Thursday, December 25, 2014

Stille Nacht

100 years ago today, a truce between British and German troops on the Western Front briefly interrupted the butchery of the First World War.  The men celebrated together the Incarnation by which God became man for the salvation of those on both sides of no-man's-land.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pvt. Button

On Veterans Day we remember those who have served in our country's military.  One man I want to especially honor risked his life for his family and country though he never saw the enemy.  My ancestor, Montgomery Button, served as private in the Mormon Battalion during the Mexican-American War.  The Mormon Battalion was the only officially religious unit in the history of the US military.  It was formed by Mormons who wished to prove their loyalty to their country while pioneering on the Western frontier.  From the website of the Mormon Battalion Association:
In July 1846 under the authority of U.S. Army Captain James Allen,  and with the encouragement of Mormon leader Brigham Young, the Mormon Battalion was mustered in at Council Bluffs, Iowa Territory.  Allen was to take command of the unit as Lt. Colonel and appoint his staff. By the 16th of that month, over 500 men had enlisted in the Mormon Battalion.  The Mormon Battalion left Council Bluffs to begin the first leg of its historic journey to the traditional marching tune of American soldiers, "The Girl I left Behind Me."
Their orders were outlined in the following Letter of Instructions dated June 3, 1846 from William Learned Marcy (Below), Secretary of War to Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny, commanding the United States forces at Fort Leavenworth:
“... It has been decided by the President to be of the greatest importance, in the pending war with Mexico, to take early possession of Upper California. An expedition, with that view, is hereby ordered, and you are designated to command it." .... "It is known that a large body of Mormon emigrants are enroute to California, for the purpose of settling in that country. You are desired to use all proper means to have a good understanding with them, to the end that the United States may have their cooperation in taking possession of and holding that country. It has been suggested here, that many of these Mormons would willingly enter into the service of the United States, and aid us in our expedition against California. You are hereby authorized to muster into service such as can be induced to volunteer, not, however to a number exceeding one-third of your entire force. Should they enter the service, they will be paid as other volunteers, and you can allow them to designate, as far as it can properly be done, the persons to act as their officers. It is understood that a considerable number of American citizens are now settled on the Sacramento River, near Sutter's establishment, called Nueva Helvetica .....”
Church and military leadership recruited for days to gather the necessary enlisted personnel.  Each individual, like so many before and after them, had to make a conscious decision to enter service for a war they likely misunderstood.  These individuals prayed for insight and strength in their decision to serve a government, which until now, had shunned and mistreated them.
The makeup of the command was unlike any other body of volunteers ever to serve into the U.S. Army.  Age requirements of 18 to 45, first specified by Lieutenant Colonel Allen, were shattered by a number of the volunteers.  The oldest soldier was 67 year old Samuel Gould.  The youngest recruit was Alfred Higgins, barely 14.  Also accompanying the battalion were approximately thirty-three women, twenty of whom served as laundresses, and fifty-one children.  In all, about six hundred individuals started the journey to Fort Leavenworth.
The battalion marched from Council Bluffs on July 20, 1846, arriving on August 1, 1846 at Fort Leavenworth, where they were outfitted for their trek to Santa Fe. Battalion members drew their arms and equipment, including a clothing allowance of forty-two dollars each.  Battalion members took cash in lieu of uniforms, using the money to support their families and their church's move west. Consequently, they did not wear uniforms.
The march from Fort Leavenworth was delayed by the sudden illness of Lt. Colonel Allen; Capt. Jefferson Hunt (right) was instructed to begin the march to Santa Fe and received word en route that Colonel Allen was dead. Allen's death caused confusion regarding who should lead the battalion to Santa Fe. Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Smith was chosen the commanding officer by the vote of the regular army battalion officers. The volunteer officers and enlisted men were not consulted and this caused some confusion during the leadership transition.
Smith  and his accompanying surgeon, Dr. George B. Sanderson, have been described in Battalion member's journals as the "heaviest burdens" of the Battalion. Smith had a dictatorial leadership style and Dr. Sanderson's remedy for every ailment was a large dose of calomel or arsenic. The men soon learned that the supposed cure was invariably worse than the disease. The men often spewed out the medication when out of the doctor's sight.  Excessive heat, lack of food, and forced long-distance marches were additional plagues the unit suffered on its way to Santa Fe.
The Battalion arrived in the captured Mexican territory of New Mexico in October of 1846, and established camp in Santa Fe.  The Mormons then came under the command of Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke, who would later become a noted cavalry tactician and the father in law of J.E.B. Stuart.  While there, the Mormons met the Western adventurer, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, whose mother Sacagawea had brought him on the Lewis and Clark expedition when he was a baby.  Jean Baptiste joined the Mormon Battalion as a scout and would guide it to California.

