Saturday, March 31, 2012


Every time I see someone explaining why something is the way it is based on "evolution," I smile inwardly. It's amusing to me because it is so similar to the accusation against theists that every time we need to explain something for which we don't have evidential explanation, we supposedly say "Goddidit."  (They smash the words together to make it sound and look silly and worthy of scorn by the intellectual elite they know themselves to be.)

Now, before evolutionists go all apeshit batty on me, let me say that as far as evolution is concerned, my current position is that I am inclined to grant that it is possible, perhaps even probable. My problem is that I simply do not know enough about the requisite sciences to make a truly informed decision, so I am forced to rely on authorities and argumentation that I can understand. (I think I'm in good company in this situation, too; even some of the most belligerent and devout atheists doubtless fall into this category.)

So far, I haven't really felt a need to really dig deep into the sciences related to the theory. I have read this or that book, talked to this or that person, on both sides of the issue. Both sides have their array of purported evidence (which I personally cannot verify) and both have arguments, objections to arguments, and answers to objections (and so on ad nauseum). Both sides seem utterly convinced that they are right and that others (often) are at best ignorant and at worse deviously conniving in the service of their ideologies. Given that I was raised in a "young earth" environment, that I am willing to give evolution the benefit of the doubt is some evidence of my open mindedness.

It's this consideration of questionable motives that makes me hesitant to trust either side, because both sides seem convinced that if they can just prove the other wrong in this scientific question then the other's belief system will come crashing down around their ears and, simultaneously, make their own belief system the only viable alternative. Because so much ideology is entrenched, it is difficult at best to tease out the truth. Both sides have relatively cogent argumentation, so the only way to certainly resolve it would be to be more than we are, to be able to directly and personally observe the evolution of the species over time, or at least to be able to reliably reproduce evolution on the scale that it is supposed to have happened in a controlled scientific experiment. Otherwise we're left with extrapolation, not verifiable experimental evidence or personal observation/experience.

Given that we can't do these things, the best I can offer evolution in terms of assent is that it is possible, perhaps even probable, but I remain skeptical. And when I read argumentation to the contrary (for instance this), the doubts are renewed. My position is not driven by a fear that my belief system is at stake; I've written about this elsewhere. I don't feel threatened by the theory at all (actually, I find it intriguing--it opens up some interesting theological speculation as well). Disproving evolution alone does not necessitate a young earth/literal creationist position; it doesn't even necessitate belief in God. But it certainly does provide the foundation for much contemporary atheism, so it's no wonder that atheists feel threatened by challenges to it and respond to such challenges with much vitriol.

So it is from this position of tentative assent that I guess I am more skeptical than others when someone attributes some cause to evolution. I've seen it often enough, in this or that program on TV (that have little to do with science or evolution as a subject), in explanations of spirituality, even in explanations in favor of this or that diet (interestingly, different dietary theories use evolution-based theories to justify their claims).

My latest encounter was this morning, as I was beginning to read Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole, I (perhaps predictably) ran into this statement right in the beginning of the book: "We evolved in an environment containing many agents— family members, friends, rivals, predators, prey, and so on. Spotting and understanding other agents helps us survive and reproduce."[1] Ah, the old H.A.D.D. hypothesis...

Things like this are often presumed based on relatively paltry evidence. We look at this or that bone fragment, this or that physiological similarity, this or that genetic similarity, and we deduce grand narratives on the origins of species. And such a general theory may indeed be true (I do not treat it as a conviction, personally). But then like a jazz player, people start riffing off this general theory, embellishing the narrative here and there to tell a story about why this or that thing is the way it is. In reality, scientifically and objectively speaking, we have little to no ground to stand on for such embellishments. We cannot employ the scientific method for these cases, often because the environment we are investigating is lost deep in the past.

But by enlisting the general theory of evolution (which again itself stands on relatively paltry scientific grounds--compared to other scientific endeavors like technology, experimental physics, medicine), people feel entitled to derive all sorts of interesting stories.  In reality, these stories are more akin to ancient mythologies than science. They employ just enough of what contemporaries believe to be true about the world and apply that to the past to build a narrative believable to contemporary ears.  The difference for our contemporaries is that where in the past people would have attributed causes to a God or gods, today they attribute the cause to evolution. Evolutiondidit. And thus, my aforementioned smirk. Even a very well educated and thoughtful guy like Law falls into the enticing trap of constructing (or at least giving credence to) such evolutionary myths.

Another interesting analogical observation is that the relative credence one seems to be willing to give such myths is directly proportional to one's conviction in the supporting broader narrative. Evolutionists want to believe that evolution (or some other natural cause) is the explanation. Theists want to believe that God (or some god/supernatural cause) is the explanation. The mental processes and proclivities are the same--we are all human and subject to our prejudices.

One last observation about evolution in general. It seems to me that a lot of ink, time, energy, and money has been spilled over this issue, and I'm not sure I understand, from a scientific point of view, why it is so important. Evolution's primary focus is the past, offering a rationale for why the biological world is the way it is. As a theory, it doesn't seem to offer much in the way of practical applicability, certainly nowhere near as much practical potential as other sciences, and in terms of insights that might lead to practical advances, they seem limited at best (such as the occasional hypothesis that can be tested and results in some practical application). In my eyes, this is further evidence that evolution is less about science that "works" and more about ideologies. On that ground alone perhaps one could question whether or not it should be taught as core curriculum in science.

1. Law, Stephen (2011-05-19). Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole (Kindle Locations 157-158). Prometheus Books. Kindle Edition.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Hello, Lord Satan

Riffing on my post yesterday, and while on the way home tonight listening to the beginning of Johannes Cabal in which Johannes goes to visit "Lord Satan" in Hell, it struck me just how similar the presumption that we are worthy to judge God is to the sin of Lucifer, namely pride.

Isn't this the essence of our fundamental choice as creatures? Am I going to chose myself and exalt my self--my intellect, my perception, my judgment--over God?

God will honor the free will he has endowed me with and give me what I choose. If I choose to exalt myself over him, to sit in judgment over him and judge that he does not exist, to seek what I judge to be good, my own interests, my own pleasure, my own ego, then I get what I have chosen, which is exactly what Lucifer has--eternity on my own with myself, apart from God. On the other hand, if I humble myself, seek God first, and love him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, he will give me what I seek--participation in his Divine Trinitarian love for all eternity.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

So You Got A Problem With God, Eh?

Lately I have been running into situations where people question God. Maybe they have a personal difficult situation. Maybe they look at some great injustice or evil in the world/history. Everybody seems to have a reason to put God on trial, and some also appoint themselves to be his judge, jury, and executioner.

The thing is, if God is who he says he is, and I mean the Christian understanding of God specifically, then he is infinitely Good, infinitely Just, and infinitely Loving. He is also the only necessary Being, upon which all of our beings are contingent. He is the prime mover, the first cause, the efficient cause. In him and through him all things have their being.

So, if this God does exist, that seems to trump all of the supposed evidence against him. It is perfectly logical, accepting the premise that God exists, to take the position that when we perceive evil, that there is a good reason for its existence, that, at the very least, God in his infinite nature allows it for a greater good. Put another way, we are finite beings and don't have the big picture (or sometimes even the right perception of the small picture); we just don't have the capacity to take it all in and understand how it truly is and how it is, all together, good. In short, we simply need to remind ourselves that we are not God.

But wait! I'm putting the chicken before the egg, some might say. To take this position, you must accept this understanding of God, but it's precisely this purported evidence against him that inclines me to not accept that. In a way, that's true.  But it is still an argument against that doubt, assuming that you are otherwise inclined to accept it. Because if such a God does exist, then this is true, and the problem lies with your judgment, not with God.

