know the former is at least partly responsible. In states where personal defense is or has become more legally feasible, crime has dropped or been consistently lower than other places where the government spends a lot of time intimidating non-criminals into being docile, such as California.

The more I think about it, though, the more I think that the Roe Effect might have some a beneficial effect on crime in the short run. Bear with me for a moment.

Roe is an artifact of a sterile cultural philosophy. After abortion became legal, it started getting more difficult to make political hay out of the issue. In 1973, decades of propaganda had culminated in enough support and wooly-headedness to get SCOTUS to conjure up some quasi-Constitutional right to abortion and use flimsy reasoning to base it on an otherwise-sensible inferral of a right to privacy. Since then, though, the people who were in favor of abortion tended to have, advocate, and finance them. Pro-life people had children and taught them to value life; pro-abortion people didn't have the human resources to keep up and had only propaganda to fall back on for trying to convert pro-lifers and fence-sitters who see more and more historical evidence that abortion isn't really a solution to a problem.

God is life. God loves life. It's no accident that sterile and actively life-hating philosophies tend to be self-limiting in the long run. Why might abortion seem to yield a drop in crime?

On the one hand, well, the moral scales don't tip; we're just exchanging drugs and armed robbery for prenatal infanticide. On the other hand, yes, there are fewer potential criminals growing up in troubled homes. On an absolute scale, crime might be dropping, but the overall population is not rising when children aren't born. So, what about per capita crimes? Do pro-abortionists have an out there, at least?

Without having to look at statistics, I can say "yes, but no."

It's the 21st century. People are living longer. There are more people at greater ages than before--population rises due to a reduction in mortality, not an increase in fertility. In the short run, the former can overtake the latter, especially if most crimes are committed by people who are younger than the average career-holding, family-starting person. Take them away, and sure, crime will drop. It'll just be a few years before we see employment (and unemployment) drop, school enrollment drop, before we see population seriously drop. Unless you look at Europe, at least; they're a little ways ahead of us.

Abortion can reduce crime? Abortion reduces everything. Don't let one lesser evil amongst many distract you.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

S.B. 351: stop federal funding of Planned Parenthood

I received in the mail today a survey from Fidelis about the propriety of PP receiving public funds for promoting abortion. Despite charging an average of $300 per abortion, taking private donations, and offering annuities to their supporters, someone apparently thinks PP needs more than a quarter of a billion dollars a year in order to defray the costs of the "sex education" (such as their site that provides at least as much information on--let's not equivocate--how to have more sex and try to constrain the hazards of heightened promiscuity, as it does to provide basic anatomical and epidemiological information).

Well, the survey's short, at seven questions. I just want to raise a couple points the survey brought up, or I thought were worth discussing just a little more explicitly.

PP apparently claims that the $272 million they get from the feds doesn't go to abortion, but rather goes to the aformentioned "education," contraceptives (read: free condoms for walk-ins), and 'other family planning purposes,' whatever they might be. It strikes me as a basic economic truth that if you give someone money to do something, they will be able to spend more money they already have on other things. I'm not going to sift through the Generally Accepted Accounting Practices and see how well they fit the $272 million implementation of Title X of the Public Health Services Act vis-a-vis PP, but morally, I don't think we can pretend that helping PP a little doesn't help it overall, even if they sent a wish list to the government and let Washington buy all the materials and such itself.

Precedents in other industries aside, I don't see any sense in divorcing the commission of abortion from the advocacy of it. Oh, they don't just promote abortion? Well, their medical clinics aren't only used to perform them, either, although anecdotal evidence doesn't suggest they like doing sonograms. Oh well.

PP isn't just the Pueblo, Colorado of sex; they're its Wal*Mart, and so their "education" isn't so much a public service as it is advertising...hmm; maybe a better comparison would be the Dairy Board or American Cattlemen's Association, or those informercials on late-night TV that provide only enough information about their subject matter to get people to buy the wares they really want to peddle. As such, I see no reason why it would be appropriate for the federal government to step in. Who else gets the government to pay their advertising? The military--not really a parallel situation. Everyone else is expected to be more or less self-sufficient and autonomous, except PP, which apparently provides some sort of medical service that is so important nobody else wants to do it.

Is it even appropriate for PP to target minors with this information? On the one hand, while parents have the right to instruct their children as they see fit, sometimes they don't teach the bare minimum, don't even teach them the truth, let alone the whole truth; the same is true for general education, which is why we have public schools and require all students to attend them or have their parents provide evidence of other, equivalent arrangements. On the other hand, like I said before, PP doesn't just educate; they like to run way across the line into advocacy and roll around there a while. Now, do legal minors with strange feelings need support and information they can't get at home? Sometimes, yes; however, there's a big difference between helping someone who's homosexual or observes a discrepancy between their anatomical and mental genders to understand what's going on and to come to terms with it, and to say "Hey, whatever you want to do is fine, go for it!" to legal minors in the first place.

"Do what you want" isn't parenting, or a substitute for it; indulgence is contrary to what parenthood needs to teach; PP should hardly be claiming to fill a parenting (let alone information) gap if they're confounding the function of forming healthy adults this way.

According to their 2002-2003 annual report, then-president Gloria Feldt was reimbursed to the tune of $379,788, all things factored in; further, seven other big cheeses pulled down more than $180,000. One of the questions in the survey was "Do you believe that, for an organization that receives taxpayer funding, this level of compensation is __too high __about right __undecided (?)"

I couldn't resist; I wrote in the margin "Not to mention, an organization that solicits private donations!" I understand that large organizations, even nominally volunteer ones, sometimes need full-time people managing things at the highest levels, and that it's not always expedient to have those positions filled by people who can afford to give away 40 hours a week, so they may need to put someone on a payroll.

Now, civilians get paid by the government all the time, not just as employees but through federal grants. I do think, though, that it's a serious misdirection of priorities for an outfit claiming to be desperately trying to help people have educated sex and no children. Maybe more of that $1.5+ million going to the top brass should be directed to, I don't know, hiring more doctors, or giving away better condoms, or hiring better animators for their cartoons or IT people for their web site; if their cause is so great, how hard could it be to find a crackerjack CEO-type who needs a job but is willing to make a contribution in the form of a modest salary?

