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.