Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Reviewed: The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day

It would be hard to escape the so-called New Atheists. Sam Harris has written two books, The End of Faith, and Letter to a Christian Nation; Richard Dawkins has penned The God Delusion, which has sold one and a half million copies; and Christopher Hitchens has contributed god is not Great.

The books have spawned a number of responses and objections, most of which offer a defense of religion against atheist attacks.

Enter Vox Day, a libertarian columnist at WorldNetDaily, who is also the author of several science-fiction and fantasy novels. Although Vox is a Christian, he insists on battling "the unholy trinity" in their home arena: his "only weapons are the purely secular ones of reason, logic, and historically documented, independently verifiable fact." (p.2) The result is The Irrational Atheist, a solid polemic, but one interspersed with a goodly amount of humor.

A common mistake in this debate--or indeed any debate--is to argue exclusively from one's own perspective. Quoting verses from the Bible is ultimately ineffective to someone who views it with the same amount of respective as one would regard the Weekly World News. While a case could be made that this is an example of "pearls before swine", the important point is that it makes for bad apologetics.

Vox steers clear of this trap and meets the atheist charges head on. The results are glorious to behold, though a tremor of pity may escape the human breast if one glances at the slain trinity. It's not just that Vox is intellectually honest whereas Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens are not. Vox has clearly read books relating to the subject matter--his knowledge of history is especially keen--whereas it appears that his opponents have assembled books after a series of college bull sessions and limited research, probably involving Wikipedia.

Sam Harris is clearly the biggest breaker of the laws of logic; as such, he takes the lion's share of the blows. Vox points out twelve glaring errors from his two books, before tackling the "striking"--Dawkin's term--argument of the superiority of atheism, based on a survey of crime data from red states and blue states. As Vox points out, the argument is idiotic, and proves nothing; but Harris is so mindbogglingly incompetent that the data actually suggest the opposite of what Harris claims.

As for the canard, hoisted arrogantly by Harris, that religions cause war: it's simply not true. According to the Encyclopedia of Wars, religion accounts for a mere 6.98% of all wars, 3.98% if Islam is excluded. And as Vox demonstrates in chapter xiii, the few atheists who have been given power have shown a disturbing propensity to spill blood--and lots of it. Compared to the copious crimes of atheism, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, are insignificant. Still, Vox doesn't merely present the damning death tolls. Instead, he covers the topics in a thorough manner, presenting events in their historical context. The Crusades were not explicitly religious, and became less dependent on religious motives as crusading continued. The Spanish Inquisition was responsible for 3,230 deaths, over a span of over 350 years. And while the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre was wholly indefensible, it was met with righteous indignation, shock and horror by all of Christendom. Vox also examines Hitler, a pagan who was nonetheless quite opposed to religion, and can on way be considered a Christian.

Having run through the lackluster Harris, Vox approaches the able evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins. Unfortunately, "Darwin's Judas" is out of his depth when dealing with religion. A number of books have been written, in the hope's of elucidating to Dawkins that which he has already attacked, but Vox instead focuses on Dawkins's inability to use the scientific method he ostensibly champions. Dawkins's book is the only book examined by Vox which I have also read; suffice it to say I was not impressed. Dawkins is much brighter than Harris, so he tends to be more careful at falling into logical traps. His book is certainly more coherent than Hithchens's--but so too is the livejournal of a typical fourth grade girl. Yet Dawkins dances, keeping his minions happy as he takes it to the benighted religious, leaving the latter a bit bewildered at what passes for a logical argument, and a bit angry at such astounding arrogance over what is little more than repeated "bait-and-switch".

Nonetheless, Vox catches Dawkins, who cannot believe in an improbable God, confessing faith in "seven impossible things". The assertions are quite silly, and Vox easily demonstrates them to be false. Most damaging, and least rational, is Dawkins belief in what Vox terms "the infallibility of Sam Harris". Coming on the heels of a skewering of Harris worthy of a Viking horde, this bodes badly for Dawkins. While his book is superior to those of Harris, tying the success of his own to the biggest atheist clown speaks volumes to the intellectual integrity of Richard Dawkins.

Vox also examines Dawkins's "unrebuttable" argument, "The Argument from Improbability for the nonexistence of God". Attempting to succinctly summarize the refutation of this argument would be very difficult to do. Suffice it to say that it's in chapter viii, and Dawkins has some explaining to do.

Hitchens merits a chapter, too, but the argument--if one can call it that--is so incoherent that it scarcely merits mentioning. One gets the distinct impression that there would have been no book were Hitchens allowed to fornicate freely. Only, so far as I know, he is. The Roman Catholic Church's opposition to birth control hasn't prevented those who disagree from partaking of the forbidden fruit; just ask the 96% of American Catholics who don't follow the Church on this exact issue. In Hitchens's mind, religion is inexorably linked to compulsion. Vox, the friendly libertarian, is just the person to correct this misconception. Vox lists a series of bizarre Hitchens quotes, and comments on a few of them. He then pronounces Hitchens "eminently likable" and "even charming at times", and extends an olive branch of mutual tolerance. One notes, in passing, the irony of Hitchens concerning himself with tolerance. This is the same fellow who wanted to nuke Iraq. But, as Vox repeatedly shows, Hithchens is quite irrational. He's primarily a rabble rouser--albeit a fairly entertaining one--who doesn't dare stoop to rationally, at least in making his case against religion.