And in fact, we can even dial things back a bit, and just go by the purely natural, rational arguments for the Prime Mover, the Necessary Being, the Efficient Cause. You can consider the Ontological Argument, as well. Those arguments, as well, are not without objections, but nor are the objections themselves without objections. Such is the nature of reasoning (and why, again, we should be more inclined to doubt ourselves than God). In any case, it may be not as hard to accept such a God on a purely rational basis, but even so that Being is still the Being upon which yours is contingent. So again, putting yourself in the judge's seat is, well, a bit presumptuous to say the least, and our objections in such case are, at best, irrelevant.

Now I'm not saying that based on this line of thought that suddenly everything is okay and nobody has any doubts about God anymore. What fun would that be? If God wanted to remove all doubts about him, he could; obviously, that's not his thing. I'm just offering this as food for thought the next time you're tempted to put God on trial. How about starting with something for which it would be a little more believable to be in error, namely your own perception or thought processes, rather than the omnipotent, omniscient He Who Is?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: Lectio Divina Bible Study: Learning to Pray in Scripture

I recently got Lectio Divina Bible Study: Learning to Pray in Scripture by Stephen J. Binz. As a lay Dominican, we're encouraged to practice lectio divina, so I thought this could be a nifty way to help me do it. The book itself is structure for either group or individual Bible study, with notes on how best to leverage it for both. I was using it as an individual, though I would like to try it in a group setting. I think it'd work well, based on prior experience with similarly structured materials.

In Section I, the book starts with a great introduction on prayer. That in itself is valuable reading; it also has a short test run of how each session works, using the formula of Listening, Understanding, Reflecting, Praying, Acting. Again, as a lay Dominican, we have a similar approach to study in general, with the end result always geared towards acting--our apostolate. It resonates with me.

The book is broken into five other sections, starting with Prayer in the Lives of Israel's Heros and ending, in chronological progression, through to Prayer in the Apostolic Church. Each section has a helpful introduction to the content to follow, and then the sessions begin.

Spending time with the Word of God like this is naturally spiritually beneficial. It also helps to have the guidance and structure provided by the book. I highly recommend it as a great way to get into the practice of lectio divina, and just generally deepening your prayer life.


Thanks to the Catholic Company for sharing this book with me. As part of the FTC rules, I have to be clear that they gave this book to us in order to elicit a review. The Catholic Company is also a great source for first communion gifts and baptism gifts.

Monday, March 26, 2012

What If My Child Were Gay?

A fellow Catholic I know on G+ was recently asked the following:
I know you are pro-life and anti-gay, so I'm curious: If your wife (if you have a wife, if not, pretend) were pregnant and it was determined that your unborn son is genetically gay. Would you raise the gay child or abort the pregnancy?
Read his response. I agree with it. Of course I wouldn't abort the child. Should go without saying...

So, what if my child were gay?

Even if there is a genetic cause to homosexuality, it would still be something that potentially prevents my child from having the full range of human life available to her (particularly, expressing love in natural marriage, procreation, and child rearing). Add onto that the extra challenges that come with being homosexual, and I just do not see the sense in simply accepting my child's situation--I would do whatever I could to give her those options and avoid the extra heartache, whether through natural or supernatural means.

I just don't see a justification for 1) treating homosexuality as a reason for disgust or, worse, hate or, conversely, 2) why it should be accepted as a desirable "alternative" condition. Both are two polemically wrong responses to what should be treated with the deepest personal care. The best response is for the person to be loved completely and helped by all means possible, just as you would with any difficult condition, genetically caused or otherwise.

It may be that person doesn't want such help or love, but that, too, is no reason to either hate them or to just accept it. People do all sorts of things that we may think aren't good for them, and our response should be compassionate care for them and still reach out in love and try to help them.

Of course it can be argued that my idea of the ideal fully human, sexually active life is constrained. I readily admit that point--I am not of the opinion that all forms of sexual expression are equally good for a person. Even within heterosexual marriage, not all forms of sexual expression are equally good, or even good at all. I also don't think that all forms of religious expression are equally good. If my child decided she felt inclined to Buddhism, I wouldn't think that's just okay either.

That doesn't mean I love her any less. That doesn't mean I treat her with disrespect. That doesn't mean I contemn her or ostracize her from the family. In fact, my reason for objecting is based in love--because I think she's doing herself some harm, so treating her in a mean way would make no sense. I totally don't get parents who disown children who don't follow their wishes; talk about not understanding what being a parent is about.

It's not that I haven't tried to understand the other viewpoint on this issue. I've actually given it quite a lot of thought over the last 15 or so years, since it first came across my radar as a college student. I don't know yet if any of my children will feel so inclined; I do have a family member who identifies as homosexual. I have had homosexual friends and co-workers, and doubtless some that I am not aware of. I am not anti-gay, though certainly those people do exist, and we should be concerned about them. We should not tolerate real hate towards homosexuals.

Take this article from UC Davis that gives some history on how homosexuality has been treated in regards to mental health. The concern seems to be with showing that homosexuality isn't the cause of other pathologies, that it doesn't prevent one from being a functional adult, etc. Similarly, the linked article covering changing sexual orientation seems intent on discrediting those attempts--it seems to take as an assumption that it shouldn't even be tried.

Naturally, if you don't see homosexuality as a pathology, then you would see things from the bias clearly represented in those articles. But in order to not see it as a something that should be treated medically, it seems that you have to 1) take an apathetic view on sex and 2) take an apathetic view towards procreation. Both of these are related to value judgments, meaning they are not scientific questions but rather questions of personal judgment.

Maybe you think sex is just a form of recreation. Maybe you see it as a harmless natural drug. Maybe you see it as an expression of intimate affection. Maybe you see it as an expression of total giving of self. Surely there are views all in between and outside of these. We can argue for our value judgments about sex, but we should acknowledge they are value judgments and not one of them is any more scientifically valid than another. We all acknowledge the basic biological functions; where we differ is in the values attached to how they are exercised and the results of that exercise on individuals and societies.

The question of procreation is a little less purely value judgment related. There is obvious biological societal self interest in procreation (self-perpetuation), and any society that thinks it is worthwhile and good (all of them probably think this, right?) understands the fundamental value of procreation as a means of carrying on not only the species but also its particular culture. Individuals generally understand the value of procreation from a personal perspective, too, though maybe it is less valued today than in times past. Most of us can appreciate the value of our own posterity and want to ensure it. We sure seem preoccupied with it. :)

So here's the deal. Given that the value of procreation is fairly obvious, both to society at large and to many individuals, and given that sex itself is value-judgment laden (most people are not apathetic about it), it seems that taking an apathetic view of these things in relation to how we treat them in medicine does not follow.

Society has a greater inherent self-interest in stable, monogamous heterosexual relationships because they can not only reduce the incidence of STDs caused by promiscuity (as can stable, monogamous homosexual relationships, to be sure) but they also tend towards procreation, something that homosexual and other forms of sexual activity do not.

Let's bring this back to the personal level. Given that heterosexuality naturally tends towards the acknowledged good of procreation and family, given that (at least for now and in any immediate future) heterosexuality is generally more accepted in and perceived to be preferable by society, and given that I want the best, least troublesome life for my child, it follows that I would want her to be heterosexually oriented.

And what about her, what about those homosexuals who do want to change? Maybe they want to change for religious reasons. Maybe they want to change so they can experience natural procreation and family. Maybe they just don't want to deal with the social troubles they face, despite all the efforts to make it get better. Whatever their reason, if they want to change their orientation, why should we deny them that?

So I ask, why has medicine abandoned homosexually oriented persons? Why does it fight or simply neglect research into creating the option of changing orientation? Why are we settling for only working against irrational hatred of homosexuals? It seems to me that we've just given up on that simply because we're worried that it might contribute to negativity towards homosexual persons. (But couldn't the same concern be held in regards to Downs syndrome research? Or fat reduction? Or...? These concerns shouldn't stop us.)

