Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fasting is Easy, Lent is Hard

Of the three activities that the faithful are encouraged to engage in during Lent, fasting, prayer, and alms giving, fasting gets most of the attention.  I think this is probably because it is the easiest.  Lenten fasts were once fairly intense, but we now just give up chocolate and beer.  I have no difficulty keeping my lenten fasts, and I'm certainly no saint. 

Perhaps we ought to engage in more difficult fasts, but regardless, we should be sure to remember prayer and alms giving.  The passivity of fasting is great for lazy people like me.  Actually going to the chapel for a rosary or daily mass seems far more difficult.  Giving of our time and money to help those less fortunate is even more of a bummer.  There are those who feel the greatest joy while praying or feeding the homeless.  Such people are called saints.  Saints do not exist as an impossible ideal but as an example of how we are all to live.  Holiness is demanded of us all and Lenten disciplines are designed precisely to make us holier.

Have a blessed Lent.

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick Explains the Trinity

So funny.  H/T: The Crescat

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

An Irish Blessing

May St. Patrick guard you wherever you go,
and guide you in whatever you do--
and may his loving protection be a blessing to you always.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Greatest Living Sci-Fi Writer

Vox wants to know, who is the greatest living sci-fi writer?  The only one I recognize in the poll is John C. Wright, who I know as an excellent essayist, but if any of you know the other authors, click on the link and vote for your favorite author.  I am looking forward to seeing the result.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


As Beefy Levinson reminds us, today is the Ides of March! (Well for the next seven minutes US Central Time anyway.)

Mike Rowe on Education

Remember what I said about posting youtube videos on Saturday night so as to fulfill my 4 weekly post commitment?  Well, here's the first one.  Do you want to watch a 40 minute interview with Mike Rowe?  Of course you do.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dolan and the HHS Mandate

An old Zippy post has changed my mind about Cardinal Dolan and the HHS contraception mandate.  Previously, I had been concerned with what I considered to be Dolan's hypocrisy in regards to the mandate.  Under Dolan's leadership, the Archdiocese of New York had provided coverage for contraception, sterilization, and even abortion through its union mandated insurance plan.  Dolan himself had said that the HHS mandate that requires the same thing would necessarily violate the consciences of all Catholic employers.  When one applies Dolan's objection to the insurance plan that his own archdiocese uses, then the archdiocesan plan must also violate the consciences of Catholics and no Catholic, especially the Archbishop, should be complicit with such an evil.  Zippy, who knows way more about moral theology than I do, writes,