I know if I found out that a group I gave money to, whether or not they got grants from elsewhere (private or public), I'd sure be feeling like my money was wasted if I found out the head honchoes were making six figures. No wonder you're in such need for a perpetual bailout; if money's getting blown on executives at a place that sells itself as a nonprofit service organization, how many other cuts has their financial philosophy made that they're bleeding from? Getting a quarter billion from the government and then throwing so much at just a handful of administrators says to me "Our cause is really important! We need federal assistance in addition to our revenue! Oh, but $272 million is enough to get the job done, so we'll give a lot to the pencil pushers at the top; oh, we'll still take donations too." Do they need help, or not, and if so, how much do they really think they need?

So they want to know if I'm willing, if I think it's even proper, to support an organization that not only does something immoral, but wants me to believe that it offers other services I shouldn't object to, and does so very badly? No thanks.

I don't know if an agency that performs evil efficiently is worse or better than one that does so inefficiently but also manages to retard good in the process, but I'd really want to have nothing to do with either.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Our disposable economy

I was at the municipal airport some time ago and heard one of the employees--maybe the terminal manager, for all I know--talking with the local flight instructor. He just happened to be complimenting the instructor on the decent new chairs he got for his office. The last thing I heard him say on the subject was about how they were only $15 so if they broke, replacing them would be no great task.

Naturally a year or two later--not so long that I couldn't remember overhearing that conversation well enough to think it would be funny if my life were a movie--I broke one of them, and it made me think of all the other things I own, or even just see around, that aren't meant to be repaired but simply discarded or maybe recycled. I've been told in the past that it's tantamount to a conspiracy among manufacturers to produce things that are prone to breaking and designed to be unrepairable by the average (or even the average mechanically inclined) person, so that they may be sure of selling more of the same things in the years to come.

There's probably some subscription to that philosphy, but I don't think we have to worry about the Shoe Event Horizon anytime soon.

First of all, it's not entirely true. Some of the more durable goods do tend to be pricier and harder to find than the cheaper ones, and they all may even be harder to repair when something does go wrong, but there are still things that work more reliably than their predecessors. Some of the Total Quality Management initiatives even rise above their own bureaucracies and enable an improvement in product quality by demanding better documentation of manufacturing processes and by documentation and standardization of methodologies, which make systemic problems easier to recognize--and recognized problems are vastly easier to solve than invisible ones.

Automobiles may be the quintessential example. I was going to say personal computers, but I think that fully integrated, non-user-serviceable configurations will become more popular, especially since the available computing power in more conventional tower designs, which are more suited to low-level tinkering, is really starting to get beyond what most users will need. Automobiles have become much more sophisticated, in some ways being more difficult to work on, but as long as there are gasoline engines and gearboxes and other powered moving parts in a motor vehicle, some home maintenance may always be possible. Since so much of the car is electronically managed, there are many things that just aren't up to a professional or amateur mechanic, but diagnostic computers can make the job easier when there is something for a human to do. Further, cars are lasting much longer; it's now expected for a car to operate beyond a hundred thousand miles, to the point where some manufacturers even have six-figure milage warranties, and some have been recorded as running several hundred thousand. Fifty years ago, when people could easily find TV repairmen and cobblers in their home towns, they could also find mechanics, but few or none who could work the magic it would take for a typical car of that time to last until the odometer rolled over.

Cars aren't simply better built, they're more complex, with much more going on under the hood and behind the dash than there was even when I was a child. It's barely adequate for a modern mechanic to rely on the wrench in his hand and the knowledge in his head.  It's just more sophisticated work than it used to be, even with computer assistance. I think what's true with mechanics is also true, or at least thematically consistent, with my main point.

Most manufacturing today is automated to some degree. You'll need a few engineers and technicians to baby-sit a plant, and some trained but possibly unskilled people to operate the equipment, but compared with fifty years ago, you need more gearheads and fewer laborers. There's a net cost saving in manufacturing because the payroll got short enough to offset the education of the engineers, but what about repair and maintenance?

Well, that kind of work is still labor intensive, and whether or not a toaster or a radio is made to last, if you can get it open, it takes a lot more than a screwdriver and persistence to get it working again. Computer repair might be more of a cottage industry than traditional repair services, but even then, what usually happens is a component is replaced and then thrown out or recycled for materials. Circuit boards and such are so touchy that trying to manually replace diodes or capacitors, if the malfunctioning ones can even be identified by your average soldering gun wielding citizen, is most likely to multiply the problems.

The result is that labor, on average, is more expensive than it used to be, in fact is by and large too expensive to spend on small appliances, even if they were designed to be accessible to curious gearheads. Even if they still used the older and more durable designs, it'd really be less expensive to replace something than to hire someone (not just buy a replacement part, unless you are willing and able to do it all yourself from home) to take it apart, diagnosis it and install the parts.

I do occasionally see a durable good designed for recycling--choice of easily reused or compostable materials, ease of dismantling and sorting into material types--but that still seems to be the exception.  Or maybe the recycling outfits hired by cities haven't caught up yet with green cradle-to-grave product engineering yet.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The logical conclusion of the Fairness Doctrine

So, some people want the "Fairness Doctrine" made law (or at least part of FCC regs) because...well, mainly because Air America isn't really dominating the ratings like they assumed. For people new to the scene, the idea is that talk radio stations would have to have equal programming time for conservative and liberal shows.

I don't think it's what they really want. To really be fair, we'd have to have equal time for all broadcast programming, not just AM talk radio.

We'd have to do the regular news too. We wouldn't have just one Fox News channel, almost half of them would be Fox News or nearly identical in coverage. For every story about "yet more" fatalities in Iraq, there would have to be a story about Iraqi lives saved or attacks thwarted. For every story about phantom WMDs, there has to be a story about inspectors prevented from entering suspect facilities and people asking why Bush just didn't have them planted to vindicate himself. For every article about Bush being ineffective, evil, dishonest, and stupid, there would have to be one properly and thoroughly explaining his rationale for vetoing the ESCR bills. For every reference to alleged perpetual abortion clinic bombings, there would be footage of people pitching a fit at pro-lifers unobtrusively praying the rosary across the street and interviews with former mothers who regret what they did and what the complications of the procedure were. For every "Christ's Tomb" caliber expose, whether it's about Christ or about the military-industrial complex, there's one about the historical evidence supporting Christianity or about some hippie politico who abdicates basic human rights to gain some creature comforts. For every story on Abu Ghraib the New York Times has to give everyone a dollar.