There is absolutely no doubt that working to ensure that homosexuals are fully accepted as persons, treated with respect, with empathy, and with compassion instead of disgust and hate is a noble and worthy endeavor. All people should be treated this way, regardless of any condition they find themselves in. But those are just feelings and perceptions; they're just the first step--we should do more.

People such as myself are not only not anti-gay, we love homosexuals more than those who stop with simply treating them as first class human persons--we actually want to offer them a choice. I see this as the next step in the pro-gay movement, to take it to the next level of advocacy for them as free, first class persons.

Having the choice does not mean people would be forced to take it. People are free individuals. Maybe I'm genetically disposed to be fat. If you offered me a therapy to change that, I may or may not choose it. Maybe I like being fat. Certainly, I can fully operate in society as a productive adult and still be fat. Surely I should be accepted and treated as a first class person, despite being fat--despite that there is plenty of societal pressure not to be so. (I can guarantee that some of my friends and family, even my mom, do not approve of my being fat and have pushed me not to be at times.)  But heck, I would fully support research into genetic or other ethical, non-destructive therapy to help give fat people more freedom to choose not to be.  And maybe someday I'd choose to take it. It would be nice to have the choice--my attempts thus far to change haven't worked.

So I say we should give homosexuals the chance to be able to choose not to be gay. We should support research--medical, psychological, and otherwise--that searches out how to make this an option for them. Maybe in the past that research and some of the techniques employed weren't ethical--that doesn't make the goal not good. We can do ethical research in this direction if we put our minds to it.

I hope that by the time my children are old enough for it to be an issue for them, that if they do feel that they are homosexually oriented, they will have the option to choose to not be if that's what they want. We can do better than just making them live with it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ongoing Conversion

As part of my study assignment for ongoing formation as a lay Dominican, the question was posed: "Have you experienced conversion to the Lord Jesus? How? Was it gradual or sudden? Was it once only or is it ongoing?"  Here's my (slightly edited and extended) answer.

As a child, growing up as a non-denominational, evangelical Protestant, I had many conversions. They certainly have the idea of a main conversion moment, where you "accept Jesus into your heart," but there were other conversion moments most of us experienced. Our thinking was that if you “backslid,” then you needed to repent and “rededicate” your life to God. Sometimes there would be a question if our earlier conversion was real, especially for those who had more (unconscious) Calvinist leanings. I will say that I had some significant spiritual experiences during this time and have no doubt they have had an impact on my overall formation and sanctification.

I also had a longish conversion to Catholicism, starting in college. All told, it was about five years of fairly in-depth searching, learning, and praying. I had many difficulties to overcome from a doctrinal/understanding perspective. One that had a special conversion moment was when I first prayed to Mary—I asked her to pray for me, that if I should come to a Catholic understanding of her/her place in salvation history that it was up to her to bring me there by her prayers (something like that). It had a profound impact on me, and I felt an immediate closeness to her and thereafter struggled less with Marian doctrine.

Since becoming Catholic, I have regular conversions—turning away from sin and back towards God. This happens each time I make an act of contrition (almost daily) and especially in Confession, as I experienced again today. It is often prompted by going to mass, sometimes by the LOTH, and sometimes just by the Holy Spirit pricking my conscience.

So I guess you could say my conversion is gradual ongoing, much like St. Paul speaks of in his letter to the Philippians (chapter three):
More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.
Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.
Let us, then, who are “perfectly mature” adopt this attitude. And if you have a different attitude, this too God will reveal to you. Only, with regard to what we have attained, continue on the same course.
P.S. I couldn't help but notice what seems to be a slightly snarky comment towards the end there--basically, to all those who think they've already attained perfection, just wait, God will reveal to you that you're wrong. LOL. :)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Give It a Rest

In comments on my musing on conservatism and ignorance, one anonymous poster (one of my atheist fans, I think :) ) goes to town on me. I might have ignored it, but I gotta do my post for the day. ;-)

First, simply incorrect assertions:

  • That I said Krauss is a journalist. -  This is minor, but I didn't. I can read, and I saw he is an academic. However, he was writing an opinion in a periodical, and I did lump him in with journalists because they are comparable in the ways I was speaking of, and he gets fairly lumped in by writing his oped in a periodical just like the journalists.
  • That I'm doing insufficient fact checking. - I am not sure what is expected on this point. I simply responded to the evidence offered by Krauss and took him to task on it. I called Krauss on the evidence he offered. If Krauss was relying on other evidence for his assertions, he should have shared it. He did not. I can't possibly keep up with every quote that, for example, Rick Santorum has given the media; neither can Krauss. But he offered links to supposed evidence for his outlandish claims, and his evidence did not support his claims. That is what I was criticizing.
  • That I am arrogantly calling others arrogant. - I don't see it, and no evidence was offered for this critique of me. The commenter used the word arrogant more than I did. Here's where a form of the word appeared in what I said: "The problem is that too many educated people end up forgetting those skills and instead just assume that prevailing liberal ideology is de facto more reasoned and less ignorant, which leaves them in the same ignorance and arrogance that they deplore in conservatives, blindly following the opinions of their peers."

    How is this arrogantly calling others arrogant? I'm talking about some segment of "educated people" who 1) assume that their ideology is de facto more reasoned and 2) blindly follow the opinions of their peers, all the while 3) deploring the supposed arrogance and ignorance of their ideological opponents.  Wouldn't you agree that doing 1-3 would imply arrogance and, indeed, ignorance? You can insert name of ideology, and it is equally arrogant. How is it arrogant to say this? I don't get it.  
Next, the commenter takes me to task for defending Santorum's remarks on evolution. Let's look at the facts at hand. 

Krauss accuses Santorum of saying that "evolution... has no firm basis in fact." I called him on it because in the evidence Krauss himself provided, Santorum says no such thing. Strangely, the commenter offers the same quote Krauss offered, in which Rick says that he doesn't agree that evolution is an incontrovertible fact. Go read it for yourself. Even most followers of Scientism admit readily that even so-called scientific laws are not incontrovertible--they're just our best understanding/models based on the best science that we have right now. So what's the big deal when Rick says the same thing? Oh, right, because he follows up by pointing out, correctly, that the way that evolution has been presented, including in the classroom, is that it implies that God does not exist. 

Look, I know there is a long history of bad blood between those who believe in some form of creation and those who adhere to evolution. The atheist evolutionists are as much to blame as the creationists in perpetuating this unnecessary feud. If materialist atheists didn't champion evolution as, essentially, the God-killer, more or less saying that if you accept the science of evolution that you cannot believe in God, I strongly suspect we wouldn't have had all the trouble we've had. On the other hand, you have literal creationists and others of fundamentalist tendencies who are too quick to dismiss the actual science underlying the attached atheistic philosophy.

What Rick seems to, and I definitely, object to is that because evolution has been challenged, the evolutionists have dug in, pushed evolution as even more certain than it is, ignored and downplayed evidence that causes problems for the model, unnecessarily attached philosophical underpinnings to the science, and knee-jerk react to any questioning of the theory.  In short, they've created a religious dogma out of something that should be science.

After evolution, the commenter moved on to global warming. Again, I made what shouldn't be a controversial statement--that with complex systems like the climate, the best science can offer is thoughtful guesses, i.e., theories. They may be theories based on science and evidence, but they are theories nonetheless. As I linked to, there are plenty of scientists who dissent from the current mainline global warming theory, in multiple ways. But here's what happens in scientific communities--the same thing that happens in most human communities: if you don't follow the popular notions, you get ostracized. It's quite a recurring pattern in the arts and sciences--people who don't align with the popular notions are shouted down and ostracized by the narrow minded. 