Vox also comments on two atheists who are not part of the unholy trinity: Daniel Dennett and Michel Onfray. The two are remarkably different. Dennett avoids most of the mistakes made by the trinity, as he primarily seeks further use of science to examine the claims of religion. Since religion is, or should be, concerned with truth, Vox doesn't have a problem with this; nor should the believer. When he doesn't know the answer, Dennett sensibly admits as much; this alone sets him apart from his compatriots. Vox has to call him to the carpet to answer for a few foibles, but Dennett alone appears to realize that ridding the world of religion may not be all fun and games, even as he lumps God with the Easter Bunny. Dennett alone would never have inspired The Irrational Atheist. But his inclusion is beneficial because it demonstrates that not all atheists fit the unholy mold, and that however firmly one is convinced of one's personal atheism, there are many problems for a society which divorces itself from religion. It also demonstrates the inherent irrationality in even relatively innocuous atheism.

The case of Michel Onfray is also instructive. On the culturally secluded continent of North America, his name fails to ring a bell, but the expatriated Vox is familiar with this European icon. Onfray is not particularly coherent, and Vox spends little time examining the French post-modern nonsense of which Onfray subsists. But Onfray has his purposes, one being that whereas Dawkins and company are fine with the Christian morality--except for parts they don't like--Onfray wants a whole new system of ethics, an atheist's atheism. More importantly, Onfray is the only proponent of the rational extension of atheistic principles. The trinity is wise to avoid Onfray's conclusions, but they are not especially rational.

"According to Onfray, the New Atheist path leads to only to Nietzschean nihilism; his atheology is post-Nietzschean, leading humanity beyond the dialectic of nihilistic struggle and into a hedonistic philosopher's paradise." (TIA, p. 206) Inferno would be a better word, and if history is the judge, the path to paradise would lead through the gas chamber and the gulag.

There is more to the book, but this is supposed to be a brief review. The penultimate chapter presents fascinating take on the dilemma of omniscience and omnipotence, involving a computer programmer and his video game. I'm a bit uneasy with Vox's explanation, but after slogging through all of the atheist books, he's more than entitled to a theological exercise. The appendix involves a conversation with Socrates, in which Vox demonstrates some problems with the Euthyphro dilemma. The book closes beautifully with a testament to the edifying influence religion will always have over mankind.

No one should have had to write this book. The New Atheists never deserved to be held in such high regard. Those who have treated these unimpressive thinkers as intellectual paragons should be mortified. Vox has answered the call to arms. If his challenges are not addressed, no one will be able to take Harris, Dawkins or Hitchens seriously when they discuss religion. At least then the intellectually honest will know where the New Atheists stand.

Nor is it fair to ask "Who is Vox Day?" He happens to be a very intelligent man, but even if he's not, what does that say about the champions of reason, that a strange fellow from the Internet demolished them in intellectual combat?

This book is best suited for those who were a little too impressed with the arguments of the New Atheists; for those who haven't the tools to meet the seemingly irrefutable attacks of the atheists; and really, for all those concerned with truth. After all, that's what this whole debate is supposed to be about.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Imperialism and capitalism

I neglected to reply to Che Bob, and I'm attempting to rectify things with a post. He writes:

There is no legitimate way of disproving the obvious link between capitalism and modern imperialism. One must either be willfully blind or dishonest to deny it. And those of you who do so remind me of those that deny the overwhelming proof of climate change and evolution. Furthermore, choosing to ignore the link is tantamount to criminal complicity with the crimes committed for the sake of profit.

First, bringing up climate change and evolution is perfect, but only because both are so dubious. If by climate change, one means that the climate is not static, one would have a point, albeit a trivial one. It is far more likely that Che Bob, who can correct me if I am wrong in my assumption, believes that the human responsibility for climate change has been substantiated. Only it hasn't. The hysteria over global warming is due to a number of factors, but good science is hardly one of them. The models used to predict calamitous temperatures in the far off future are wholly unable to predict temperatures accurately in the short term.

Evolution is another case where something has been proven, only it hasn't. I'm not a young earth creationist, or even necessarily a creationist at all, but evolutionary theory requires far too much faith for me to believe, at least at present. A reasonable hypothesis isn't the same as a demonstrable theory. Evolution is a good guess of what may have happened, but it's hardly scientific since it can't be tested, at least at the macro level. As soon as we can start evolving animals in laboratories, and make accurate predictions about the ways in which the animals evolve, I'll cast aside my skepticism. Until then, I'm not biting.

Now, as for capitalism and imperialism, the connection is tenuous. For one, the most capitalistic country of the 19th and 20th centuries, America, was the least imperialistic; until recently, we were "a republic, not an empire", in Pat Buchanan's phrase. The growth of imperialism, such as our misadventures in Iraq, is linked to capitalism in part--war profits for corporations--but it was made possible by the growth of the State. A government that practices laissez-faire economics is, by definition, small. Corporations--which are also the creation of the State; corporations are not capitalism, to quote Vox Day--may have desired to increase profits by engaging in imperialism, but the State was too impotent to grant such a wish.