Okay, I'm being a little facetious on that last one.

We'd also have to do entertainment television. For every sitcom about charistmatic homosexuals, there would have to be a drama about straight people who turned to homosexuality after growing up in an abusive household and showing how difficult it really is to find happiness in serial monogamy or a totally libertine lifestyle (gay or straight). For every show warning about overpopulation, there's one about destitute senior citizens. For every show about two friends or strangers who sleep together, there's one about a child they have (or maybe an STD that really cuts into their lifestyle, and not just because they're always getting those inconvenient treatments) who is both more inconvenient and more important to the main characters than an occasional plot element. For every show decrying the folly of guns or war, there's a show about the cops not making it to stop a home invasion in time or about large, defenseless populations being under seige by brutal neighbors. For every movie about a sympathetic terrorist, a normal guy who got caught up in unfortunate circumstances with persuasive European psychopaths, there's one about a guy who has a chip on his shoulder for no good reason and leaves his child in a car wired with explosives so no one will think to inspect it.

Sure; sometimes you hear about these things in passing, but they're never the "hot" stories, are they?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

When someone says to me...

...that an unborn baby may be human but isn't a person, and I insist that the embryo is, I like to offer a compromise. "Would you be willing to concede that a fetus is 3/5 of a person?"

..."It's a fetus, not a baby," I point out that fetus is Latin for baby, and it means the same thing in English. Saying "a fetus isn't a baby" is logically equivalent to saying "a thirty year old isn't an adult;" just the same, saying "a fetus isn't a person" isn't prima facie logically different from "a teenager isn't a person."

I've seen many pro-abortionists make the "not a person [yet]" argument, and when pressed to provide some rationale beyond the sophistry I mentioned in the previous paragraph, all the evidence has always been arbitrary. Some of it's been understandable, like basing personhood on the presence of a mind, but it still all boils down to something materialist or utilitarianist, which not every pro-abortionist is prepared to commit to: the mind (sometimes they invent something like "social intelligence" that magically develops at birth even though intereactiveness is observed in multiple births, just like the concious mind they try to get around), viability, maybe the heartbeat, advice from an OB/GYN, or the whim of the mother.

It's not hard to show the conventional artificiality of their distinctions between personhood and non-personhood. Particularly these days, though, it's hard to show the pro-abortionist why such anemic philosophies aren't adequate to defend erring on the side of "The risk of murdering a human is small in comparison," however many caveats they thought to bring to the fight.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Another reason I don't rely on the MSM as my sole information source

After moving to an area where I can't pick up the local Catholic radio stations in my car, I started switching between NPR, Family Life/Moody Radio, and a conservative AM talk station. I still like NPR for such shows as Car Talk, but their semiregular features on the casualties in Iraq ("Eight more soldiers died today...let's get back to our expose on the NCOs who lost limbs and do sweeps of their suburban homes every night, and some widows of the soliders who weren't so lucky as to come home scarred") got tedious after the first week of consecutive daily stories. I don't mean to belittle the situation our veterans and soliders' spouses are in, and maybe they just happened to have a multi-part feature--which is entirely legitimate by itself--when I started listening, but after a point it's not representative or accurate reporting, it's just this summer's substitute for shark attack stories--not newsworthily unusual, just seasonally relevant and necessary for coverage so competing news sources don't seem to be more (in a word) hip; when everyone's saying the same things, it's not even news anymore. Not even news analysis.

I said as much once, and the response I got was to the effect of "Yes, we should be hearing more about how Halliburton contractors are getting rich off the Iraqis."

I appreciate sarcasm, but I had to roll my eyes. Maybe it qualifies as human interest if not world news, but when the only human interest stories are what didn't fit in the world news section, it's no wonder that faithful viewers, readers, listeners tend to see one side of the news as the whole of what's going on in the world. Yes, Halliburton is a different viable news topic, but it still falls under the same category that few reporters seem able or willing to escape: Things We're Screwing Up In The War. Hello? A war's bigger than the sacrifices we're making, whether they're made for a good cause, an honest error, a serious lack of judgment or malicious deception. A war's bigger than any profiteering opportunities that accompany it. A war's even bigger than the problems with waging it and securing the peace afterwards.

A war is more than all these things, but if you can cover all of them in some proportion then I'd say you're doing pretty well; if you cover one side of all of them then I'd say you're not, no matter how broad your coverage otherwise is.

Sure, good news doesn't sell as well, but people like some relief from bad news. When something goes right, tell them, and then move on. Don't push an agenda, whether it's one you planned from your own personal philosophies for educating the world or whether it grew organically out of competition with other newspapers or TV networks. In fact, actively try to avoid agendas. You don't have to lie to persuade people to fall in line on your side of the national debate, you only have to emphasize the favorable facts; more insidious yet, when you emphasize certain subsets of the facts, people will tend to think of those few things as the entirety of public concern.

Is it any wonder that Americans are thought of as provincial? That in the week of 9/11 many Americans went running to globes and atlases to find out where Afghanistan is? That "progressives" often criticize "fundamentalists" for essentially not picking up on the latest European secular fads (think about that high school caliber of thinking the next time they claim to be freethinkers)?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I gotta wonder.

A few Protestant apologists will try to convince you that the Church tried to keep the Bible out of the hands of the people, and in failing to do that, made sure all the Bibles were printed in Latin instead of the local tongue. I wonder how they can keep a straight face.

Well, the Bible would have been written, not printed, which did keep the number of copies low by modern standards, but I may be splitting hairs.

In the middle ages, literacy wasn't terribly high, so keeping books away from the populace wouldn't be a high priority for someone trying to control the information within. By the same token, publishing it in the local tongues isn't going to help people who can't read anything.