If manmade global warming is indeed caused by the factors that are currently held in the majority opinion (consider me an agnostic on this point), I'd suggest that it makes that issue the "evolution" of our day. You have people who take the science, and then they create a philosophy around it--environmentalism. The philosophy becomes confused with the science, and people who reject the attached philosophy are more inclined to be skeptical of the science. At the same time, the adherents become ever more vitriolic and dig in, refusing to hear out or consider the problems with the theory, downplaying the contradicting evidence, and perpetuating an epic conflict that should have no place in science. Add on to this that governments are being employed in the service of this theory to blow tons of money during the one of the biggest global economic crises in history, and you have a recipe for all kinds of stupid, on both sides of the debate.

What's sad is you'd think science, which should train minds with objectivity, rigor, and indeed a certain amount of skepticism, would produce less of this kind of tribalism, but history shows this isn't true. Sadly and ironically, a generation or two down the line, when people have come around to the dissenter views, they arrogantly look back at their predecessors thinking, "how could they have been so blind to the science that was right in front of them? The gall!"

And that brings me to the next point--Galileo.  This commenter actually seems to think that Krauss should have brought up Galileo and goes on to do so. He laughs off the reasonable observation that the Church hierarchy of the day was working with the knowledge available to them at the time, anachronistically saying that the best knowledge of the time was right in front of them. I have a few observations on this.
  1. It is rather simpleminded to not understand the very basic historical truism that you judge the people of an age by the standards of the age. A more common expression of this is that hindsight is is twenty-twenty. A scientific mind would have no problem grappling with this truism and applying it, and I think given a lack of serious prejudice bordering on bigotry against the Church, this particular commenter would take it as a given that this is true.
  2. In point of fact, the case of Galileo was based more on personal animosity than anything related to religion. In this case, there were other advocates for heliocentrism at the time who were both priests and lay educated folks who were not persecuted. The pope at the time happened to not be convinced and wrote a personal treatise on the subject; it was when Galileo publicly humiliated the pope that action was taken. I'm not defending it--it was wrong, and it was right of the Church to apologize for its treatment of the G-man. Using the power of the Church for a personal vendetta is wrong. We all know it.
  3. The fact that this is still being harped on after so many centuries is actually telling. If the enemies of the Church can't find any better evidence of our supposed vendetta against science than this one, centuries old incident, I guess that pretty much disproves the supposed vendetta.
The fact is, the Church is not nor has ever been an enemy of science. The Church is bigger than this or that priest, bishop, or pope. It is bigger than any individual or group of individuals who happen to be in power in the Church at this or that particular point in time. Members of the Church established the concept of university. They participated and fostered the development of the sciences, and they actively participate in them today. Many of them are leaders in their fields. My own Order tends to prefer individuals with advanced degrees in the sciences as postulants to become friars. The Jesuits are also another well-known academically inclined order. The list goes on..

What enemies of the Church don't like is that we hold science to our ethical standard, and sometimes that means presumed progress gets slowed down. We have very high ethical standards, in fact, and having been around for two thousand years, we know that we shouldn't rush in and do things just because we can, but that we need to seriously consider the consequences of our actions, not just on individuals today but on human society and history as a whole, a global whole. And the Church is the only organization positioned to do this, given its care for over a billion souls globally. We take a historical perspective on things. We don't forget or conveniently ignore the recent history where science was abused in the service of fascist and communist regimes, in the service of eugenics, and more recently in the service of the slaughter of millions of innocent human lives and the terrible damaging of women and families. The life of the mother does not inherently trump the life of the child, so excuse us for standing by that principle. 

We can debate the ethical principles; that's fine. We can and should debate the science and its implications. We can and will come to differing conclusions looking at the same evidence. But it's just plain ignorant or dishonest to perpetuate the myth that the Church is opposed to science. Any thoughtful, educated person should feel ashamed for doing so, not just because it is dishonest and/or willfully ignorant but also because it damages the effectiveness of an organization that indisputably does immeasurable good for humanity in health, social, and charitable services--more so than any other organization today or in all of human history.

Seriously. Give it a rest. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Health Nazis

Today we had our health plan update at my company. Usually these updates are a drag--just plain boring. Often they're depressing and upsetting because it usually means we gotta pay more. These last two years, though, we've lucked out. It looks like I'll save a whole $7 per paycheck with the changes this year. :)  That's great, but a new theme has been developing. It was there last year, and it was THE theme this year--if your insurance premiums are going up, it's your fault for being unhealthy.

Last year the broker rep just mentioned it briefly, but this time he took a whole fifteen minutes or more to drone on about it. He even literally said, "if you can't do it for yourself, do it for your family; if you can't do it for your family, do it for your coworkers."  What did he name as unhealthy? Why of course being overweight was the number one thing.  Oh yeah, and smoking.  Why not just point a finger at overweight people and say it--the healthcare crisis is your fault!

Really? I mean, really? Let's see, how many times did I go to the doctor for being sick in the last ten years?  ZERO. Each physical I get (and yes, I did get one in the last year), I pass--no problems, except of course that I'm overweight.  What about that "healthy" girl who keeps hurting herself through overexertion in her exercise?  What about that "healthy" guy who keeps getting injured playing sports? How about that "healthy" guy who drives like a maniac?  How about that "healthy" guy who is into dangerous hobbies like bungee jumping and skydiving?  How about that "healthy" guy who is stressing his body to death by playing video games into the wee hours and not getting enough sleep on a daily basis? How about that "healthy" guy who thinks that recreational drugs are a fun pastime? What about that "healthy" girl who is actually underweight? What about that "healthy" lady whose weight is constantly vacillating as she goes from fad diet to fad diet?  What about that "healthy" guy who has back problems that require expensive surgeries? How about that "healthy" guy with sleep problems and has to have procedures and equipment? What about that "healthy" gal who spends too much time in the sun and tanning booth? How about those "healthy" folks who contract cancer or die young from heart disease?  The list could go on and on.

Yes, I've known and worked with folks who fit these descriptions. I'm not making this up--real costs, real dangers, real people, real problems. And you're gonna single out being overweight as the source of the healthcare crisis? Never mind that the obesity "epidemic" has been discredited [1], this skinny health fanatic is gonna stand there and insinuate to all the people present that the fatties among us are responsible for our increasing healthcare costs. (Never mind that despite us fatties, our costs have gone down for two years.)

And let's think for a second about how convenient it is for healthcare industry folks to lay the blame on the patients--"we can't help that we're raising prices; it's your fault for being unhealthy." Right... How about taking responsibility for the greed epidemic that is really behind the ridiculous increases in healthcare costs? How about dealing with all the government regulation and litigation that increases the costs of healthcare?  And get this, he was also pushing their "health assessment tool." "Oh no, we won't use it to decide how much we should charge you, nooo. It's for your benefit."  Riiiight...

The health naziism needs to stop. Respectfully, Mrs. Obama, find another mission--our country has bigger problems than people packing extra pounds. Let's not pretend that the "Affordable Health Care Act" hasn't actually caused higher premiums for pretty much everybody as the providers are hedging their bets and scraping in as much money as they can in the meantime. And when it inevitably is struck down, do we think that the premiums will come down? I think not.  The fat cat insurance companies have little interest in bringing down healthcare costs; for them to pretend otherwise is a sham. And talk about collusion and price fixing--the bid process is plainly corrupt.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against universal healthcare access as such. I just don't think Obamacare will survive the legal challenges, and I'm not sure that it is necessarily the right way to achieve the noble end. The problem I see, though, is when false memes like the obesity epidemic gain traction, public opinion vilifies overweight folks, the President's wife makes pushing a particular way of life her mission (reinforcing the false meme), laws start getting made, special taxes are put in place, overweight people are ostracized, etc. Most worryingly, when people feel like they're paying for you, they feel like they should have a say in what you do. And basic civil liberties start falling left and right.