The question on the table is, is compliance with the HHS mandate necessarily formal cooperation with evil? And while I strongly commend those who raise the question for raising it I think the answer is most likely that no, compliance with the HHS mandate is not necessarily formal cooperation with evil. I do have an important caveat in the closing paragraphs of this post, however.
I use the term “necessarily” because it is always possible to formally cooperate with evil, even without doing anything at all. Someone who in his own head says “good on her for getting that abortion” or “good for those people providing contraception” or “good for that judge clearing the way for Terri Shaivo to be starved to death” or “good on Bush for bombing that restaurant full of towel heads” has formally cooperated with mortally grave moral evil: he intends the evil act of another person or has shared in the evil intention of another person, and is morally condemned by that intention.
The plight of an employer faced with complying with the HHS mandate is similar to the plight of a legislator faced with a bill that restricts more abortions than are restricted now, yet still includes some exceptions – say the usual dark triad of rape, incest, and life of the mother. Evangelium Vitae tells us that not only is abortion itself intrinsically immoral; it is also morally wrong in itself to pass laws explicitly authorizing any abortion. It follows (my inference) that a legislator who specifically proposes the three exceptions in law, even if only as a means to the very laudable end of increasing legal restriction of abortion, does evil. You can’t specifically propose the three exceptions without intending the three exceptions as a means to some end: formal cooperation with evil. On the other hand, Evangelium Vitae also tells us that a legislator can licitly support such a bill, so long as his absolute rejection of all abortion – including by inference the three exceptions – is explicit and well known.
The situation with the good pro-life legislator is that he faces an omnibus choice: he does not support the three exceptions themselves and did not propose them himself, but if voting for the bill results in an overall better state of the law it is acceptable for him to vote for the bill. Similarly, the good employer does not support the provision of contraception and did not propose it himself. But he also faces an omnibus choice, where every option he chooses has bad – though unintended by him – consequences. It would be formal cooperation for him to propose and support evil provisions in the health insurance plan himself, as a means to any end; but it is not necessarily formal cooperation with evil for him to support the provision of health insurance that has many good benefits, even though it also provides, literally against his will, the material means for other people to do evil things.
There is a certain danger in this kind of thinking though. It is one thing to support a bill which increases restrictions on abortion across the board, even while retaining exceptions proposed by others (who are necessarily employing gravely evil means in so proposing, despite in some cases laudable ends). It would be another thing to support a bill which trades off restrictions: one which (say) introduced a previously closed exception for rape but closed an existing exception for incest. And it would be another thing still to trade off incommensurable evils: say, to further restrict some abortions while mandating sterilizations of certain individuals. It is far from clear that these “lesser of two incommensurable evils” calculations can avoid formal cooperation with the evil actions deemed “lesser”. I cannot therefore definitely conclude that compliance with the HHS mandate is not necessarily formal cooperation with evil (though I expected to conclude that when I started writing the post; so there you go).
This seems reasonable to me.  It would seem that it is not necessarily immoral for a Catholic employer to comply with the HHS mandate.  This absolves the Archdiocese of New York, but leaves us with a new problem.  If a Catholic can in good conscience comply with the contraception mandate, then upon what grounds can we claim that the mandate violates our religious liberty?  If Dolan believes that complying with a similar plan in his archdiocese is not immoral, then how can he say with any legitimacy that the HHS mandate would require Catholics to violate their consciences?  If the lawsuits against the mandate fail and the bishops decide that its not so bad after all to comply with it, then the Church will appear to be inconsistent and self-serving.  In addition, great harm may be done to the relationship between confused laity and the flip-flopping clerics.  Bishops such as Dolan are not necessarily hypocrites, but they may have made a bad situation worse.

Internet Problems

As soon as the internet starts working in the place I am staying I will be able to publish an actual post.  This mobile app only let's me post basic text.  Dang it.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Blogging During Lent

I have been neglecting the blog of late, but as a Lenten discipline, I will try to post at least four times a week.  This may or may not involve the posting of four inane YouTube videos every Saturday evening.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Calm Down John

It has been several weeks since I read John Zmirak's condemnation of Illiberal Catholicism, and I have been intending to write a response but have only now made the time to do so.  Zmirak's thesis is that Catholicism in the United States is being corrupted by illiberal reactionaries who would crush liberty in the name of the Church.

Let me start with a few vignettes. I was an eyewitness, or heard a detailed firsthand account, of each of these events, or else will provide a link to document it.
- Just after the Chinese government crushed the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square, a seminarian explained to me that he wished he “could have driven one of the tanks” that ran over the demonstrators and their makeshift Statue of Liberty. “Americanism is a far greater threat to the Church than communism,” he explained.  He is now a priest — I saw him on the altar in October.

- It was a festive evening at the small Catholic college.  A hearty dinner followed Mass for the feast of its patron saint. Now the students were gathered with the school’s faculty and leaders for a bonfire and robust songs. The high point of the night was the piñata, which the school’s director of student life hung from a hook. It was full of candy and shaped like a pig.  Across it was written, “Americanism.”  The student life director held up a bat, and told the students, “Okay, everybody, let’s SMASH Americanism!” The students lined up behind their teachers, their dean, and their college president, to smash whatever it was they thought was Americanism. (They had never been taught what Leo XIII actually meant by that word.)