Cooke wished to bring only fighting men on the march to California, so he created Company D, a "sick detachment" that would consist of soldiers who were ill or had brought their families with them.  Company D was ordered to march into Colorado and make camp at Pueblo.  Private Montgomery Button left Santa Fe with Company D with his wife Mary and his children James, Louisa, Samuel, and Jutson.  Jutson Button is my great-great-great-great-grandfather.  Company D traveled to Pueblo where they established a camp and braved the Rocky Mountain winter.  In May 1847, the Mormons in Pueblo left to join Brigham Young in Salt Lake where they were discharged from the army. (I learned about Company D from this site and this one)

Montgomery Button never encountered Mexican troops, but like many pioneers, he and his family endured the great hardships of the Western trails, and Montgomery did so while bearing arms in the service of his country.  As it happens, my ancestor is not the only Pvt. Button to serve in Colorado.  Ft. Carson sits less than an hour north of the old Mormon camp at Pueblo, where it serves as a base for the 4th Infantry Division.  My younger brother Nathaniel, who joined the army last summer, serves in the 4th Infantry.  Like his ancestor Montgomery, my brother defends flag and family.  I honor them both this Veterans Day.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cruz Confusion

Credit: Jeff Malet,
Ted Cruz recently said something so outrageously stupid and unjust that I felt the need to emerge from my law school exile and write a post about it.  As many of you may know, Cruz recently gave a speech to "In Defense of Christians," a Middle Eastern Christian organization, but left before finishing because some in the crowd booed in response to his assertion that "Christians have no greater ally than Israel."  Offended by the heckling, Cruz said "“If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews then I will not stand with you" and then left the stage.

Ted Cruz is either a cynical manipulator or a dangerously uninformed man.  Perhaps he is aware of the fact that Middle Eastern Christians don't tend to like Israel very much and wanted to be booed; it was a stunt meant to impress the more illiterate sections of his evangelical base.  If this is the case, he used Mid-East Christians in an immoral fashion for personal gain, and should not be trusted with power.  Alternatively, he really could have no idea that Mid-East Christians tend to identify more with their Muslim neighbors than with Israeli Jews, and that they have good reason for doing so.  Perhaps he really thinks that the people booing him were just a bunch of anti-Semitic lunatics who somehow got into a Christian event.  If so, he is an ignoramus who has no business filling any office that deals with foreign policy. 

If Cruz is merely ignorant, then he needs to be informed of an important truth.  Israel is not the greatest ally of Christians in the Middle East.  In the large majority of cases, the people whom Christians in that region rely on for support are Muslim.  In Kurdistan, Muslim Kurdish troops die to protect Chaldean Christians from the Islamic State.  In Jordan, Christians live in peace with their Muslim neighbors and can rely on the friendship and protection of King Abdullah II, one of the greatest of contemporary monarchs.  In Egypt, where Muslim Brotherhood supporters attack Coptic Christians, Muslims have on multiple occasions stood in protective rings around Coptic churches to defend them.  In Gaza, Christian and Muslim Palestinians pull each other out the rubble left by Israeli bombs, and curse the Jewish state together for what they perceive to be unjust aggression.

Mid-East Christians tend to dislike Israel.  This animosity results from a number of factors.  Perhaps most important is the simple desire to fit in with their Muslim neighbors.  Promoting secular nationalism side by side with Muslims makes Christians part of the political world around them and makes allies out of Muslims who could potentially be enemies.  The fact that Mid-East Christians would react negatively to Cruz's praise of Israel is entirely understandable.