The old saying "freedom isn't free" applies here. OWS folks were all about saying we just need to suck up the real, immediate, significant drain they incurred on the public coffers--they have a right to assemble. It's part of living in a free country. Sometimes we pay for people to be able to do things we don't agree with. The road goes both ways. And again, we're talking about something for which the costs are not immediate, nor is it clear at all from the data that there is a direct cause, not to mention the small part weight plays in overall health. If we're gonna start controlling people's lives, I have a big list earlier in this post you can start with. But seriously, we need to stop. This is America, founded on the principles of freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

Give it a rest. If you want to spend your free time exercising, I say good for you. If you want to eat less, awesome--that's a real way to save your money. I contribute my fair share, and I take responsibility for my actions. I'm not asking for free healthcare. I buy into the system of insurance just like you, and I'm not going to tell you to stop stressing, overstraining, playing sports, undersleeping, or even skydiving, if that's your thing. Life is for living. Enjoy it. Slainté!


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Be Careful That You're Not God

So a guy I'm thinking about dubbing "my atheist friend" (hi, Daniel :) ) shared this YouTube video he came across on G+ the other day.

A few things struck me in the vid. Obviously, I don't agree with the fella's conclusions about his observations, but one area I did--the danger we have of assuming that our opinions are God's, in effect shaping God in our own image.

Humans of course have that natural proclivity. The Garden of Eden narrative illustrates how early on in human history this tendency was recognized, the temptation to want to become like God, being the judge of what is good and evil. And the pagan deities offer more evidence, very obviously crafted through anthropomorphizing.   (Interestingly, this guy in the video acts like this is some insightful, new revelation. :) )

The history of the Judeo-Christian God, however, is a persistent message from God that we are in fact not God. To the Jews, God reveals himself as "he who is," as One, Ineffable, Unrepresentable, Just--Infinity far above us. Then God becomes Incarnate, revealing himself in Christ, illuminating his Trinitarian nature and, thusly, his nature as Eternal Love, and culminating his revelation of his Mercy in the Redemption.

Theologians take up God's revelation of himself as Infinitely beyond us with the negative way: God is Not Us, Not Limited in Power, Not Limited in Knowledge, Not Limited by Time, Not Dependent on a Cause, Not Limited in Being, Not Limited in Love, Not Limited in Goodness.

The Christian faith is very clear about this--God is not us; we are not God. There is an infinite separation.

True, God revealed that we are in some way created in his image.  True, God took on our nature in the Incarnation and thus gives us some greater share in his Being, his Love. He did give us some knowledge of himself in this way, through his Revelation to us.

The Catholic faith, the unabridged Christian faith, holds that God Reveals himself to us in the communion of the Body of Christ, the Church. We are not free to reinvent God in our own image. We accept the faith as it has been handed down to us (Tradition, from the Latin traditio--to hand on) by word of mouth (through Apostolic Succession) or in writing (Holy Scripture). We understand God through and in the Church, the living Magisterium, which is beholden to Holy Tradition.

When we speak of God, we do not speak of ourselves, we speak of what has been handed down to us, from the Apostles in unbroken succession, from generation to generation.

And this God makes demands of us.  Unlike the "God" hinted at in this fella's vid, our God doesn't always agree with us. He gives us hard commands: "Be perfect." He tells us we must fight against what we want to do at times, what our corrupted nature inclines us to do. He tells us to forgive. He tells us to love.

If I were going to invent a god, it would be Bacchus/Dionysius. My imaginary god would make no demands of me. If I changed my mind about something, so would he--he wouldn't prick my conscience and tell me that what I am thinking or doing is wrong. He wouldn't tell me to help other people; he would tell other people to help me.  He wouldn't demand that I obey. He wouldn't demand that I submit my opinions to the judgment of his Church.

But to this guy's credit, how many Christians--how many Catholics!--speak or act in accord with this Tradition? How many of us are quick to align God with our opinions, dissenting from the Church? How many are quick to put our political party's opinions ahead of those of our bishop's? How many humbly submit and obey? Not many, I suspect.  So it's no surprise that an atheist would see in so many theists that God is more like them than any believable conception of God.

It's important that we are careful to not ignore Christian Tradition and instead remake God in our own image. Such a God is not worth believing in--the atheist is right about that.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Does Conservatism Have to Be Synonymous With Ignorance?

I thought I'd steal my title from this opinion over on HuffPo because I've sort of been thinking the same thing lately, after hearing Rick Santorum tell Puerto Rico that they have to make English their primary language if they want statehood (they already recognize English as primary), and then as if on a roll, I heard about him exaggerating and bending what seems to be the facts in regards to euthanasia in the Netherlands (there's plenty to criticize there without exaggerating). I know politicians say things off the cuff all the time, but I just cringe when it happens to conservatives because they have certainly been cast in that light. It seems like they would want to be extra careful to not feed that fire.

To answer the question, obviously, no, conservatism doesn't have to be synonymous with ignorance, and for the non-politically entrenched, it's clear that it isn't. You see plenty of ignorance from liberals as well (just watch the O'Reilly Factor for a while; does a pretty good job of calling them on it).  It happens because people are too quick to judge, too quick to assume things based on their own prejudices, and then form ignorant opinions based on these.

That said, the HuffPo article is a good example of how people who are politically entrenched read into what their opponents say what they ignorantly want to believe about them. Lawrence Krauss, the author, claims that "Santorum has argued that evolution, the basis of modern biology, has no firm basis in fact." He links to an article, but having read the article, it's clear Rick has said no such thing. Rick said:
Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.
This was in relation to his amendment on the subject that passed the Senate 91-8. No doubt not all of those 91 were conservatives, right? Rick seems to have a pretty well-thought-out view on the subject; he certainly doesn't say evolution has no basis in fact, as claimed by Krauss.

Krauss takes a similar tack on Santorum's views on climate change, painting him as a right wing loon. But Santorum again, even in the references Krauss himself offers, is much more nuanced than he is presented. To suggest that the earth has not warmed and cooled over time prior to the last century is patently false. It has (ice ages, anyone?). Global climate is a staggeringly complex system to grapple with, and at best, science can offer us in this area thoughtful guesses, guesses that are questioned by many, including quite a few scientists. Santorum is in pretty qualified company in being reluctant to throw his hat into the ring on the side of climate change activists.

Krauss goes on to, quelle surprise, lambast Rick's views on contraception and sexuality in general. Here is where Krauss demonstrates his own ignorance and confusion, unable to see the difference between contraception/abortion and medicine intended to heal disease. However ineffectively articulated Santorum's views related to sex might be, he actually is pretty much in line with the solid, well-informed, and well-reasoned Catholic position, especially as elaborated by recent Popes Paul VI and Blessed John Paul II.

The biggest problem I've seen in defending the Catholic positions on marriage, sex, and family, is that when you isolate one concern without regard to the other, it obscures the overall unity and coherence of Catholic thought on the matter. So it's no surprise that you can snag tidbits here and there from quick interviews and, also because they are so different from mainstream thinking, make it appear extreme or not-well-reasoned.

Related to this, Krauss is actually again ignorant, in that he suggests that Santorum's views on these issues are not orthodox Catholic views, feigning generosity: "It would be tempting to chalk up Mr. Santorum's medieval views to a devout Catholic fundamentalism, but that is unfair to Catholicism." Not only is he wrong about these not being devout Catholic views, but he is also wrong in identifying the era in which these views have been most fully developed, namely in the latter half of the 20th century (and fully considering all that modern science has to offer).