If information control really was the Church's goal, you'd think they could have done a better job than to preserve the book and read from various parts of it (properly translated or not) every day. If you don't want someone to find out what's in a book, you burn all the copies; you don't just keep the existence of any hidden volumes a secret that any relatively literate and nosy peasant could stumble upon. He'd have to hook up with some underground Bible-readers to make sure he followed the path of Luther and Zwingli, anyway, instead of committing the errors of Eutyches or Donatus.

Latin was a widely known language. It's hard to understand for most people in modern America, since most of us grow up only learning, speaking, and hearing English, but think of it like how so many people everywhere else in the world today know English. If you want to convey information to the widest group of people, your best bet is to put it in English (or maybe Cantonese or Hindi). Putting it in every local dialect is nice too, but a lot less efficient, more time consuming.

If the Church wanted to restrict access to the Bible, but couldn't succeed in controlling all the copies, how could it possibly get all of them translated into Latin to make sure the people who didn't know Latin (but apparently were otherwise literate) couldn't read it? All the pre-Latin copies would have to be replaced, which means confiscation and reissuing of manuscripts in Latin only. Why not just issue nothing, or some non-Bible book that only tells what the Church wants you to believe? Don't say the Catechism--unless you count the Didache and other patristic epistles and apologies, the first official digest of teachings was published in the 16th century. Like I already said, though, Latin was the common language, so translating it from Greek (the previous common language) is only going to make it more accessible.

Still skeptical? Still think some underground ecclesial confederation had to do without if they didn't have their own manuscripts in Phrygian or Old Norse? Try to find me a non-Latin translation that wasn't approved by the Church, or one that was condemned but wasn't clearly written to support some heresy that any reasonable Protestant would recognize the distastefulness of.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Public or private marriage?

Some people argue that marriage is a private matter between two consenting adults, so nobody else gets to say what it means for them, that it's ridiculous to suggest that someone allegedly perverting their own nuptial union harms anyone else's. Others--or often the same, since usually nobody makes any criticism against which this argument is leveled until the convention is challenged in the first place--say that they should be recognized and honored by the public because they want it to be so, and if their desire to be happy (or have power of attorney, or whatever) doesn't accommodate the traditional matrimonial configuration, then everyone else has to bow to their radical new vision.

It's kind of like saying "making an omelette is a private matter. If an omelette to me means no cheese, who are you to judge?" The question of the omelette isn't about me being judgmental. You can leave out the cheese and call it an omelette if you want, but all you've got are scrambled eggs, and no amount of desire or imagination or "Hey, who's to say what an omelette should be?" equivocating can make it otherwise.

In the words of c matt at Mark Shea's blog: "Marriage is for the begetting and raising of children. Society's interest in marriage is for the raising of its future citizens, hence it has a stake in marriage, and there really is no such thing as a private marriage. Marriage is inherently a public act."

Quite so. You want a marriage publicly recognized, you take the public stipulations. Yes, you're in a free country. You want to keep a private affair between two consenting adults? Do whatever you want (I may have some moral qualms, but it isn't my place to police your bedroom). You want to drive a car? Go ahead. You want to drive on public roads? Get licensed and stay between the curbs. Think you should drive on the sidewalks? Get new traffic laws passed and see how pedestrians react. Are they just being killjoys or bigots? Are they?

If you're crossing the street and a car's bearing down on you at 60 miles an hour, wouldn't you want someone screaming to get your attention?

Over at the Catholic Report a couple months ago, a number of Protestants were using this metaphor as a defense for obnoxious street preaching geared towards bringing people out of the Church. These preachers were on the defensive because they showed up during a mass at a Chaldean church (I think they had a procession outside or something), and made enough noise to distract some of the people inside.

Most of them say they're motivated by love, not hate, and I won't claim to know any differently, but some are so obstinately incredulous that I do wonder. A lot of the specifics are pedigreed Jack Chick, so I won't spend any more time on that point.

I just wanted to address people who use the "speeding car" rationale:

It doesn't work.

We get that if you saw someone standing in the street about to get run over, you would be desperate to try to save him, even if it seemed heavy-handed or even embarrassing to him at the time. Unfortunately, you're screaming and waving your arms so much that you're further distracting him; you're making such a spectacle out of yourself that we can't even tell what you're really trying to say, that we are even less likely to notice the oncoming car.

To Catholics, your desperate zeal just sounds like misplaced anger, especially when your impassioned pleas and criticism don't make a lot of sense.

I hope you can forgive our skepticism, since about half the time when a Protestant (and you're a Protestant if your tradition, or ecclesial lineage if you like, surfaced in the aftermath of Luther, no matter how convincingly you can draw a line back to Christ) tells us he's studied Catholicism, it means he's cribbed some notes from Lorraine Boettner or from a sermon given by one of Boettner's intellectual offspring.

That deer-in-the-headlights look you sometimes get from us? It's not shock and awe at the Holy Spirit humbling us through your strident proselytizing; it's bewilderment at your array of claims that hardly have anything to do with what we actually believe, especially in light of your insistence that--despite the clunky application of Protestant jargon to tiny snippets from the Catechism--you've really done your homework and understand the Catholic doctrines in any meaningful way.

We don't blame you entirely--sure, if our doctrines were just as you described, we'd be repulsed as well. These days, we often do get instructed poorly, so we often can't help you understand many of the more rarified teachings when you criticize them, which we also regret.

We just sometimes wonder how well saying "Read the Bible for yourself! Except Maccabees, and Tobit, and Judith, and parts of some other books we accept, and then a few others" really works. We also wonder about sola scriptura when people who rely on it have been finding irreconcilable differences in what Scripture means about once a week since Luther discovered the idea, retaining only two things in common: (1) everything the Catholics believe that must be wrong, like purgatory (2) every doctrine they all have in common is also shared with the Catholics, like the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ and His virgin birth.

Seems like a funny way to decide which doctrines are too tenuously extrapolated from Scripture, especially when so many others--so many no less nuanced--aren't debated at all.

Friday, June 08, 2007

NFP not for the faint of heart?