Capitalism is best defended by libertarians, such as Ron Paul, who is also the least imperialistic of those running for President. Those who believe in free markets, tend to abhor compulsion, in any forms, imperialism being just one example thereof. If capitalism were really to blame, America would have become an empire much sooner, but as we drifted away from laissez-faire, we moved toward imperialism. The connection may not be specifically causal, and yet, at root, the foolish belief of control serves both. Those who refuse to regulate the market, seldom attempt to coerce whole countries.

Capitalism is the endless accumulation of wealth, period! It must grow or die. It needs markets! It must expand.

That's simply not true. If anything, capitalism tends toward what Hilaire Belloc dubbed the Servile State. Capitalism reached its height during the early 20th century, at least in America; what we know possess is very unlike capitalism, though it still removed from outright Socialism.

You make a couple of mistakes in your characterizations of capitalism, typical of, but by no means exclusive to Marxists. The first is that capitalism can expand of itself; economics is not a zero-sum game. Henry Ford's assembly line increased automobile output, as well as the standard of living. He did this without having to resort to imperialism. This sort of thing happens frequently in capitalist countries, though the government is excellent at ensuring that it doesn't happen too often.

On the other hand, it was the Communist/Fascist regimes of the 20th century which were forced to be imperialistic. Since Lenin and Stalin were inept at running the economic show, they needed to resort to conquering other countries; they also made extensive use of slave labor. It is ironic that as the relatively benevolent empires of the western democracies began to collapse, the liberated countries erupted in violence and terror; meanwhile, other lands were engulfed by the Soviet empire, which was anything but benevolent. The U.S.S.R. demonstrates the silliness of your premise. You can't possibly insist that it was capitalistic, and yet, it was undeniably imperialistic.

Just think for a moment of all of the human and non-human nature that has commodified, privitized then exploited. Life has become patentable.

What you are discussing happened in the Soviet Union as well, so it's not strictly a result of capitalism. Instead, it was the fruit of a relativistic world, in which God had parted and man was left as the ruler by which all things would be judged. With the idea of the supernatural discarded, all things were temporal. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Doing away with capitalism won't change the commodification of human existence; it, will, however, ensure that there are fewer things to commodify under the despotic regimes which inevitably replace capitalist ones.

Sorry Wiser and Co., but there is no excuse, nor defense for Capitalism. It is inhumane, unsustainable and undemocratic.

And with what on earth would you replace it? Capitalism has its flaws, but it is a workable model that protects private property and human dignity better than its misguided substitutes. All of your charges are incorrect: capitalism is more humane than Communism; it is more sustainable; and it is more democratic. For goodness sake, you are perfectly free to lambast the system on a public forum! If you tried to do that in the Soviet Union, they would have shipped you straight to the Gulag.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

An unpleasant anniversary

As some of you may know, today is the thirty-fifth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the ignoble U.S. Supreme Court decision which, with its companion, the equally ignoble Doe v. Balton, legalized abortion, overturning state law in the process. The latest data suggests that abortions are down, which is a good thing, but 1.2 million isn't exactly a small number. Every aborted baby is a human person whose life was cut short almost before it had begun. Murder is always unjustifiable, but abortion is especially tragic, as mothers, those who bring life into the world, become destroyers of their own children.

It's important to be realistic; legal or not, abortions will probably still happen. But that's no reason to submit to hopelessness; precisely the opposite is true. Those who fail to understand the gravity of the abortion issue wonder why pro-lifers are so adamant about ending abortion. Yet, compared to universal health care, global warming, deficit spending, illegal immigration, even killing the Islamo-bogeymen in the Middle East, the murder of over one million innocent children per year occupies a completely different, and much higher, moral plain. Ending the immoral war in Iraq comes close; but even the most pessimistic estimates put total casualties short of one million, far less than abortion casualties--and over a shorter period of time.

Whenever the abortion topic comes up, thoughts immediately turn to the political. For over three decades, pro-lifers have turned out to vote for Republicans, the hope being that the party that professes to be pro-life will stop the slaughter. And yet, even with the House and Senate under Republican control, and with Bush as president, no real action was taken on the abortion front. And no, the silly ban on certain types of partial birth abortion doesn't count because it's not going to save a single life. In fact, legislation has been useless at slowing the stream of blood flowing from the abortion mills. Even the latest decrease can't be attributed to any government action.

With this in mind, an examination of the pro-life commitment to the Republican party is long overdue. That the Democrats are intolerable on abortion can be granted. But the Republicans are, by and large, equally intolerable, as those who claim that abortion is evil, and yet do nothing to stop it, cannot be justified. Ignoring all of the other issues, a Democrat, who simply believes that baby killing is a positive thing, might be preferred to a Republican, who denounces baby killing but then refuses to do anything about it. Liars to the left of me, cowards to the right...