Which takes us back up to the top, where Krauss started off showing his extreme ignorance:
The Catholic Church has long been an enemy of emerging technology, especially when it comes to reproductive health, opposing any technology that alters the 'natural' scheme of sex and reproduction. Quixotically, the focus on sex is unique and is, needless to say, inconsistent with the running of hospitals, which by their very nature do daily battle against otherwise naturally occurring disease and death.
The latter half is the aforementioned simpleminded, ignorant view that lumps all sexual/reproductive services in with the rest of medicine. It's not hard to understand the difference--if you don't classify reproductive capacity (and its result--children) as a human defect or disease (i.e., something to be fixed/treated medically), then you don't consider such things the same way you consider true maladies.

As for the ridiculous initial statement, to be fair to Krauss, he is just ignorantly buying into the popular but patently false mythology that the Church is an enemy of emerging technology, part of the larger false mythology that the Church is opposed to science. I'm surprised we didn't see a Galileo allusion just to top it off. It really is galling ignorance, because you don't have to try hard to get a more realistic picture of, well, reality.

You'd think someone opining about the ignorance of conservatives and, specifically Santorum, would maybe have done a bit more due diligence himself to rid himself of ignorance, but unfortunately, prejudice can be quite the opaque blinder to reality.

This is not to say that there isn't ignorance in conservatism; in fact, some of the leading talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck (not to mention Pat Robertson) tend to make me shake my head. I also think that conservatism is a kind of de facto human position; we seem to be inclined to stick with the status quo unless we're motivated otherwise. Sticking with the status quo doesn't require much thought or investigation, so it follows that ignorance could be more closely associated with conservatism than liberalism, which seeks to change things for what they see as better.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for higher education tending one towards liberalism (in the general/classic sense), because a core skill that is taught in higher ed is critical thinking, which can make one question the status quo and come to alternative solutions. The problem is that too many educated people end up forgetting those skills and instead just assume that prevailing liberal ideology is de facto more reasoned and less ignorant, which leaves them in the same ignorance and arrogance that they deplore in conservatives, blindly following the opinions of their peers. That's what we see in the media today (because most journalists have at least some higher ed), and Krauss is a stereotypical example of that.

The bottom line is that open-minded and critical thinking is hard. It requires real effort, and most people just have other things they'd rather do with their time (and would prefer to avoid the discomfort of questioning their prejudices). You might be a highly educated liberal; you might be a conservative with a high school diploma--if you're just following the opinions of your peers, chances are you're gonna tend toward ignorance and prejudice.  You can be a highly educated and informed conservative (e.g., at least 5 out of 9 of our Supreme Court justices or stop by First Things); you can be an uneducated and ignorant liberal (watch Watters' World for a healthy dose of that), and all manner of things in between.

When I've seen Rick Santorum taking time and articulating his views, even in the face of the ignorance and hostility that he often faces, he does a decent job usually. But because his views can be contrary to the popular ones, it takes time, listening, and, yes, open-minded thought to give them a fair shake. The average liberal journalist isn't, from what I've seen, interested in doing that. True, sometimes he doesn't articulate things well and sometimes says off the cuff ignorant things, but it would be, well, ignorant to paint him as an ignorant simpleton the way Krauss does (and he's far from alone among journalists in doing that--more evidence of just ignorantly following the crowd).

P.S. For the record, I don't agree with Rick on all his positions (e.g., capital punishment), and on some of them I'm just still undecided/ambivalent (e.g., healthcare/economy), but I understand that his positions, especially on the most controversial issues, are at least as well reasoned as the contrary positions. What can I say, I guess I'm a stereotypical independent, but one benefit of being independent is that it makes it hard to just ignorantly go with the crowd. :)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Faithful Theology

Been having fun with the family today. Busy day. Mass, brekky, and then hanging out with the Khourys for a few hours.  Somewhere in between there, I got to read Fr. Cantalamessa's recent homily on faith in the Trinity. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it--good stuff.

One of the things I love about Pope Benedict's theology is that it is faith-filled, and he makes a point of being explicit about that (for instance, in Jesus of Nazareth). Clearly, Cantalamessa (the pope's household preacher) is of the same ilk--not a coincidence I'm sure. This is the guy the pope asks to preach for him--heady stuff. :)

I also recommend reading Fr. C's first homily for lent on faith in the divinity of Christ, if you haven't already.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Day 21

The problem with forcing yourself to blog every day is that sometimes you just don't have something to say.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Prayer Before Work

I came across this prayer online a while ago (unfortunately, I lost my reference--thanks to whomever you are!), and I tweaked it a bit. It's another one of my favs; helps put your mind in the right place.  Hope you also find it helpful.


My Heavenly Father, as I enter this work place, I bring your Presence with me. I speak Your peace, Your grace, Your mercy, and Your Perfect order into this office.

I acknowledge Your power over all that will be spoken, thought, decided, and done within these walls. Lord, I thank You for the gifts with which you have blessed me. I commit to using them responsibly in Your honor.

Give me a fresh supply of strength to do my job. Anoint my projects, ideas, and energy; so that even my smallest accomplishment may bring You glory. Grant me keenness of mind so that all that I set my mind to will bear good fruit; grant me also focus, freedom from distraction, and diligence, so that I may begin and complete my work in justice.

Lord, when I am confused, guide me. When I am weary, energize me. When I am burned out, infuse me with the light of the Holy Spirit. May the work that I do and the way I do it bring faith, joy, and a smile to all that I come in contact with today.

And Lord, when I leave this place, give me traveling mercy. Bless my family and home to be in order as I left it.

Lord, I thank you for everything You've done, everything You're doing, and everything You're going to do. In the Name of Jesus I pray, with much love and thanksgiving.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Principles or People?

I recently saw a comment somewhere (I think it was related to the HHS Mandate), where a woman was basically saying that she doesn't think that St. Thomas More should be a saint--that we shouldn't celebrate him because he chose his high-minded principles over his family's well being.

That's an interesting perspective, and one that I can relate to, being a married father of five myself. I haven't exactly been asked to compromise my most fundamental beliefs or recant the faith at the threat of my life, but I have faced situations where I've felt I have had to swallow some lesser principles in favor of what I perceived to be a greater good--namely my family's well being.

I guess it goes back to the classic moral reasoning problems like "is it wrong for a person to steal in order to feed his family?" But the problem with those is that they're usually asked of people who aren't in those situations, so it's easy to be hard-nosed about it. However, when you're faced with similar choices yourself, it's not so obvious.

I think the answer is, of course, that it is wrong, objectively speaking, but the actual subjective guilt incurred is contextualized to the person and his or her circumstances. So I suppose the best one can do is make the call and then to live with the consequences.

At this point, I don't know if the "right" decision in such cases--when you risk personal moral guilt for the good of another--is to absolutely stick with principles or to transgress them for the sake of others. I don't think there is a simple black and white answer, but I think one should try to stick to principles unless there is a really compelling reason based on charity/responsibility to others to do otherwise.  (And talking in generalities like this probably doesn't help.)

Just call me H.R.G.

P.S. I'm pretty exhausted so maybe this isn't my clearest thinking ever, but I did need to stick by my principle of a blog a day during Lent. ;)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When Work Tests Your Christian Mettle

I was just hearing from a friend how she's been struggling at work to keep her peace and generosity/kindness towards her fellow workers (in particular one fellow worker). I've certainly had my fair share of that, and as my coworkers will attest, my mettle sometimes fails, certainly more than it should.

Probably the biggest challenges for me are being quick to anger and speaking ill of others behind their backs. For me, the two go hand in hand--someone pisses me off, and then I gotta vent at someone about it. And then there's the pride--it's so easy to think about how dumb someone else is being, how they just don't get it.