In a recent Scientific American article, the difference in effectiveness between natural family planning and the old rhythm method were discussed. Rather quickly the piece digressed into the impracticality of being continent for as long as two weeks:

"[I]t is not right for everyone. requires a strong commitment on the part of both partners."

No kidding? Who would have expected to have to make a strong commitment in a serious relationship, let alone a marriage?

"Naive readers see these results [of low unwanted pregnancy rates], and they think [NFP] is the greatest thing since laptop computers....It's difficult to abstain from sex for two out of four weeks...That's very difficult for young couples."

Naive? Naive to expect a couple to be diligent about something difficult that requires keeping a leash on their appetites? Maybe, but only because they never knew how. They're constantly stimulated through the media and encouraged to do whatever feels good (which is another subject). Remember the "soft bigotry of low expectations?" What do you call it when we don't just expect but approve of animalistic behavior? If you think I'm overreacting, I even heard someone assert that it's biologically impossible for a person (he later retreated to "young man" when some women challenged him; I don't know if any young men did) to abstain from masturbation for any length of time if sex with another person weren't available. I don't think the opposite of his position is naive. I wouldn't even say his position is naive; the word doesn't have a cynical enough connotation.

I sure wouldn't say it's a remotely adult attitude. An adult would recognize there's more to showing love than coitus--heh, okay, an adult would technically recognize that the physical act is one way love can be shown, but I'll be the one to split hairs and be disingenuous around here, if you don't mind. To make the child/adult dichotomy more distinct, permit me to use a different metaphor.

The adult knows that a balanced meal is essential for one's health. An adult can enjoy a healthful main course and well prepared vegetables. The child only wants dessert. He may tolerate the spinach, and will enjoy a hot dog and fries with ketchup if presented to him, but all he wants is the ice cream afterwards. The "child" who doesn't want to put up with the chicken parmesan and carrots of a well-ordered relationship insists that artificial methods be developed and provided so he doesn't suffer from malnutrition, weight gain, and tooth decay. A salad, exercise, and brushing your teeth? "Aw man, all that drudgery will take two weeks! Just gimme some cake now!"

I don't know what's more childish and sad. That attitude, or the attitude that we should cater to such immaturity.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Hey, sorry I haven't been posting much lately. Haven't had internet for the past couple weeks. I'm currently crashing at an old compadre's place but hope to have some broadband set up at home in the next few days...

Friday, May 11, 2007

Well, I'm not perfect, but...

The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to Purgatory!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Extreme
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)High
Level 2 (Lustful)Low
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Very Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very Low
Level 7 (Violent)Very Low
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Low
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Very Low

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Frank Beckwith comes home to Rome

Dr. Beckwith was originally a Catholic but for reasons I can't even remember incorrectly became an evangelical. You can learn more about him personally at his web site, so I won't belabor his biography here.

Well, he recently announced that he is returning to the Catholic faith. There's much talk of this decision in the combox of his blog, linked in the title of this post. The Catholics who chimed in are, naturally, quite happy, and the Protestants who chimed in are, understandably, quite disappointed. Something caught my eye, though, about the arguments used by some of the Protestant posters to convince Dr. Beckwith to reconsider. Some merely expressed their feelings, which I'm not really in a position to argue with, but the others, in their attempt to use Scripture (albeit very pithily--not much room in a combox) to give a thumbnail sketch for their opinion that Rome is apostate or the whore of Babylon or just a little too pagan, I think provided a good case study of the fruitlessness of sola Scriptura.

You can read the comments yourselves, if you want to take the time; I'll just summarize a few points here.

The usual "Rome went off the rails" theory posits that the apostasy happened, or at least began, when it ceased being persecuted by the Roman Empire in the fourth century. The problem there is that there's no evidence of an underground Biblical literalist movement between then and the Reformation; the few people who would still hold to the "Trial of Blood" theory would either have to invoke an oral tradition of literal Biblical interpretation for twelve centuries, or admit that there was a significant historical discontinuity and accept that the Church effectively ceased to exist for that time, which doesn't sit well with the New Testament's words about a safeguarded and enduring institution (corporately visible or not).

One person solved this dilemma by tying the Roman apostasy to the troubles Paul cited in I Corinthians and his references to "another gospel." If you look at historical records, this "other gospel" is most likely a reference to the Gnostics, for the proto-Catholics weren't teaching a "gospel" that was incompatible, let alone in competition, with the four books that are in everyone's Bible. What does the evidence tell us? The very students of the Apostles, sometimes writing while the Twelve were still alive and kicking, wrote stuff that not only meshes with Scripture but is also distinctly Catholic.

You can dismiss "uninspired' documents and whatnot if you like, but the only reason for doing so is an insistence on a narrow reading of Scripture that simply doesn't fit everything else we see about the early Church. Does it make more sense to read the Bible in a way that agrees with things we can independently demonstrate, or to reject those things and a reading that would be compatible with them, for reasons that aren't that strongly put forth in Scripture--that are themselves extrabiblical?

Sure there's a whore of Babylon in Revelation. Saying it's the Church of Rome, though? Scripture doesn't make that identification; it hardly even suggests it, and my feeling is the only similarity is through Satan's attempts to mock the Church and confuse the poor souls living in the end times. A non-Catholic can believe the Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon, but he'll have to argue from extrabiblical material and thinking, or from his gut, to make the point; not from the plainness of Scripture itself. Maybe when the Eschaton draws near things will be clearer, or misinformation will be more concrete, but looking at the pope's miter or someone kissing a bishop's ring and saying "How silly! It must be evil!" is pretty facile, in the same vein as "I call my male parent by his first name because Jesus said to call no man father. Never mind what I call my female parent." Some people do make that argument, but it's egregiously legalistic; I doubt most evangelicals would go that far.

Several others used the "another gospel" verse, and one from Galatians about how we are not perfected by the flesh, in order to write off the sacraments and the Magisterium or something. Those verses by themselves do sound like they might condemn such things, but you'd either have to assume from elsewhere that "Romanism" is what Paul meant, or you'd have to read it from the context, but the context doesn't make an implication of Tradition that's even remotely clear.