The betrayal of the Republicans can be hard for some pro-lifers to stomach. Sadly, a large number still refuse to call a betrayal what it is--just as abortion proponents insist that the unborn child is only a fetus. When Hillary is nominated, it may be difficult for pro-lifers to avoid voting for the lesser evil; Huckabee and Paul are pro-life, but neither of them will get the nomination. But on the political front, it simply isn't realistic to pretend that electing lesser evils will help end abortion. To quote Michael Badnarik, "If you do what you've always done, you're going to get what you've always got."

But hope is not lost. For just as so many fail to see what the fuss over the unborn is all about, many fail to see the utility of our best weapon: prayer. No matter how bad things get on the political front, we will always be able to pray: for the innocent lives lost to abortion and for an end to the evil practice; for the doctors and nurses who aid in the process; for the mothers and fathers; for cowardly and dishonest politicians; and for those who believe a choice is more important than a child. In time, Mary, who is our mother, through her Son, will help all mothers, and end abortion in this land.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cal gets it

Mr. Thomas isn't buying into the fake conservatives running for President in the GOP:

Mitt Romney won in Michigan, partly because he promised a $20 billion aid package for the auto industry. Is that what a Republican should do - bailout a private industry rather than endorse capitalism, free enterprise and encourage Detroit to build the kinds of cars people want?

Whatever gets the man elected, Cal; it's not as if Romney has any principles, certainly no conservative ones. This election is demonstrating why massive suffrage is such a bad idea. People are going to vote for the candidate who promises them the most things. It doesn't matter that: 1) the government rarely delivers on these promises; or that 2) government help rarely helps. Asking people who vote based on emotions--which candidate makes me feel the best--aren't the sort to learn from their mistakes. That the people of Michigan, who are mired in a recession, would turn to government for help, is, though lamentable, completely understandable. That the conservative pundits are interpreting Romney's win as proof that he's the candidate to beat Hillary is beneath contempt.

The only one behaving like a real Republican is Ron Paul, who actually wants to cut spending and get government out of our lives. He won't win the nomination because too many Republican are into handouts and redistribution, just like Democrats.

Conservatives who dislike Paul will insist that he can't be supported because of his positions on the War on Terror. And yet, compromising on any other issue is completely acceptable. The commentariat has touted socially liberal candidates, like Giuliani, and to a lesser extent, John McCain. Meanwhile, aside from a few commitments to tax cuts, no one has made a promise to severely reduce the size of the government, no one, that is, who can be believed based on his record. But Paul's insistence that we follow the advice of the Founders has caused him to be the least desirable candidate from the perspective of the commentariat--though Cal demonstrates that there are some noble exceptions.

Some will insist that certain candidates, say Romney, are small government types. But when candidates experience conversions on major political issues, suddenly causing them to toe the party line, the conversions should not be taken as genuine. Sticking with the Romney example, his suddenly coming around on abortion just as he was seeking the presidency as a Republican was just too convenient. Elect him if you want, but don't act surprised when he governs, not as he promised that he would, but as he has always governed. If you want a genuine conservative, you've got one. If you want a charlatan, there are plenty of those, too. But after eight years of the faux-conservatism of George W. Bush, wouldn't it be nice to have the real thing?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Not learning anything

Someone writes to Rich Lowry of NRO's The Corner:

Rudy’s state prioritization strategy was probably the best choice, but it seems he made an epic strategic failure in his campaign’s message. Having correctly diagnosed that he’d have difficulties with one leg of the GOP stool (Social Cons), he doubled down on the economic and national defense legs. Oddly enough, his posture on economics (“nothing wrong with the economy that tax cuts can’t fix”) and defense (“you thought Bush was hawkish?”) were well received by a lot of pundits but were in the exact opposite direction of where the GOP primary voters are.

The conservative pundits are completely out of touch with the GOP base. The fact that Rudy was ever considered electable was always dubious--at best. The pundits might not care about gun rights, border defense, abortion, and gay marriage, but the people who vote in the primaries certainly do. Cutting taxes and killing American "enemies" doesn't make you a conservative; it's not as if JFK was a Republican.

The idea that tax cuts can solve anything is no longer cutting it with the American people. Most people don't have a very firm grasp on economics, but they know a pinch when they feel it. To a large extent, inflation is tangible, as is unemployment. No one is going to speak badly of tax cuts, but even the staunchest Republican wants something in the way of spending reductions, and reassurance that the cuts are going to help him and his family.

According to the conventional wisdom, Rudy is Tough on Terror. Maybe so, but Americans aren't keen on fighting more wars. We're still much too afraid of the terrorists for our own good, but without another attack, selling the Americans on another war on another country is going to be difficult. The pundits insist that "the surge is working", but Americans want the Iraqi people to step up to the plate so that we can bring our men and women home.

Americans have fought too many wars, but we're easily war-wearied, thank goodness, even as we're often fearful. We'll end up with a warmongering president no matter what, but we should be able to avoid the Mayor, the biggest one of them all.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Personal Reflection on "Catholic" Education (Part 3)

I'm less than enthused about Romney's win in Michigan. It's the top story on Drudge, of course, but the link provided doesn't even mention Ron Paul, who actually beat Thompson and Giuliani. Oh well. On to more important things.

Last time, I promised to talk about how religion, or at least the Catholic religion, covers all things.