- At this same school, in an academic discussion, the college dean explained the greater economic success of Protestant countries that embraced capitalism (compared to agrarian Catholic nations) as the “effects of Freemasonry.”  The college president quickly corrected him, pointing out another critical factor: “diabolical intervention.”

- That same dean, in a conversation with me, waved off the possibility of democratic reform in America.  Moral reform, he explained to me, would only come in the form of a forcible coup d’état, by which “men of virtue” would impose their will “on the people, who will fall in line when they see that they have no choice.” That dean had previously criticized Franco’s Spain for being too lax.

- The historian at a large Catholic university gathered his friends and family on the day that the rest of us call “Thanksgiving.” But his clan called the holiday “Anathema Thursday,” and every year used it to mock the Protestant origins of America by hanging a Puritan in effigy.  This same historian teaches those he mentors to call the Statue of Liberty “that Masonic bitch-goddess.”

- At another small Catholic college, faculty and staff lead an annual pig roast, which they call an “auto-da-fe,” naming the pig each year after a prominent “heretic” before they immolate and eat it.

- At still another small Catholic college, one of the teachers whom I met at a conference spoke effusively of “loopholes” a scholar had purportedly found in Vatican II’s endorsement of religious freedom. It seems that Dignitatis Humanae only forbids the State from using physical force in matters of religion.  The Church, this young scholar explained, is not so constrained.  The Church may imprison any baptized person and punish him for heresy. “So that means the Pope has the right to throw any Lutheran in jail?”, I asked skeptically.  “I know, right?” he said, beaming a smile. “This is really exciting.”  In subsequent weeks he sent me “proof” that George W. Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks.

- Over at Ethika Politika, a Catholic writer followed his rejection of American liberalism and capitalism to a different logical endpoint, and attempted to rehabilitate Karl Marx, absolving him of all the evils historically perpetrated by communists, and urging his readers to find ways to be good Catholic Marxists.

- At America magazine, a commentator wrote dismissively, even patronizingly, of that magazine’s greatest contributor — Father John Courtney Murray, SJ — for his attempt to embrace American liberty and infuse it with an understanding of natural law.  It was clear that such attempts had already failed, and that Catholics should embrace political quietism, withdrawing to separatist communities and hoping for toleration, the commentator wrote.

I could multiply such anecdotes, but you get the idea. At first sight, all these events might seem to be unconnected. What do nostalgic, Renaissance Faire Catholics have in common with neo-Marxists?  What do would-be Catholic “Amish” separatists share with Inquisition re-enactors? What is the thread linking Cardinal Dolan, who wished that he could be the “biggest cheerleader” for Obamacare, and the right-wing Catholics who downplayed the bishops’ plea for religious liberty in the face of the HHS mandate — arguing that, instead, Catholics ought to be arguing whether contraception should even be legal?

You might be forgiven if your answer was simply, “They’re all BLEEPING crazy, that’s what.” But that won’t do. In fact, there is something very serious going on in Catholic intellectual and educational circles, which — if it goes on unchecked — will threaten the pro-life cause, the Church’s influence in society, and the safety and freedom of individual Catholics in America.  The growth of illiberal Catholicism will strengthen the power of the intolerant secular left, revive (and fully justify) the old anti-Catholicism that long pervaded America, and make Catholics in the United States as laughably marginal as they now are in countries like Spain and France — nations where the cause of the Church was linked for centuries to autocratic government and religious intolerance.

These vignettes serve to illustrate Zmirak's concerns about illiberal Catholicism, but I think they undermine his argument before he even makes it.  These stories  are supposed to shock the reader, but they are shocking because hardly any of us have ever encountered anything like them.  The priest who wants to crush unarmed Chinese people under a tank is probably the only priest in the entire world with that particular desire and there are probably only slightly more Catholics who wish to jail their Lutheran neighbors.  There are on the other hand innumerable Catholics who think that God invented liberal democracy and that it is wrong to try to convert Protestants.  Instead of worrying about a few conservative weirdos, we should be concerned with the vast horde of Catholics who are slaves to modernist errors.  If the wingnuts come to burn my Protestant roommate, I'll kill them, but until then I'm perfectly happy to kneel by their side at the Tridentine Mass.