Christian opposition to Israel may be wrong to one degree or another, but it doesn't really matter.  Cruz's statement that he would not stand with Christians unless they stood with Israel is disgusting.  Unless they are doing something truly monstrous like massacring Albanians, we must stand with our fellow Christians around the world, even if we disagree with them on minor points.  You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family.  Israeli Jews may be our friends, but Middle-Eastern Christians are our family, and we owe it to them to consider their problems and positions with the greatest of charity, even if we disagree.  If Ted Cruz wishes to act in a truly Christian manner, he needs to apologize to the Christians he insulted and instead of lecturing them about the ways of the world, he should shut up and listen to Mid-East Christians explain things to him.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Chaldeans are Being Destroyed

The Chaldeans are being destroyed and the West does nothing. The American invasion of 2003 created a power vacuum that would be filled by the Islamic State. We are responsible for what happens to these people, and so far Obama has done nothing. God have mercy.

 H/T: Rorate Caeli

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Back in Action

I recently spent a week at Mises U in Auburn Alabama, where I may have inadvertently infected half of the Libertarian intelligentsia with a cold.  The lectures were great, but the highlight for me was the conversations with one of my best friends in which we hashed out a synthesis between the proprietary anarchism of Hans Herman Hoppe, the classical conservatism of Edmund Burke, and Church teaching.  Assuming I actually maintain that position (I'm 22, I change my mind all the time), I hope to one day write a book on the subject with the paradoxical title Anarcho-Statism.  Anyway, I'm back in the fast paced, high-paid world of blogging.  I am working on a short story, my first real attempt at fiction writing since 2nd Grade, which should be up soon.  Pax.

Update: As I look back through my older blog posts I realize that I never posted that story. That's because I discovered that I have no idea how to write fiction.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sidewalk Counseling at Thermopylae

Considering our recent Supreme Court victory, pro-lifers may well think that things are getting better for the pro-life cause.  In certain respects this is true, but as I explained in an editorial for "Informed Conscience," the Benedictine College pro-life newsletter, the nation is not really with us, and the political environment will only get worse for the unborn thanks to demographic shifts.  While I was writing that editorial earlier this year, I thought about what causes overly high levels of optimism in the pro-life movement.  I think it's women. 

Though the mini-Goebbels of the abortion lobby say that pro-lifers are a bunch of evil sexist male dude-bros, anyone who has ever actually encountered the pro-life movement in reality notices that it is led primarily by women.  The jackboots of patriarchy that the feminists fear are actually fashionable flats worn by old grandmothers, middle aged mothers, and incredibly cute 20-something female activists.  Instead of threatening people with hellfire, they speak gently with women outside abortion clinics, urging them to spare the life growing within them.  It is good that women are so prominent in the pro-life movement because they can empathize with other women in a way that men cannot.  It is, after all, women who have abortions.

Though women are a tremendous asset to the pro-life movement, I think that female pro-lifers are especially susceptible to false optimism.  This observation is entirely anecdotal, but hey, rigorous studies are for people who get paid to write.  It seems to me that women have a great desire to be on the winning team, because they feel especially affirmed by positivity.  In addition, women tend to receive more encouragement from the opinions of others.  When they see that half the country identifies itself as "pro-life" they will feel good about their cause.  When I see that statistic, I think "that can't be right."  Then I start muttering something about bad polling methodology into my glass of bourbon. (Ok, maybe that's just me.)  I think the simple fact that women respond to feelings of affirmation and solidarity means they will be more optimistic about movements to which they belong. 

Unlike women, men are made to fight, and find affirmation in battle, even against impossible odds.  It is for this reason that men so admire the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, or the men of the doomed Light Brigade in the Crimean War.  This is not to say that we think getting shot by Persian arrows or blasted by Russian cannon are good things, but the valor of men fighting for every inch of ground against an indomitable foe speaks to the primal warrior in all men.  We hope for victory, but we wish to do our best no matter how the battle is going.  Obviously men can get discouraged, but it is the  ability to fight through discouragement that shows the character of a man.