The best thing I've found in these situations--especially when you feel like someone has become your antagonist--is to sincerely pray for them. And I mean sincerely, not facetiously, like "Dear God! Please help that person to not be such an idiot!" Pray rather for their good. I've found this is often the first step towards changing my heart towards them, and it's no surprise, given our Lord's instructions:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28)

Not only does he advise prayer, but blessing and good works--your heart cannot remain hardened towards someone if you do these things. Sadly, I am too often recalcitrant and unwilling to take even the first step, but you just gotta keep trying.

And in addition to praying for them, it never hurts to pray for yourself. There is a great part of this prayer of St. Thomas to the BVM that really resonates with me, each time I pray it:
Obtain for me as well,
     O most sweet Lady,
          true charity with which
               from the depths of my heart
          I may love
               your most holy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
               and, after Him,
          love you above all other things,
          and love my neighbor
               in God and because of God.

Thereby may I 
          rejoice in his goodness,
          sorrow over his evils,
          despise no one,
          never judge rashly,
          and never in my heart exalt myself over anyone.
In particular, being sorry for another's transgressions (rather than angry) seems to be a better Christian response--because often they are harming themselves and others, and it makes you put that concern ahead of your own sense of personal offense.. Lord, help me to rejoice in their goodness and sorrow over their evils!

And then to not despise them--that's that gut feeling you get when they're around and your skin crawls and you just wish they would go away. And then you start thinking about this or that thing they've done, or this or that thing they do that irritates you, or how they're just ignorant.. Lord,  help me not to despise anyone!

Judging rashly, yup, that's me, especially with those I am inclined to despise. It doesn't matter what they do, somehow your mind will twist it so that it is wrong or stupid. Before they even say something, you're ready to dismiss it.. Lord, may I never judge rashly!

And then to top it off, all of this comes down to pride--that in my heart I am smarter, faster, smoother, more articulate, whatever. At the heart of judging rashly, at the heart of despising, at the heart of being angry over what they did, at the heart of minimizing their goodness, at the heart is pride.. Lord, grant me the grace to overcome my pride and never in my heart exalt myself over anyone!

As we pray and make efforts towards restoring our corrupted human nature in this way, we are ultimately asking that God will help us to love them--not because they are particularly good or bad, not only because we are commanded to do so, but because of God and in God. The more that we do this, the more we will participate in the Divine love of the Trinity, the more we will orient ourselves towards our True End, the more we will recognize it's really not about us, the more we will begin to see people as God sees them--with sincere, true love, an animated concern for their good and the good of those affected by them.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

My peeps over there on G+ are having their study tonight. It's too late for me, so here's my brief commentary on the beatitude, "blessed are those who mourn."

This one seems like a no-brainer, because it's followed by "for they shall be comforted." But of course there is more to it, as there always is with Sacred Scripture.

One of the hardest things to do, for me, is to comfort people who are in mourning. I mean, it's easy enough to say, "my condolences" and "we're so sorry for your loss." I don't know, maybe that's enough sometimes, but it feels like it's not, and you always wish you could say or do more to comfort them.

There is a recurring reading from the Common of Martyrs in the Liturgy of the Hours. I think it's the best I can offer.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. (II Cor 1:3-5)
The mystery of mourning, and suffering, is a deep one before which we are humbled. The Psalms give us comfort in times of mourning. Simply praying and reading Scripture can make a big difference. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours daily can lay a great foundation to lean upon in such times, such as this from the Office for the Dead:
Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality. And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about:c
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory? 
Where, O death, is your sting?”  (I Cor 15:51ff) 
When we are mourning, we can lean on our hope, this sure hope we have through faith, and in that, we see a mystery that in human wisdom is foolishness--that our mourning is an occasion for our faith, hope, and ultimately joy. It doesn't mean that we do not truly mourn but that our mourning is not the final word.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Slaves of the Zeitgeist

A friend of mine posted this diagram that tries to map named political groupings with their respective views on what goods/services that government should provide.

What I find fascinating is that what would be considered very conservative today was considered to be liberal ("classical liberalism") back in the early days of the US. This comes at an interesting time for me because I've been listening to a book called Sarum, which is a long historical fiction that traces a history of Sarum in England from hunter-gatherer up to very recent. One of the threads you see, especially starting in the High Middle Ages, is the recurring theme of the rights of the common man.

The author does a pretty good job of showing the conflicts throughout the succeeding periods between the conservative and liberal viewpoints, and I don't know if it's intentional or not, but it also illustrates that what is liberal in one age becomes assumed/commonplace/even conservative in another. In each age you see people who are dyed in the wool conservatives and those who are seen as liberals/radicals.

It's curious to me because I think it's worth asking ourselves if we shouldn't keep this in mind when forming our own views on things. The dialog in the US is often framed as conservatives want to go back to the way things were/as intended by the founding fathers. It's a sort of primitivism, often underpinned by a quite romanticized view of the way things were.

Even within my parents' own generation, there is sometimes a sense that the 50s were some kind of golden age in America, but as Frau Dr. Ross (my German professor in college) pointed out once--things were not so peachy keen back then if you were, say, black or a woman. The recent movie "The Help" really drives this home--I strongly recommend it for that reason.

Similarly, we often romanticize the times of the founding fathers, but things were not peachy keen then, either. It's not an unfair criticism to point out that many of them, including Jefferson, were slave holders. No doubt most contemporary women would be scandalized by their views on women. I'm not suggesting we anachronistically judge them as morally inferior; in fact, quite the opposite--the reason people have different views on these things today is often not due to individual moral consideration/superiority but rather that we are inescapably products of our ages. These guys were the radicals, the liberals of their age and made their ideals into reality in large part--very admirable.

What I am thinking, though, is that we probably should avoid a romantic primitivism when forming our ideas on what society and government should look like today. We're in quite a different context. A lot has changed. No doubt some of this is for the better and some for the worse. Development of social ideas as related to government is called for as society changes, and so I think it's rather naive to hold to a classical liberal view (now "paleo-conservative" according to the diagram above). Or to even go further back to something akin to feudalism (voluntarism/libertarianism). Things change for a reason, often for good reasons.

Another interesting consideration I picked up from Sarum is that in Queen Elizabeth I's reign, almost 500 years ago, even then they saw that relying purely on private and church charity was insufficient to help the poor. This was in a time when people in society, as a rule, grew up with a strong Christian ethic (unlike today in the US) and when the church was actually supported/intertwined with the state. In other words, before her time they had what many conservatives today advocate for--getting the government out of helping the poor--but it just wasn't working then, so why should it work now? I mention this because while in theory I am inclined towards taking care of the poor without relying on the government, I've often wondered if it would be feasible, especially today in our me-me-me society that lacks the strong pro-poor Christian ethic. And this historical anecdote is evidence that it probably wouldn't.

It seems to me that we, especially Christians--especially Catholic Christians--need to rethink how we frame our views about government. I would suggest again (as have others) that it is inappropriate as a faithful Christian to align with the Democrat or Republican parties. We need to keep in mind that a Christian worldview cannot be contained within any political party--because the Christian worldview by its very nature transcends temporal concerns, but even more so because with our basic two choices (ignoring fringe parties), each party has positions that diverge widely from the honest Christian view.

Furthermore, we should keep in mind that the designations of conservative and liberal are not good or bad in themselves, and that they are not only time dependent, in terms of whether or not they align with Christian views, but they are also issue-dependent, which has to be contextualized by time and culture. We should not go along as mindless drones, slaves to our zeitgeist, so that we become blind to the good in those we see as Them and oblivious to the evil in those we see as Us.

Our discernment of what is the right on any given issue must not be whether it is held by the group labeled with Conservative or Liberal, Right or Left, Republican or Democrat--we must resist the politicians and pundits' simplistic categories (in politics or even within Catholicism). Our discernment must be based on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is charitable, whatever is full of grace. We should ally with those in whatever group or party that aligns with that discernment, without being subsumed into or becoming subservient to those groups.