Where they don't leave well enough alone, as if those two verses were self-evident, they try to explain their positions with a little more detail. The "another gospel" arguments usually add up to "I believe that these extra things that Rome teaches, like the books they added to the Bible or the extra five sacraments, are infusions of paganism," which I won't take the time to refute here; suffice it to say Jesus quoted from the Septuagint and there are at least two references to the Deuterocanon in the Gospels, and that when Jesus says "This is My Body" we do take Him literally. The flesh verse from Galatians at times gets an exegesis that flirts with Gnostic dualism itself, which should be a red flag to anyone familiar with early Church history.

If you're not going to invoke an explicit Magisterium in your reading of Sciprture, you're only going to end up invoking an implicit one.

Specific citations aside, I really had to scratch my head when people implored Dr. Beckwith to read the cited passages, or just to study Scripture in general more carefully. I've seen this argument before--"I was taught to love Jesus/read Scripture"/"If only you had learned to do so!"--and while on the one hand I can understand how it seems self-evident to the person making that argument, it's a little condescendingly pat, and really suspicious when you bother to look at the context of one's spiritual journey.

I mean, look at Dr. Beckwith. Ph.D in philosophy, professor of Church-State Studies at Baylor, and (since neither of these things clinch his Biblical pedigree) president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He's well known, obviously is no slouch, and was highly respected, at least throughout American Christendom (today, perhaps less so by non-Catholics). Do you really think he forgot to read the Bible, or at least didn't look at the Evangelical prooftexts cited in tracts and by preachers everywhere? Do you think he'd get selected for the presidency of the ETS without his peers having a reasonable estimation of scholarly work and devotion to Christ? Do you think that, now that his studies have taken him across the Tiber, another glib advisement to do more of what got him started down this path is magically going to undo it all?

Reading the Bible is what led him to the teaching authority that Christ left with us alongside His teachings. Reading it more isn't going to make him rediscover the passages that show the Bible to be entirely sufficient or the Church to be invisible and anarchic. They aren't in there.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Aside from my daily rosary and other regular prayers, I try to do a few ejaculatory prayers throughout the day. I don't remember to do them very often, usually only when I'm reminded by outside forces or coincidence, but one of the things I do that's becoming sort of a regular thing is say hi to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament before I genuflect and enter a pew, and say good-bye or "See you tomorrow" or something else to that effect after I genuflect upon leaving. Since a large chunk of my spontanteous prayer is asking for help for this or for that, I wanted to try to develop a practice that was informal/not highly structured, personal, and not based on my needs. I think I got the idea from Mother Angelica, who would do something similar whenever she'd walk past the chapel in her convent.

Well, I'm going into church Sunday, and just as I'm about to genuflect I mentally say "Hi, Jesus. How're you today?" I almost laugh at how silly that should sound, being asked of an eternal being, but just as I start to grin I think I hear in my head His response:

"Holy. And you?"

Although I had no idea how to answer, I'm going with the assumption that I didn't just imagine that response.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

You ever pray the rosary, and find that some decades seem a lot longer than others, like you seem to be nearing the end of one and look down to see that, even though you've been moving the beads, you're hardly halfway through--or that sometimes, you say three or four Hail Marys and discover that, even without having moved any extra beads along, you're almost on top of the next decade?

Is it just me?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Is cheating no longer considered immoral?

Today on the Drew Mariani Show, one of the topics was the incidence of infidelity. A recent study (of dubious reliability, according to one guest, but it doesn't detract from my point) suggests that about half of all people cheat on their partners at some point.

The question was raised, then, "If everyone's doing it, is it even immoral?" The answer is yes, for a number of reasons, a couple of which I'll only touch on.

First of all, morality is not determined by how many people hew to it, or how many dismiss it. Secondly, if you're still calling it cheating, you probably still have a sense that it's wrong, so trying to argue that infidelity is okay because cheating isn't bad just shifts the problem.

If people walk into relationships expecting their partners to fool around with other people, knowing their partners expect the same, then, true, it's not necessarily cheating, it's just following the conditions of a more libertine arrangement; however, the problem is that when people get married, they do make vows to the effect of "forsaking all others"--putting the spouse first in all things, and not sharing with others what is promised to the spouse.

If people walk into relationships expecting cheating, infidelity isn't the problem. (Okay, it's a problem, but it's missing the point.) The problem is people not taking vows seriously, not making them seriously. Don't expect to remain faithful? It's sad, but at least you're honest. Promise to be faithful anyway? Then you're a liar and a hypocrite.

If your integrity is in question, you can hardly be expected to judge infidelity to be moral or or not.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The feast of St. Gertrude the Great is November 15...or 17....

I mention it now because I just thought of it, and to give plenty of advance notice.

One of the few female saints granted the title Great, St. Gertrude was a voracious student. Christ visited her in visions throughout most of her life, after an experience at the age of 26 essentially converted her from a student of nature to a student of God. One time, after she prayed for more time to pray and fewer things to take away from prayer time, Jesus told her:

It does not matter to me whether you perform spiritual exercises or manual labor, provided only that your will is directed to me with a right intention. If I took pleasure only in your spiritual exercises, I should certainly have reformed human nature after Adam's fall so that it would not need food, clothing or the other things that man must find or make with such effort.

Thus, spiritual growth is not just for the religious or the studious, and having some variety in our lives is generally a natural and good thing.

Another time, He asked for prayers for the souls in purgatory:

I accept with highest pleasure what is offered to Me for the poor souls, for I long inexpressibly to have near Me those for whom I paid so great a price. By the prayers of thy loving soul, I am induced to free a prisoner from purgatory as often as thou dost move thy tongue to utter a word of prayer.

Yet another, He gave her a prayer, by which He said He would release one thousand souls from purgatory every time it was prayed in love and devotion:

Eternal Father, I offer You the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus Christ, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, those in the Universal Church, in my home, and in my family.

There are other prayers you can do for the souls of the Church Penitent, and I would recommend them all. I would also encourage you to pray for the souls who have no one else to pray for them (on Earth, at least). They will be grateful for your aid, and helpful to your own causes and intentions (in purgatory and heaven, at least).