Pro-life men are themselves often caught up in the bubbly optimism of their female colleagues, girlfriends, or wives in the pro-life movement, but I think that they should be able to deal just fine with a more realistic assessment of the abortion situation.  In fact, I think it is very important to the pro-life cause that they face grim realities, for it is when the odds are against them that men can see most clearly the importance of their mission, and are inspired to fight ever harder.  So, men of the pro-life movement, quit congratulating yourself for being "the pro-life generation," put your game faces on, and go kick some ass.

Credit: Warner Brothers

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Facebook Politics

Whenever I examine someone's facebook page for the first time I always check the "About" section so as to view his political and religious views.  In regards to the former, I find the common practice of inserting the name of a political party, usually Republican or Democrat, to be rather annoying.  This is not because I find the parties distasteful, though I certainly do, but rather because a political party is not a political philosophy.  If someone tells you that they are a member of a particular political party, you can make a good guess as to his policy preferences, but party membership says relatively little about core political views. 

This is because party platforms are not philosophical statements in any useful sense, but are rather a set of policy proposals that most party members wish to pursue for their own philosophical reasons.  There are of course exceptions to this; after all, if someone identifies himself as a member of a Communist party, it is entirely reasonable to assume that he is in fact a Communist.  For everyone who does not identify himself with a self-referentially complete party/philosophy such as Communism*, simple party affiliation does not offer a good representation of his true political views.

For example, Republicans, like most Americans, tend to be some kind of liberal.  They can be placed on the right side of the liberal spectrum.  However, important differences exist between say,  a neo-con, and a libertarian Republican, even if the two often favor some of the same policies.  Both of those factions have substantially different ideas about the purpose of the state.  Furthermore, there are even a few Burkean classical conservatives hiding in the ranks of the GOP, and they (or rather we) view government and society in very different terms than most Republicans.  Party affiliation or even general descriptors such as "conservative" are simply insufficient for delineating exactly where one falls on the political spectrum.  This is not to say that party labels are useless, but rather that they cannot be expected to substitute for a comprehensive political philosophy.

One might accuse me of asking far too much from a line or two on a facebook profile, and that accusation would certainly have merit.  The real problem I see is not facebook politics but rather that much political self-labeling does not advance beyond the level of facebook.  National democracy is rather absurd, but so long as everyone is allowed to vote, all voters have a responsibility to critically examine their political ideas and should be able to explain exactly what type of Republican, Democrat, Tory, or Labour supporter they actually are, rather than simply limiting their political identification to a party name.

*Yeah I know there are a gajillion different shades of Marxism.  I don't care.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ruckman's Revelation

My home state of Florida is host to a variety of weird flora and fauna but some of the people here are the most bizarre of all.  Pastor Peter Ruckman of the Pensacola Bible Institute is a prime specimen of Floridian weirdness.  He is one of the most extreme advocates of the King James Only movement, which considers the King James Version of the Bible to the be best available English translation of scripture. Ruckmans departs from some of his saner colleagues, however, in his fantastic claim that the translation of the KJV constitutes divine revelation.  He calls it "the infallible English text."  It is profoundly odd that a Protestant would declare a bunch of 17th Century English dudes to be an extra-biblical source of divine revelation.  Weirder still, more than a few Independent Baptists seem to believe this nonsense.  Jack Chick, who is even crazier than you think, is a Ruckmanite.  Chick claims that God made English the universal language of the world (really) so that the infallible KJV could be read by everyone.  He says that the use of other translations by Protestants is due to the nefarious workings of Satan/Catholicism.  Between them, Ruckman and Chick spread this bizarre heresy to whomever is gullible enough to believe it.  I suppose we should be grateful that they aren't espousing Arianism or something.  Weird micro-heresies like this probably don't pose too much of a threat to anyone's soul, and at least they provide an entertaining diversion to the rest of us.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Inside the Utility Closet

Scott Alexander, who writes at Slate Star Codex, is a pretty swell guy as far as godless rationalists go, and he makes many careful and compelling arguments.  However, he fails to make a good case for one of his fundamental beliefs, namely, utilitarianism.  He advances his argument in The Consequentialism FAQ, a question and answer style discourse on the primacy of consequences to proper moral reasoning.