But first, I wish to reiterate--again--that my understanding of Catholicism was severely limited at this point in my life. While it--more specifically, weekly Mass--provided an essential ritual, and sometimes offered good moral guidance, I was totally unaware of its totality and its coherence. I was ignorant of Catholic philosophy; but I was also ignorant of philosophy in general. If I had succinctly summarize, I would have said that the Church was a group of people--priests and other religious, as well as lay members--who shared some common beliefs; these beliefs were drawn from the Bible, and we, the lay members, received our instruction by attending Mass.

Now, none of this is inaccurate, per se. But it is heretical, in Chesterton's sense of the word, because it is only a partial truth. The Church is so much more than a loosely affiliated group of believers, just as the Faith is formed, and lived, not just in Mass, but in all times and all places. The Church is a longstanding institution, founded by Jesus Christ Himself two thousand years ago, with a solemn promise that He would not abandon her and that the gates of Hell would never prevail against His bride. Far from being a weekly ritual, the Faith had and has the power to transform history; but what is more important, it does so by transforming individual human lives.

Though at times reactionary--properly speaking, every human action is a reaction against something else--the Church is not simply an antiquarian institution, blindly reiterating the same things it has said for years. Of course, since Truth doesn't change, the Church is still proclaiming that same Truth, and will continue to do so until the end of all things. But the Church has also sough to interpret the Truth in fresh and new ways, and apply Truth to situations which, though rarely being wholly new, possess a sense of novelty. To give but a few examples, Augustine incorporated Platonic thought into the language of the Church; Aquinas would similarly "baptize" Aristotle centuries later. John Paul II developed his Theology of the Body, a revolutionary way of looking at human sexuality.

In fairness to my teachers, having some of us read Augustine would have run the danger of casting pearls before swine. My intellectual heroes at the time were Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, and I thought Clancy novels were serious literature. I had some serious work to do before I was ready to read Augustine. And yet, when Just War Theory was presented--the only part of the Catechism we studied in four years--it wasn't explained as a centuries old teaching, developed by the one time Bishop of Hippo, and found to be of startling utility in the modern world. Perhaps it wouldn't have done any good. In any event, faced with this information, I had no idea how to process it. Where did Just War fit into the rest of things?

Insofar as the Just War Theory had any place, it seemed to be yet another instance of the teachers using the podium to enforce upon us their liberal bias. I've since repented of my Republican ways, but the bias was real. I was blessed with some good teachers in some subjects; I had a wonderful Government teacher, for instance. But there was a strong liberal bias. It would be unwise for me to bemoan it too readily, since it caused me to rethink a lot of my own position and led me to grow intellectually. Yet it could be ridiculous at times. Teaching liberation theology, for instance, is preposterous. I never dealt with it, but my brothers still attend the school, and they have to hear all about that heretical nonsense.

And yet, I can't say I remember any condemnations of abortion. The Church's opposition to abortion may have seemed similarly out of place, but it was very suspect that we didn't touch on the issue, since it was, and is, the most important issue for Roman Catholics, at least in America. To me, Just War was important, not because we were a Catholic school, but because Bush was in violation of it. A curious proof may be that I had to learn on my own of Pope John Paul II's condemnation of the Iraq War.

Meanwhile, our school had no problem with homosexuality. We even had a couple of groups on campus devoted to homosexual students. The one time we discussed the issue in class, I wound up attempting to defend the Church's position, something I was almost completely ignorant about, while students were either antagonistic or uninvolved. I could better explain the Church's opposition to homosexuality now, but it's telling that no one in the entire room had both the ability and the courage to do so. I wouldn't give myself much credit for courage either.

The reader may wonder what homosexuality has to do with interventionist war. The answer resides in the Catholic Church. The same institution which has developed a coherent and cogent case for sexuality, open to procreation within the confines of marriage between a man and a woman, has done the same when it comes to explaining when wars may be fought justifiably. And both teachings, as all of Her teachings do, stem from the Incarnation: the tremendous mystery of God made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.

If I had to give a one word answer of what was lacking in my religious education, I would have to say Jesus. He was in the periphery, along with a plethora of teachings which were deemed irrelevant to religion class. Understandably, not everything can be covered, in four years, in a life time, in a thousand life times. But when the students of your religion class go away with no understanding of Jesus Christ, that's a very bad sign.

Bereft of Christ, Christianity is worthless. Attempts to keep the good in Christianity while getting rid of that which is bad, or at least unlikable--and this is what at least some of my teachers did--is impossible, since Christianity is inexorably tied to Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man.

But such was the education I received that I thought the Republican party--for goodness sake!--held a wider view of man than did my own Church. If you asked me then, I would have said I was a Catholic and a Republican, but the latter held stronger sway. Now, I'm a Catholic libertarian; the adjective informs the noun, as it should be. More importantly, though I fall short with a disgusting degree of regularity, Jesus Christ, informs all. There is no other way to be Catholic.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Try the traitor in the White House

I don't listen to Rush anymore, but Drudge provided a link, so I'll dash off a few quick thoughts before heading back to the books. Newt, who Rush suspects is advising the Huckabee campaign, lamented the end of the Reagan era. But El Rushbo isn't moving on; instead, he maintains that if Republicans stick with Reagan conservatism, they'll be okay.