You can make a heroic act of charity, where you give up all your personal merits to be distributed by the Virgin Mary amongst the souls in purgatory. You can learn more about it at that link to New Advent, or at Our Lady's Tears, where I first read about it, which also has a Purgatory Novena and other prayers helpful to the suffering souls.

Anyway, I was intrigued by an idea I saw over at Free Republic and again at the Mission to Empty Purgatory, where I got most of this information about Gertrude the Great. Being of an analytical mind, the idea appealed to me from a mathematical standpoint, as well as a charitable one, but your milage may vary. The numbers work might seem a bit cold, but if we've been given this gift, we ought to make something of it, and there's nothing wrong with trying to imagine (or more) what could be accomplished with it.

Given that the Prayer of St. Gertrude releases a thousand souls from purgatory, and that there is a finite number of people who have lived, it should be possible for enough people to have a devotion to rescuing those souls and helping them enter the Church Triumphant that purgatory would be effectively emptied, and as long as there are people to pray for the Church Penitent, to keep purgatory virtually empty.

I'll walk you through the little bit of math; MTEP keeps a running tally based on prayer pledges, if you want to see it from someone else.

There seems to be a consensus that throughout history there have been approximately 100 billion (± 5% or so) people. A Google search for "How many people have ever lived on Earth?" will get you numbers in this range from all kinds of sources, some even assuming a very young Earth. Some of the sites show their calculations, so you can check their work for yourself if you like. Naturally that number's always on the rise, but let's stick with an even 1011 for convenience.

Looking at the souls extant to date, how many times would someone have to pray the St. Gertrude Prayer to empty purgatory?

100,000,000,000 ÷ 1000 = 100,000,000

A hundred million. A huge number, but not unimaginable. Seems pretty mechanistic at this point, but consider that currently there are one billion Catholics in the world.

One billion versus a hundred million. If only 10% of all living Catholics, just a hundred million again, say the prayer once, it'd be done. We've got 80 million in the United States alone. Five times that number are in Latin America.

Of course, we should remember that it is a pious devotion, not a numbers game. As we don't pray the rosary just in the interest of quantity, we shouldn't pray this prayer just to get through it, just to rack up spiritual bonus points, either. More than one Catholic I've heard from with memories of life before Vatican II remember how common rushed, unintelligible Tridentine masses were, where the priests just garbled the Latin and went through the motions just to get it done; and how they really weren't as spiritually healthful (albeit still valid) as a Novus Ordo, said in English or Latin, prayed solemnly and with sincere intent.

Not that I'm condemning all the mass celebrants from before 1965. Liturgical abuses didn't end then, and I'm not condemning or condoning everything that's happened since 1965, either--while the frequency of mechanistic, rote masses has probably dropped, the variety of heteropraxy has grown (unless someone can point me to some coulro-Tridentine mass somewhere).

I admit, sometimes the best I can claim is that the 20 minutes I spend praying the rosary is 20 minutes I'm not doing something worldly. I also realize that the numbers angle can be an opportunity to develop some rote habit. However, some habits are pious, and we would not be given simple or repetitive prayers if we were not meant to recite them frequently. We need only direct our wills prayerfully towards Christ "with a right intention."

Here's the thought from Free Republic: the Church should dedicate one day to the emptying of purgatory, and ask every Catholic to say St. Gertrude's prayer. Then, every Sunday, we'd say the prayer once as sort of a keep-it-empty devotion.

Divine Mercy Sunday sort of fits that bill, but if it's this devotion we're interested in promoting, it might be more fitting to put it on the feast of Gertrude the Great. Maybe two weeks earlier, on All Souls' Day, now that I think about it. I'm not trying to tell the Church what to do, and the Church can't liberate people from their purgation under by its own fiat, but what I can do is encourage people to remember the people who died in God's grace but weren't quite ready for prime time. If you like the idea, you can say the prayer every day, or make it a decade; or in the interest of forming a holy habit, at least try to remember it on Gertrude's feast day each year and ask others to do the same.

I know I'd appreciate it when I get there.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Happy 300th birthday, Euler!

Stolen shamelessly from ISCA:

"Thiebault says that he has no personal knowledge of the truth of the story, but that it was believed throughout the whole of the north of Europe. The encylopedist Diderot paid a visit to the Russian Court at the invitation of the empress. He conversed very freely, and gave the younger members of the court circle a good deal of lively atheism. The empress was much amused, but some of her councillors suggested that it might be desirable to check these expositions of doctrine. the empress did not like to put a direct muzzle on her guest's tongue, so the following plot was contrived. Diderot was informed that a learned mathematician was in possession of an algebraical demonstration of the existence of God, and would give it him before all the Court, if he desired to hear it. Diderot gladly consented. The mathematician, which was Euler advanced towards Diderot and said gravely, and in a tone of perfect conviction: "Monsieur, (a + b^n)/n =x, therefore God exists. Any answer to that!" Diderot,
to whom algebra was Hebrew, was embarassed and disconcerted; while peals of laughter rose on all sides. He asked permission to return to France at once, which was granted."

Friday, April 06, 2007

If you can believe anything the Church teaches about itself, why can't you believe everything it teaches?

For my Lenten discipline, I've been reading the Bible straight through. I picked up in the middle of Genesis where I left off several months ago, and have been trying to do it in smaller chunks so I don't get overwhelmed and give up; I've found that when I do something for Lent, it's easier for me to keep to the discipline, so I figured, why not give it a shot? It's Easter and I'm now into the first book of Maccabees, and might finish the whole thing by summer.

I must say it helps tremendously seeing all the familiar readings in their broader contexts (and completely in order, as much as the old books are in order at all), both in understanding for myself and in responding to people who get upset over the distorted impressions they have of Scripture. Except for the repetitive constructions in the second book of Chronicles, I didn't even find it to be too dry. Okay, some of the genealogies and censuses in the Pentateuch didn't do much for me either, but they were shorter and easier to skim than the stuff in the later books I've gotten through so far. Either way, I'm not doing an in depth study at this point, so it's not like I'm sedating myself trying to reconstruct all the travels of Samuel or to uncover the pastoral reason for why the ephod or any of the other vestments were purple or had red thread or whatever.