Above all, let us not forget our calling to conform our own lives to Christ, that we are but sojourners here, pilgrims and citizens of heaven, and so to act in joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, and above all charity towards our fellow wayfarers.
In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world. (Jn 16:33)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wasn't Jesus Transhuman?

You know, I blogged briefly in response to an article I read on transhumanism a couple days ago. That's been rolling around in my head I guess, and then I read this great homily by the papal theologian, Fr. Cantalamessa, who dove into St. Athanasius' defense of the divinity of Christ. And suddenly, the two thoughts collided and BAM! Wasn't Jesus transhuman?

I mean, the whole awesomeness is that he assumed humanity into his divinity, and there's a great patristic tradition that talks about this being a divinization of humanity. In short, it seems like God fully intends for us to become transhuman. He has provided a way for us to do so by his grace, but it sets an interesting precedent.  If God didn't intend to leave us as we were in our humanity but wants to enhance us, I think that's a positive indicator that we shouldn't outright reject doing the same using the natural gifts he's given us. We just need to do it in a way that is good and moral.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A WIfe is a Wonderful Thing

Today I got a text from my wife, saying she's been enjoying my blogging and that she appreciates it. I just thought that was great. It's nice to know that someone appreciates it, and it happens to be the person I care most about on the planet. I love you, schmoopie!

And yes, I'm counting this for my 14th blog in my blog a day for Lent. :)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Transhumanism, Anyone?

E. Christian Brugger, a Catholic bioethicist, begins a series on transhumanism in Zenit. For this one, he focuses on the issue of selective reproduction and makes a brief stop at performance enhancing drugs, condemning them in classic Catholic style. It seems he's intent on giving the idea a bad name, but I guess we'll see as the series develops.

What I'd rather see Catholic ethicists exploring is what might be acceptable forms of enhancement. I sure hope the consensus doesn't tack towards "we have to leave things alone and 'natural'." I mean, if we follow that approach, I guess I'm guilty of enhancing myself with caffeine, right? What about eating spicy foods--that gets endorphins rushing and enhances my sense of what I can accomplish?

On a more realistic note, what about cybernetic implants that can improve our cognitive capabilities or, for example, reflexive abilities--making us safer, better operators of high tech equipment? What about drugs that could enhance our ability to fight disease, let us require less sleep, live longer, metabolize food more efficiently, literally have that extra hand we always talk about needing, and so on? Better yet, how about detachable arms so that you could snuggle up to your spouse more comfortably?

In all technological advancements, there is the potential for abuse. I think our response as Catholics needs to be less immediately negative and focused on the problems and rather look at how the technology could be used for true good.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Extents of Religious Liberty

In my post on contraception and the recent HHS Mandate, a commenter, Bertrand, tells me he's disgusted by my position. He also defends the encroachment on religious freedom by offering up what he sees as analogous, where I assume he thinks I'd agree that religious freedom should be limited (the case of Mormons and blood transfusions).

(I take it he thinks I'm arguing a special case because I happen to be Catholic, but this ignores that oodles of people from other faiths have also risen up to defend our religious liberty--they have no vested interest in not mandating contraception.)

I suppose the underlying argument is that religious freedom is not absolute in the US. There have been Supreme Court cases, such as not allowing polygamy, where it has been limited. And I dare say most of us would take it for granted that if a new religion popped up demanding human sacrifice that we would not allow that.  I am not unaware that religious freedom is not absolute. It is actually in the constitution, for instance, that we cannot establish a state church for the American people--that is a constitutional limitation on religious freedom.

In some sense, we should be glad that people making this argument are at least being honest--that religious freedom is being violated by the HHS Mandate. That's a step in the right direction, instead of denying it isn't or pretending that it's somehow not important, or trying to spin this situation into a "war on women," that it is somehow about "denying" contraception or outlawing it, which is entirely ludicrous but sadly is being pawned off on the public by advocates of the Mandate.

My response to this objection is, to put it simply, that any limitation on our First Amendment right to free exercise of religion should ideally find its justification in the Constitution itself (such as the right to life) or clearly in natural law. As I understand it, the judicial branch has come up with the idea of "compelling interest" of the state, and so if and when this issue goes to court, that will be the standard. I think it's a bit too vague and generous, personally. But hey, I'm not a judge, so take my opinion for what it's worth.

As to the specific example asked, here's the deal. Let's say we did give Mormon employers the option to not include transfusions. Nobody is making me work for them. As a potential employee, I should take that into account that they don't cover transfusions and decide if I want to work at a place that doesn't cover it. It's my choice to work for them; it's their choice to decide what they can cover.

It's the same principle we're talking about for Catholics and the coverage of contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs--nobody forces people to work at our health care providers, charitable organizations, or to go to our universities. So yeah, I think people (let's not forget that we're talking about the rights of the people who run these organizations, not inhuman corporate entities) should be able to exclude things they find morally objectionable based on religious reasons, because it's a constitutional freedom.

We could, of course, also debate the merits of "compelling interest" in this case. And even on those vague grounds, the Administration has a shaky case at best. Even if we were to agree that contraception should be considered "health care," it is widely freely available through other means via organizations like Planned Parenthood. So it'd be hard to justify this violation of the First Amendment just on the grounds of availability.

But even further, I reject that this is necessary health care, and I reject on plainly non-religious grounds. We're talking about a completely preventable condition--pregnancy. All you have to do to avoid it is, duh, not have sex. So if someone is in a position where they it would negatively impact her health to become pregnant, she doesn't need expensive drugs or procedures to help her with that. Just don't have sex while you're fertile.

And this is not rocket surgery. Natural family planning using the symptothermal method is not hard to learn. It requires very little investment--get a basal thermometer and a piece of paper and pen. Track your temps and your mucus, and you're good to go--it's not total abstinence, just during a specific period during your cycle. It's proven effective. Not only that, you don't have to muck up your body with drugs or jerk around with devices. It's homeopathic! It's organic! It's all natural! It's great!

But again, this would only be necessary for those who can't find it free, a small number today and even smaller after the mandate (including granting Catholics the exemptions they want).

On the other hand, if we flip it around, it's even clearer that the mandate is pretty ridiculous. What we're doing is, essentially, asking everyone to pay so that some women can have a more expansive sex life. And let's not forget that STDs are a serious problem, right? The pill and its like do not protect against that, but they do give a sense of freedom to have sex. So if we're talking public health, it seems a bit backwards to give people drugs that are enablers for the spread of disease.

And one more thing, contraception of most kinds are available. The pill, sterilization, and related are just one means. There are cheaper options, such as condoms, which we're told also protect against STDs. So in terms of public health, there seems to be more case for them than the pill, although abstinence and NFP education are even safer and less expensive options. So why doesn't the government fund the spread of these, if it's real motivation is purely health-driven?

Preventing pregnancy is not analogous to preventing disease. For the Administration to effectively defend compelling interest related to public health, they have a huge burden to prove. And it seems they know they can't do it, because they've asked a court to throw out a case because they claim they'll modify it yet.

So as I see it, not only is the HHS Mandate wrong at the basic religious freedom principle level, but it is also wrong in even coming close to anything resembling compelling interest.

P.S. I'm not a doctor, but I'm told that some women are prescribed the pill for non-contraceptive reasons. That in my opinion could be an exception as it is meant to treat a medical condition, and I don't think that violates my religious principles.

P.P.S. If people feel strongly that all women should have access to contraception, I suggest that they coordinate and fund clinics and the like who can provide it. Or heck, they can just create a fund to cover it for the women who work for Catholic agencies. We don't need the government to mandate violation of the First Amendment to achieve their ends.