If you want to find out what would happen to the country with a McCain or Huckabee president, take a look at what's happened to Governor Schwarzenegger in California. Here was a guy who actively ran as a conservative and as a Republican and, as you know, was elected. We all know now what has happened to him.

What Rush doesn't say is that the same applies to George W. Bush, who also ran as a conservative. Historians surveying this period of American history will be astounded at the loyalty of Republicans to their Commander and Chief during a time period when he repeatedly stabbed them right in the back. In over six years, we've gotten lousy tax cuts, two questionable Supreme Court nominees--just wait--and a disastrous war that will go down as the worst strategic blunder in U.S. history.

And while Rush is right about McCain and Huckabee--ignoring the unlikelihood of a presidency for either of them--the same applies to every candidate, except for the usual suspect.

Defending liberty takes leadership and guts. Promoting Big Government doesn't...

What's dead is leadership on the Republican side, and because there is a lack of leadership of someone who the substantive understanding of liberty and the political skills to advance it, we get all this cockamamie nonsense about the death of our principles.

Someone should tell Rush it's not too late to endorse Dr. Paul.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

To the Paulites

I read Vox's blog all the time, and I try to refrain from linking there because so much of my thought is already a result of reading his work. In short, while I proudly consider myself a member of the Ilk, I'm not--trying to be--a Vox clone. But on the heals of Paul's lamentable showing in N.H., Vox wrote some important words which merit a link:

Today's snowball's chance is no different than yesterday's. Rationally, you know it. Spiritually, you know it. Emotionally, you know it. This doesn't make your defiance pointless or worthless, to the contrary, it makes it all the more important. When you resist the elite's siren call to serfdom, you are not battling for your country, that fate was settled long ago. You are battling for your soul and for your mind. That's not only a battle well worth fighting, it's one that no one else can fight for you...

Only you can enslave your thoughts, and despair and bitterness are forms of slavery in themselves.

I'll try to keep this one in mind. Meanwhile, the Revolution continues.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Hampshire

Ron Paul finished in fifth with eight percent. He even finished behind the fascistic Giuliani.

I thought Paul would do better, and I'm disappointed in the "independents" in New Hampshire, to say nothing of the Republicans who lined up like little lambs to vote for McCain, who is to the left of Bush, and Romney, who is a republican version of John Kerry--flip-flop don't stop.

Still, I'm not exactly surprised. Liberty is only appealing to a limited number of people. Thanks to universal suffrage, the mess of charlatans making preposterous promises about what the government will do to serve us will always outperform someone whose only ambition is to restore accountability to the government while its ability to give handouts.

In fairness, Paul isn't done yet, especially given the bizarre nature of the republican race. Not only has he done much better than he was expected to do, but there are still a number of people who haven't heard the good doctor's message. Even if we don't win this thing, the Ron Paul Revolution will have freed a number of minds.

On a non-Paul related note, I am not even vaguely looking forward to this race anymore. Every candidate disgusts me; choosing a lesser evil amongst them is like picking out an apartment in one of the rings in Dante's Inferno. It strikes me as inescapable that I will harbor a deep loathing for the next President of the United States. Heaven knows what I'll write about then.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Personal Reflection on "Catholic" Education (Part 2)

I was mentally preparing my next post when I read this:

John Paul II's remarkable rapport with young people began in the "John Paul, Superstar" phase of his pontificate... As the pontificate unfolded, it was no longer possible to view this simply as a variant on the adulation lavished on pop celebrities. Age, Agca's bullet, and the effects of illness made it necessary to think of the Pope as something more than a rock star in a white cassock. Why did this rapport with the young continue, even intensify? Several reasons suggest themselves. The Pope took young people seriously as persons, paying them the compliment of seeing them as people struggling with the meaning of life. When speaking with the young, he did not take the edge off a Christian message he clearly lived himself. Perhaps most importantly, he didn't pander to young people, challenging them to settle for nothing less than moral grandeur. At a time in Western history when virtually no other world figure was calling young people to bear burdens and make sacrifices, John Paul touched the youthful thirst for the heroic and related it to the human search for God. It made for a potent style of evangelization. - George Weigel, Witness to Hope, p. 494

I couldn't pass up a chance to comment on this. But first, I highly recommend Weigel's book; some of the man's foreign policy ideas that are a bit sketchy, but his biography of John Paul II is superb. The book is long--almost nine hundred pages, plus footnotes--like the pontificate which it describes in detail, but Weigel doesn't linger: he carries the narrative effortlessly. It's also the sort of book that should appeal to non-Catholics as well. John Paul II was a 20th century giant, and anyone who wishes to understand that century would do well to study the man who became John Paul II.

If you were expecting me to explain how Pope John Paul II held a tremendous appeal for me as a young person, you'll have to beg me to write fiction; it just wasn't so. I knew who the Pope was; that he was rather old; that he spoke quite a few languages. I knew that many people thought that he was tremendously holy and wonderful; and that many others thought he had gone senile and should step down. I also knew he opposed the War in Iraq. Being a good Republican at the time, this last point stuck with me; whatever esteem I had for the Pope promptly dissipated. I dismissed him and his wise words by offering the rhetorical question: What on earth did the old man in Rome know about terrorism and Saddam Hussein?