Even if Zmirak's vignettes' were at all representative of Catholic intellectuals, most of the "bad guys" he showcases don't even seem that bad to me.  Hanging a Puritan in effigy or eating a pig called John Hus are in poor taste, but they don't sound like especially diabolical activities.  The guy who thought Franco was too nice seems rather dense, but I would be lying if I said I have never fantasized about a king or dictator descending upon the liberal order with fire and sword.  I don't actually want to install a dictator, but the desire to do so is certainly understandable.  As for Dignitatis Humanae, one need not be crazy to wish for loopholes in the document.  The standard Catholic party line on religious liberty is that any state action against religious error comprises some terrible violation of the natural law.  If a Catholic nation such as the Philippines were to ban Protestant missionaries from entering the country, more than a few bishops would throw a fit and claim that Dignitatis Humanae condemns such "Medieval" proscriptions.   I don't believe that Dignitatis Humane actually says what the liberals think it does, but the document is hardly a model of clarity.  Whoever is running "The Reform of the Reform" these days should really work on clarifying the Catholic position on religious liberty, among other things. 

Zmirak's criticisms are not without merit, but I think he overstates his case rather severely.  He remains one of my favorite contemporary Catholic writers, and should I ever meet him, I will buy him a beer and then assure him that he needn't worry about the vast illiberal conspiracy.

Monday, February 10, 2014


I have been thinking about posting for a while, but I have yet to make the time.  I will try to post as soon as I am less busy.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Best of the Worst Arguments for Atheism

Decent arguments can be made for atheism.  Aquinas identified two, the seeming causal closer of the natural world and the existence of evil.  There are also many bad arguments for atheism, most of them made on the internet.  I have selected several of the most wonderfully bad arguments found on the collection at

(1) If you cannot agree on a definition of a thing, then it does not exist.
(2) People cannot agree on a definition of God.
(3) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) Thomas Edison was an atheist.
(2) He invented the lightbulb.
(3) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) Bruce Lee was an atheist.
(2) Bruce Lee knew King Fu.
(3) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) The Spanish Inquisition killed pretty much everybody.
(2) That's right. It killed everybody.
(3) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) Atheist: "It's interesting that miracles conveniently never happen around skeptics."
(2) Theist: "Well, I had a friend who used to be a skeptic until a miracle in his life happened."
(3) Atheist: "That doesn't count. He's not a skeptic anymore. I'm talking about real skeptics. The ones who stay skeptics even if they see a miracle."
(4) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) There are lots of atheists in Sweden.
(2) Sweden is pretty much the best country ever.
(3) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) Santa Claus does not exist.
(2) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) Atheist: "No miracle has ever been confirmed by science."
(2) Theist: "So, you think that disproves God's existence?"
(3) Atheist: "The Church hates gays."
(4) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) I define "Universe" as everything that exists.
(2) God could not have created the Universe because under this definition, He would have created Himself.
(3) If you object to my definition of "Universe," you can go screw yourself.
(4) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) The belief in God arises from the unconscious fear that your father is going to castrate you when he finds out you have a desire to sleep with your own mother.
(2) Obviously, only a crazy person would think that.
(3) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) I'm sleeping with another man's wife.
(2) I don't feel like believing in God right now.
(3) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) Padre Pio [or some saint] could speak to people in their native language even if he never learned it.
(2) No, he didn't.
(3) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) Lots of white people believe in Jesus.
(2) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) The evolutionary process is slow and inefficient.
(2) God would have made it faster.
(3) This is because God, being eternal, would have been pressed for time.
(4) Therefore, God does not exist.

(1) Here's a picture of Neil Degrasse Tyson superimposed on a starfield background with an quote about how big space is.
(2) ...
(3) Therefore, God does not exist.