Anyway, I was talking to someone about it a few weeks ago, and pointed out something that I found interesting. Inside the front cover of my Bible were these words:

A partial indulgence is granted to the failthful who use Sacred Scripture for spiritual reading with the veneration due the word of God. A plenary indulgence is granted if the reading continues for at least one half hour. (Enchiridion Inndulgentiarum)

The respone I got was "I didn't even know they still do indulgences...I'm not sure I believe in them, either."

"No? Why not?"

"Well, how can we know God's always going to do what they say when we do any of these things?"

All right, how can we? Obviously we can't prove it empirically; there's no tangible evidence we can observe. However, Jesus told His apostles that what they bind or loose on Earth will be bound or loosed in heaven--when Peter said that Jesus would pay the temple tax, even, Jesus had Peter catch a fish that had a coin in its mouth to pay the tax, even though it would not be proper (or at least not necessary) for the Son of God to give money for the House of God.

There's more, though. If you're going to doubt that God's going to honor the pious proclamations of His disciples, despite an obvious example of Him doing so in Matthew 17, what's stopping you from doubting that God's going to act every time someone pronounces a blessing or a priest does one of the sacraments? Habit, familiarity--does the ubiquity of the mass give you the impression that God will be more dilligent about performing a real miracle, or less? Hey, maybe last Sunday the Holy Spirit didn't come upon the bread and wine at mass, and they ended up not becoming the Body and Blood of Christ; maybe God felt that a simple symbolic communion would be appropriate at that time.

Most Catholics would probably agree that such logic sounds silly when it's applied to an actual sacrament, and I'd be thrilled to hear that people put more faith in the Eucharist than in anything else, but what's harder to believe: that God became man and shared with some of his followers the authority to turn common food into His Body and Blood, or that God shared with some of His followers the authority to commute the temporal punishment due for sin along side the ability to forgive it?

Here's a hint. Is it easier to say "your sins are forgiven" or "rise and walk?"

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I'm still watching "LOST" and "Battlestar:Galactica"...

...but I'm really getting tired of the writers confusing moral ambiguity with the main characters just being a bunch of jerks. I can watch "reality" TV if I want that crap, y'know?

Anyone listening out there in Hollywood?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The thing about reasonable accommodations to the exercise of religion is that these accommodations are finite.

So: a woman in Detroit, a Muslim and a plaintiff in a small-claims court case, had her case thrown out because she refused to remove her niqab. She's now bringing a civil rights case against the judge for denying her her day in court because of her religion.

I greatly respect the first amendment, but I don't think the law is on her side. The judge's concern wasn't with her modesty (or lack thereof), it was with the expectation of being able to trust someone whose clothing makes it nigh impossible to even verify that she is who she claims to be.

In this country, a defendant has the right to face his accusers, which means in part that anonymous witnesses and other involved parties are generally verboten, and your rights stop where someone else's begins. It's more important with criminal cases, but I doubt American jurisprudence would be well served by a double standard in this area.

What about the woman's right to worship as she sees fit? Well, what about the government's inability to treat Islam any differently from other religions?

The legal precedents do not point to letting people do whatever they want in the name of religion. The legal precedents point to the government stepping in when religious activity interferes with the administration of the state. The law will not permit you to go about naked in public as a form of worship, nor will it allow you to to perform human sacrifices (even on willing people), nor will it allow you to use mind-altering chemicals that the state has already decided are too dangerous to be left unregulated. Neither is it inclined to take seriously someone who puts on a disguise (it doesn't matter if you claim to be someone specific; the thing about anonymizing outfits is that people can't tell if you are who you say) and starts filing legal claims.

Modesty is great, but your right to anonymity is limited. I generally ought to be able to travel without being harrassed by any bureaucrat in a suit chanting "Papieren, bitte," but if I do get stopped by a police officer, whether for speeding or jaywalking, one thing I do not have the right to do is refrain from identifying myself. If I don't have a driver's license, then they will find some other way to verify my identity--some way other than my solemn word.

This woman can't even use the "honest face" cliche.

Maybe someday handheld fingerprinting or retinal scanning devices will become ubiquitous, and it will be easy to identify people without a man having to look in a woman's face (which doesn't sound very dignifying when I put it that way, does it?), but until then, not having the means to identify a customer or claimant is way beyond the reasonable bounds of accomodation.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Does anyone else find those Trojan condom commercials, where the couple shares iPod earbuds as a metaphor for sex, to be just a little...creepy?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Offer it up

"Isn't Christ's work complete?"

Christ shares everything He has with us, including His suffering. We're not really adding to it on our own, but inasmuch as Christ is one man who suffered, and our works only have value in Him, so is our individual suffering worthwhile.

"This redemptive suffering angle is too weird; I can't buy it."

Yet you still suffer.

"Well, what's the point? Didn't He say on the cross, "It is finished?""

Christ's death was of infinite value, so why was He even scourged in the first place? Christ suffered for us. In Him, we also suffer for each other. As Christ offered Himself up, so we should offer up our own sufferings.

"I can't grok suffering for someone else. It's this trading off of grace 'earned' by one person suffering to another person who needs it more."

Why not? A parent suffers for the benefit of the child. God answers our prayers without physically intervening every time. God is also not limited by time or space in taking our suffering as prayer, and prayer is not limited to the heartfelt recitation (or improvisation) of words.

"Okay, I'm almost following you, but while I can understand how we would want to save our children from pain and hardship, I don't know how I could do it without even knowing why or whom it would be for. Like I said, it's weird."

Yes. On rare occasions a person is granted knowledge of the purpose towards which his suffering is to be directed. A parent, to belabor the analogy, wants good for the child, but can't often see what form the good will take. Will efforts to build the child's character be best manifested in being a volunteer at a charity, or in a job, or eventually as a parent and spouse? Will being frugal to save up for college enable the child to become a great writer, or a great scientist? The difference here is in degree, in level of abstraction, moreso than in kind.

If you're like most of us, you'll sometimes just get frustrated because you can't see the purpose suffering in silence and ignorance. All I can say then is, again, offer your frustration up, too.