Seeing how the Polish priest lived under Nazi and Communist occupation, the answer is: quite a lot.

We'll have to get back to the Iraq business later; believe it or not, it is fairly important in all this. Keep in mind, for the present, that I was a rather clueless Catholic, indeed, clueless generally. This is fairly common in the teenage years, caused, most likely, by acne and aggressive repression of feelings toward the fairer sex. It's as plausible as anything.

Worse, I had no idea that I was so clueless. For all my faults, and there were many, I followed politics intensely. Grown men, with nationally syndicated talk shows, were offering the same platitudinal nonsense that I was. If you regularly listen to talk radio, my condolences, you'll find that they still are.

As an aside, I like talk radio, but it should be listened to sparingly. Talking points are no substitute for reading real books. If you want to be convinced that you're right about things, find a host who agrees with you; if, on the other hand, it is truth that you seek, you're going to have to hit the books.

At this point, you might ask why I quoted Weigel if I'm not going to do anything but recommend his book. I would thereupon inform you that the challenges of which he speaks did not apply to the religion classes in which I enrolled. Now, generally speaking, high school was a bit boring. I rarely studied for a test, and if I did, it was for half an hour, tops, so it would be dishonest for me to suggest that I was always challenged in high school. Yet, often the reason I didn't study had more to do with my arrogance that with my intelligence. In any event, the teachers didn't pander to us in most of my classes.

The same could not be said for religion class. The teachers were, I regret to say, only a bit more sane than those who taught English, and, in general, very, very... let's go with dull. I truthfully can recall little to nothing that I learned from religion class. We were either taught things that we had learned in second grade; or we focused on something that had nothing to do with Catholicism--you know, like watching the Matrix; or we took a nap, I mean, meditated.

This isn't a dig against meditation, but attempting to get a class of tired high school students to find something spiritually edifying out of the endeavor is to engage in an exercise in futility.

I pause for two hypothetical interjections which I shall provide. First, isn't it unreasonable to expect high school religion teachers to meet the standards of the Pope? And second, so what if the material used in religion class isn't intellectually challenging?

The first question can be answered fairly easily. While it is unreasonable to expect everyone to possess the qualities of someone like John Paul II, as Catholics, we are all called to holiness. Dante puts some Bishops in Hell, and there have been lay saints; it is very possible for an ordinary person to be more holy than a Pope, even, I daresay, a Pope as holy as John Paul II.

More importantly, though, the teachers I had weren't even vaguely like the Pope in their methodology. Looking back, I'm not sure how many of them really understood what the Faith was all about--or fervently believed in it. I can count one of seven teachers who may have had the Faith. He was a soft-spoken guy who taught to the lowest common denominator. I don't know if he was overwhelmed by the apathy and ignorance with which he was presented, or if he just wasn't cut out for teaching.

As to the second question, religion should be intellectually challenging for a variety of reasons.

First, if something is simple, it's going to be regulated below anything which is more complex. I'm not certain this is fair, but it's the way things work. No one who has taken a calculus course is going to be fired up about pre-algebra. The Jesus-Loves-You children's books are likewise little esteemed once you've stumbled upon Chesterton. On a cross-disciplinary note, math and science were more important to me because they required me to use my mind in a way religion didn't. Even those who would have had a fairly open mind toward Catholicism, such as myself--you'll remember that I would have considered myself a Catholic at the time; I was a bad one, but I didn't know it--quickly tuned out the rambling

Second, it's dishonest. To present the Catholic Faith as less intellectually fulfilling than--heaven forbid--physics, is ridiculous. I'm not saying that esoteric lectures are the way to go, but neither is reading from a text better suited to eight year-olds. Religion seeks to satisfy man's deepest desires, and to answer his most probing questions. I can't speak for all faiths, but Catholicism's answers are deeply challenging, not only to understand, but to act on--thankfully. And the satisfaction one gets from the answer of Jesus Christ--for all of the Church's answers stem from the mystery of the Incarnation--is a tremendous thing. It's unfortunate that my instructors lacked this satisfaction; or were perhaps so thrilled with the eight year-old version that they couldn't imagine a higher wisdom.

Third, it leaves a wayward Catholic searching for a way back nothing to work with. I regained my faith because of the Grace of God, working, in part, through my mom's purchase of a delightful little tome called Orthodoxy by the aforesaid Chesterton. I hadn't heard of the man until I read his book. In four years of high school religion classes, we read a mediocre piece of historical fiction about Mary. Props for recognizing the Incarnation as important; negative points for trying to make it seem "cool" by couching it in poor fiction.

Aside from that... nothing. Some of the English classes read Dante's Inferno, and a few people read Flannery O'Connor. I'm not about to lambast either of them. In four years, some of the classes read part of the greatest poem ever written, and a few people read a short story or two by one of the masters of the twentieth century, but that's it? Even if a lot of the stuff went over our heads, at least we would have known it was there if we needed it. Instead, I knew about the Catechism and the Bible, and that was about it.