Alexander begins by arguing that any moral system must be grounded in moral intuitions.  He writes, "Moral intuitions are important because unless you are a very specific type of philosopher they are the only reason you believe morality exists at all."  When faced with competing intuitions, Alexander says that "We must reach a reflective equilibrium among our various moral intuitions, which may end up assigning some intuitions more or less weight than others, and debunking some of them entirely."  His justificiation for this equilibrium: "It's my moral intuition that we should. Isn't it yours?"

Alexander contrasts his intuition-based system with ethical philosophies grounded in metaphysics, which present absolute ethical principles that exist independent of intuitions.  He attempts a refutation of metaphysical ethics with a hypothetical story that is too long to reproduce in full, so I shall summarize it.

If a man acquired a mystical artifact that exempted him from any sort of transcendent metaphysical morality, he would still feel guilty about doing evil.  We are stuck with intuitions about morality regardless of metaphysical exemptions, so morality seems exactly the same with or without metaphysics.  Therefore, metaphysics should have nothing to do with morality.

Alexander really should have run this scenario by someone else before he decided to publish it as his entire argument against metaphysical ethics.  The problem with the scenario is that it is quite literally nonsense.  Metaphysical reality cannot be switched off for an individual.  Every major philosophy that I can think of that posits some essential transcendent morality also binds that morality to the metaphysical reality of man.  A person exempt from morality would thus also be exempt from existence.  A man not bound to metaphysical morality is just as absurd as a square triangle, and an argument against metaphysical morality based on such a man is as faulty as an argument against the omnipotence of God based on His inability to create such a triangle.

Alexander fails to defeat metaphysically grounded ethics, but he soldiers on and attempts to construct an ethical system based on intuition.  The offset paragraphs with the bolded headings are from the FAQ:
Why should we assign a nonzero value to other people?
I was kind of hoping this would be one of those basic moral intuitions that you'd already have. That to some degree, no matter how small, it matters whether other people live or die, are happy or sad, flourish or languish in misery.
Well, I suppose sociopaths are out of luck here, but that extreme exception aside, we are still with left the question of how exactly to apply our moral intuition that people have value.  Alexander attempts to address this.
Why might morality fail to assign value to other people?
Morality might fail to refer to other people if it only refers to itself, or if it refers to selfish motives like avoiding guilt, procuring “warm fuzzies", or signaling [showing off].
What do you mean by a desire to avoid guilt?
Suppose an evil king decides to do a twisted moral experiment on you. He tells you to kick a small child really hard, right in the face. If you do, he will end the experiment with no further damage. If you refuse, he will kick the child himself, and then execute that child plus a hundred innocent people.
The best solution is to somehow overthrow the king or escape the experiment. Assuming you can't, what do you do?
There are certain moral philosophers who would tell you to refuse. Sure, the child would get hurt and lots of innocent people would die, but it wouldn't, technically, be your fault. But if you kicked the child, well, that would be your fault, and then you'd have to feel bad about it.
But this excessive concern about whether something is your fault or not is a form of selfishness. If you sided with those philosophers, it wouldn't be out of a concern for the child's welfare - the child's getting kicked anyway, not to mention executed - it would be out of concern with whether you might feel bad about it later. The desire involved is the desire to avoid guilt, not the desire to help others.
I find it hard to believe that Alexander really thinks anyone would feel more guilt about kicking the child than they would about the death of all those people.  If anything, exclusive concern about guilt would lead people to kick the child.  We may reasonably say that the death of the innocents is not our fault, but human emotions do not work strictly according to reason, much as rationalists such as Alexander might wish they did.  Those who would consider themselves responsible for the child kicking but not the deaths would almost certainly feel guilty for the deaths anyway.  It is metaphysical morality that Alexander must truly grapple with, but he sets that aside in favor of a hypothetical person with a bizarre kind of scrupulosity.
What do you mean by “warm fuzzies"?
This term refers to the happy feeling your brain gives you when you've done the right thing. Think the diametric opposite of guilt.
But just as guilt is not a perfect signal, neither are warm fuzzies. As Eliezer puts it, you might well get more warm fuzzy feelings from volunteering for an afternoon at the local Shelter For Cute Kittens With Rare Diseasess than you would from developing a new anti-malarial drug, but that doesn't mean that playing with kittens is more important than curing malaria.
If all you're trying to do is get warm fuzzy feelings, then once again you're assigning value only to your own comfort and not to other people at all.
Here Alexander makes what is perhaps the best argument against his own position.  What exactly is the distinction between the supposedly selfish "warm fuzzies" and supposedly selfless moral intuitions?  To his credit Alexander recognizes this problem.
Are you sure it's ever possible to value other people? Maybe even when you think you are, you're valuing the happy feelings you get when you help other people, which is still sorta selfish if you think about it.