Check out the rest of the page for more hilarity.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Triumph of the Revolution

Progressive ideologies seem to be quite varied, but a common heritage can be established in the motto of the French revolutionaries, "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité."  Each of the various progressive movements can be classified according to the way they prioritize these ideals.  Libertines, naturally enough, value liberty the most, socialists and their fellow travelers emphasize equality, while nationalists prefer fraternity, in civic or ethnic terms.  These ideologies are all truly revolutionary ideologies, and the regimes in which they are employed are revolutionary regimes.

This is not to say that anyone with any affinity for the three ideals are revolutionaries.  Many love liberty not merely as an abstraction to be forced upon atomistic individuals, but rather recognize its value to a happy and productive people.  Those who would advance ordered liberty are wary of license and do not seek to overturn those limitations placed on man by nature and propriety.  All right thinking people acknowledge some level of equality, and honor the dignity of all men made in the image and likeness of God.  However, a proper respect for the equality of man must be tempered by an appreciation for the natural inequality of man in ability, morals, and vocation.  Feelings of fraternal affections between people of a similar culture and heritage are natural and good, and are in fact necessarily opposed to revolutionary fraternity.  This latter conception of brotherhood reduces all men to citizens under a particular regime or members of a certain race, while sweeping away local traditions and those ties between diverse communities rooted in shared faith or sentiments.

The West today faces a crisis.  Some form of revolutionary, progressive regime rules Westerners across the world, not only in our halls of power but in our schools, our churches, and in our homes.  The Jacobins have conquered the world and we failed to notice, perhaps because the conspicuous guillotine has been replaced by the hidden slaughter of the unborn.  Opposition to the revolution is led most often not by principled defenders of God, family, and tradition, but rather by revolutionary alternatives to the party in power.  I do not mean to say that our leaders are necessarily a bunch of bloodthirsty scoundrels, but rather that they usually adhere at least somewhat to a revolutionary ideology, and as a a result make decisions based on false ideas about human nature.

What is to be done?  Frenchman could do their best to subvert the revolution while waiting for the British to appear, but His Majesty's Army is not coming to save us.  When all the world groans under the unnatural tyranny of revolution, to whom shall we look for salvation?  Edmund Burke, the great British statesman and critic of the French Revolution, recommends a gradual, incremental approach to social and governmental reform, but that formula was advanced in the context of a stable and sane order.  The same approach may still work in our revolutionary times, building upon the vestiges of a natural order that still remain below the politically correct surface of modern life.  People of all persuasions have a natural love for their families, their homes, and their communities.  It is our task to cultivate those natural affections and from them draw a commitment to a strong social order befitting a happy and virtuous people.  This is not the work of rhetoricians or legislators but of normal people living out their daily lives with hope, faith, and charity, in defiance of an anti-social society.  It will be a long and difficult journey up the cliff from which we have fallen, but we may yet return to solid ground.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sorry Dr. Jones, It Belong in a Church

Recently I visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.  The museum had many fascinating items on display.  Of particular interest to me was exhibition of Catholic liturgical art such as this beautiful 15th Century Spanish altarpiece:

And this French reliquary from the 12th or 13th Century:

I enjoyed viewing this exhibit, but as I continued to explore the museum I remembered the liturgical items and thought, what are they doing here?  This is sacred art. Liturgical art.  It belongs in a Church or in a Catholic museum, not in the Nelson-Atkins.  In a secular museum, an altarpiece is cataloged by probably irreligious curators who see it not as ornamentation for the focal point of the Mass but as a cultural curiosity, of no greater significance than the lewd Hindu statuary on display in the room adjacent.  The curators and patrons of the museum at least appreciate the beauty of traditional liturgical art, which is more than can be said for many contemporary bishops.  If you want to see the glory of God reflected in art, don't go to a Catholic Church, go to a secular museum.  Catholics have traded away their artistic birthright for ugly architecture and felt banners.

Education Update

I survived yet another semester.  I am looking forward to my graduation in May, and to whatever comes afterwards.