Fourth--because there's no way it's last, but I'm running out of steam--the challenges posed by religion should be the toughest because they're the most important. Being able to integrate a function is nice, but it's utterly inessential. Being able to love one's neighbor is not only much harder than calculus, it's much more important. I don't want to imply that I worshiped math and science during high school: I didn't; and in truth, I'm a somewhat reluctant computer engineer. What I did do, partially because of my own flaws, and partially because I was poorly served in my education, was elevate all of the other disciplines in relation to religion. That's precisely backwards.

I'm going to stop here for now. If Doom and Gazoombo want to add to my list, I'd appreciate it. This is turning out to be far less polished than I'd like, but it's going reasonably well.

Next time, unless something else distracts me, I want to talk about how religion should cover all disciplines in ways I thought it couldn't, and how its failure led me to see a substitute for a more total discipline in an unfortunate place.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


I have some more ideas for the next post in the series I've started, but I'm going to enjoy my day of rest by watching football and perhaps playing Scrabble.

Quickly, though, Obama looks to be doing well; and while he's preferable to Hillary, simply because he seems like a less dangerous fellow, I'm not certain I see that he's the candidate of "change" that everyone believes him to be. I've never put too much faith in the ability of democrats to think through things, but how much "change" can you expect from a guy who thinks we should attack Pakistan?

I guess you could argue that at least we'll be fighting a different country, but that wasn't the sort of change I had in mind. Regardless, Ron Paul seems to be doing well, so those of us who are looking for some real change have someone to support, at least for now.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A Personal Reflection on "Catholic" Education (Part 1)

I'm going to be working on a little series here. As the title suggests, I'll be fleshing out some reflections of my experience with Catholic education. The series will continue until I get bored or until I run out of things to say.

As some of you may or may not know, I went to parochial school. Specifically, I attended three different Catholic grade schools, and one Catholic high school, before shaking their dust from my feet and attending a public university. Regular readers of the old blog might find my reasoning strange: I wanted to receive a degree in Computer Science/Computer Engineering--I hadn't quite decided which--at the best possible price. To my mind, the only imaginable effect of a Catholic education was an increase in tuition.

That's actually an extraordinary statement. It wasn't that I hated the school I attended. I made a number of very good friends, and the education I received, especially in math and science, was fairly good. Nor had I become an apostate. During the first semester of my freshman year of college, I attended Mass every week. I'm not sure when I began to skip, but it certainly wasn't right away. To me, being a Catholic meant little more than attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. Some of us gave up something during Lent, although sacrifice was being replaced with the idea of doing something nice instead. There was also the issue of Mary, and the Saints, but these were optional devotions; the Rosary was distinctly Catholic, but Catholics weren't required to say it.

With such a pathetic conception of the Faith, it's not surprising that my attendance at Mass began to lapse. Without an intellectual foundation, religion had become a series of customary, though largely meaningless, gestures. The blame resides properly with me; I knew what the Faith was about, even if I had forgotten. But it's also fair to criticize the Catholic schools for failing to provide me with the depth of education I would need to combat temptation and spiritual sloth.

It's important to realize that my story isn't atypical. More accurately, the atypical thing about my story isn't the fall, it's that I've found my way back by the grace of God. I can only speak from my personal experience--though, as Mark Judge points out in God and Man at Georgetown Prep, I'm not completely alone--but only two of my friends from high school regularly attend Church. The rest aren't anti-theists in the Richard Dawkins vain, but apostates, like James Joyce perhaps; except that, not only do my friends lack genius--sorry guys--they also lack the depth of understanding of the Faith that Joyce had. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man could only have been written by a Catholic, one who had rejected the Faith to be sure, but one who had received a rich and rewarding education from an institution that had existed for nineteen hundred years. Even if my friends were visited by a kindly literary muse, they would be wholly incapable of writing such a book.

I would have to include myself in the group along with my friends. Now, I can follow Stephen Dedalus, Joyce's hero, and understand him fairly well. The harrowing sermon on hell now resonates with me. But it would have struck me as peculiar had I read the book while in high school. The pre-Vatican II Catholicism of Joyce would have appeared to be wholly unrelated to my own. This perception was wrong of course; the idea that the "spirit of Vatican II" changed the Roman Catholic Church from a doctrinal standpoint is simply wrong. But it would have struck me as a reasonable.

The problem, as I say, was that to my mind, Catholicism was something utterly unrelated to the intellect. The idea is ludicrous, but it appeared quite sane. I'll try to further work out my thesis--without fear or trembling I hope--next time.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


According to Drudge, Paul came in fifth with 10%. Not too shabby for someone who wasn't supposed to have a shot. He should do even better in New Hampshire since the state is filled with independents.

I'm not thrilled with Huckabee's victory, but if we're going to elect a war-mongering Big Government type, he may as well be genuinely anti-abortion. If nothing else, Huckabee's rise proves how little the conservative commentariat understand the base.

It will be interesting to see which candidate drops first. Even though Paul is in fifth, all of his momentum is in the positive direction. He's not dropping out anytime soon.