Even if that theory is correct, there's a big difference between promoting your own happiness by promoting the happiness of others, and promoting your own happiness instead of promoting the happiness of others.

People who use a guilt-reduction or signaling-based moral system will end up making harmful decisions: they will make choices that hurt other people in order to benefit themselves. People who try their best to help other people for fundamentally selfish reasons still help other people as much as possible, and this seems to deserve the label “altruistic" and the praise that goes with it as much as anything does.
Alexander may see the problem, but he fails to present a coherent solution, and instead is satisfied with shifting the goalposts.  He claims that there is a big difference between promoting one's own happiness and promoting the happiness of others in order to make oneself happy, but offers no evidence for this.  What exactly is the difference?  Sure, it makes a difference to someone else if I return the wallet he dropped or take it for myself, but a morality based entirely on intuitions has nothing to do about my potential beneficiary or victim and everything to do with me.  If I intuit my own need for some blackjack and hookers, and that intuition is stronger than my intuitions about the immorality of theft, then I should take that sucker's wallet.

The great moral philosopher Bender Bending Rodríguez

Alexander's FAQ concludes with a case for utilitarianism, which he considers to be the best way to achieve equilibrium of intuitions.  He writes,
Morality should be about improving the world. There are many definitions for “improving the world", but one which doesn't seem to have too many unpleasant implications is satisfying people's preferences. This leads to utilitarianism, the moral system of trying to satisfy as many people's preferences as possible.
He goes on to explore the different strains of utilitarian thought and their practical application, but his basic definition shall suffice for our purposes. 

Considering Alexander's argument as a whole, one must grant that it is logically valid.  His conclusion that utilitarianism is the ideal moral system follows from his premises.  However, his argument is entirely unsound.  The most generous thing that could be said for his argument is that several of the key premises might be true but that Alexander offers no significant support for them.  Most egregious are his failures to properly address metaphysically grounded morality, and to differentiate between "warm fuzzies" and moral intuitions.  Without these premises, Alexander's thesis fails. 

This post is intended not as an attack on Scott Alexander but as a critique of utilitarianism.  Alexander is not presenting his own home-brewed case for utilitarianism, but rather the standard argument for that moral system, and it is because he presents it so accurately and concisely that I picked his argument to criticize.  Every argument for utilitarianism of which I am aware runs into the same problems that Alexander does; problems that they also fail to overcome.  As for the rest of us, we should work to discern real morality, a morality that treats people as ends in themselves rather than bundles of preferences.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Musical Interlude

I am working on a post about utilitarianism that should be up sometime tomorrow.

I sure am glad to be back in the South.  Check out this performance of Dixie by the 2nd South Carolina String Band on period instruments:

Legal/Ethical note: This track was not uploaded by the band, but they link to it on their website.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Finally Done!

This Saturday I will receive a diploma.  The last month has been especially intense, and I didn't write a single post.  Though I will no longer be "A Catholic College Kid," per the subtitle, I will keep blogging as a "A Catholic Law Student."  I am grateful for the education I have recieve and am excited about the future!

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.


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.

Sunday, February 16, 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.