Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mitt for V.P.?

Drudge has been running various headlines suggesting that McCain may snag Romney for his vice president. Now, on the one hand I can't stand Romney. The man is an inept politician, not because of his honesty, merely because he's so much of a whore that he'll do or say anything to get elected. For some reason completely incomprehensible to me, what's left of the right clung to Romney as the conservative savior in this election. By resurrecting him to play V.P., McCain may be trying to prove to conservatives that he's one of them. It's not true, of course, but voting is largely a matter of self-deception.

I've also read that Romney would help McCain tackle the economy, an absolutely ludicrous notion. The economy is looking bad now, and it's going to get much, much worse. As Ron Paul continually pointed out during the debates, the inflationary policies of the Fed have financed our war on terror. That's just one reason as a true proponent of limit government I oppose it. But more importantly, the dollar is starting to falter, and although they're liable to try, the Fed won't be able to inflate their way out of the mess. Just some pessimistic sentiments, but reasonably informed ones.

Anyway, the good news is that if McCain does pick Romney, watching the religious right try to sell such an appalling ticket to the pro-lifers will make for some good entertainment. I know it's touch to realize that the party sold you out, but trust me, after a few months of bitterness, it becomes enjoyable to watch the circus as a bemused onlooker.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The United States of Soft Authortarianism

Whereas a soft totalitarian state will employ direct suppression of offending books, imprisonment of authors, state control of Internet servers, and dismissal or imprisonment of dissidents, soft authoritarianism achieves its ends through peer pressure, bullying, fear of ostracism, giving priority to group norms, and eliciting conformity through social sanctions of various kinds. Under both types of regimes, elections are usually to one degree or another only formalities, behind which permanent state officialdoms actually govern. - Chalmers Johnson, Blowback, p. 151.

Does the latter not apply to this country? Never presume for a moment that because one's ancestors were free, one must necessarily possess that selfsame freedom.

We have the ostensible right to free speech, but if we wander outside the realm of acceptable thought, we will be punished for exercising it. Just ask Larry Summers or James Watson.

Meanwhile, the field has been whittled down to three remarkably similar presidential candidates. The media is convinced that Obama has the nomination wrapped up, but if Johnson's comments truly apply, we'll either see him quietly exit the campaign or he'll learn to leave the non-interventionist rhetoric aside and stump for the MIC.

Of course the book gets my hearty recommendation.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Re: Faith and "logic" (part II)

I'll try to be a bit less verbose this time. First I'll finish my response, and then I'll attempt a summary of my points.

You may feel equally confident about the stability of the ground beneath your feet and the truth of the Resurrection, but the former is subject to constant experiential confirmation in a way that the latter is not; subjective certainty does not establish objective truth.

But just because you've demonstrated that the ground has been stable for your entire life doesn't mean it must continue to be. We can reasonably expect it to, certainly, but, to Chesterton's point, that doesn't mean that it must. I don't wish to be overly pedantic, yet the logic behind perpetual continuation of the common place escapes me. Believing such should, I insist, be chalked up to a minuscule, but again, entirely reasonable, bit of faith.

Second, by definition, a historical occurrence cannot be retested; but that does not mean it cannot be falsified. Would it be rational to dismiss the theory of evolution--as applied from apes to man--simply because we cannot repeatedly test it? To reiterate, I accept the Resurrection because I believe it happened. Were it falsified, I couldn't help but disbelieve it.

Catholicism, I continue to maintain, requires an arbitrary and irrational assent to external authority.

I'd disagree, naturally. If God exists, and if God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, and if Christ imbued the Catholic Church with his Holy Spirit to guide it lo these many years, the assent is neither arbitrary nor irrational. Of course, disagreeing with any one of these premises breaks the chain of rationality, but if they are accepted, the synthesis is cogent.

I would add, too, that the apparent absurdity become easier to accept and even understand with a little bit of natural theology. As Augustine put it, "I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe." Specifically worth studying is the Catholic doctrine of the simplicity of God, which Aquinas deals with in the third question of his Summa, expounding thereon with the next several questions.

Although I agree that Catholicism has effectively served many of its adherents as a map in the way Chesterton so eloquently describes, the world that it depicts is no longer the world in which we live, which is home to a diverse array of incompatible religious and secular traditions.

In what ways has the world changed? Human nature doesn't change, which is why Catholic doctrine always and everywhere applies. The just war doctrine wasn't made only to serve contemporaries of Augustine, and thank goodness. We would have done much better had our leaders recognized the permanent things, rather than insisting that" 9/11 changed everything".

Competing claims deserve to be entertained to determine their validity, but that doesn't mean that some claims aren't true. Now, again, you can pronounce the Catholic Church wrong on any variety of issues, but it's not because the world is always changing. If it were, no system of ethics would be of any use.

Right now it looks like what would be most helpful for me to do is (1) to offer some kind of naturalistic account for the existence of religion, (2) to provide some examples of what I think Christianity gets right and wrong, and (3) to sketch a secular ethics.

If you would be so kind, with the following amendments. Anyone can come up with a reasonable hypothesis for the rise of religion. On this point, I'd prefer if you could discuss the Catholic faith, which I hold to be unique among religions--with all due apologies to my heretical protestant brethren as well as those from the various orthodox churches of the east. On the third point, if you could concentrate on the reasons one would follow an ethical system, I would appreciate it. I'm reasonably familiar with most of the ethical systems, so we need not get too heavy into Kant for instance. Thanks!

To summarize, I maintain that the Catholic Church's claim to be sole guardian of universal truth to be thoroughly convincing. Once it's premises are accepted, it offers a consistent framework in which and by which to live, as well as a reason--avoiding hellfire for starters, but better still, desiring to please God who is all good--for behaving ethically. Many systems of ethics exist, but while the atheist can point out the utility of certain ethics, and he can even live an exemplary moral life, he can give no reason for doing so.

I further maintain that the person of Christ, and the Catholic Church--which He founded--are unique. The rise of the small cult in the backwaters of the Roman Empire is without precedent in human history. (I can offer an explanation for Islam if you wish me to do so.) The consistency with which the Church has promulgated doctrine is similarly inexplainable without accepting her claims.

Lastly, miracles deserve to be investigated with as much honesty and as much skepticism as we would take any claim from a reasonably mentally stable person. Explanations which evade science do not "prove" miracles, but they suggest the distinct possibility of the existence of the supernatural.

I look forward to your reply.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Re: Faith and "logic" (part I)

The same friend writes back. I will henceforth speak directly to him, though the rest of you are more than welcome to listen in.

First, I wish to thank you for participating in what has been, until now at least, a rather civilized discussion. I hope that we can continue charitably.

My attitude toward religion is animated by a tension between, on the one hand, my belief that most theological claims are nonsense, with the majority of the remainder flat-out wrong, and, on the other hand, my belief that it has been in the media of religious thought and practice that humankind has, for many centuries, reflected upon and articulated its highest ideals and most noble aspirations. So, whatever is to be made of this, at least it cannot be said that I don't take the claims of religion seriously, in my own idiosyncratic way.

And yet you recognize its utility, which is just one reason I'm more than happy to continue the conversation. The atheist Camille Paglia captured it well, I think, when she observed that if God doesn't exist, he's mankind's best idea. While I'd be interested to know which claims you find to be "nonsense", it might be more instructive, and also less exhausting, if you could point to anything which you find to make at least some sense. I'm not certain what it would contribute, save that it might palliate my curiosity.

First you cite Chesterton to the effect that thought without religious faith leads to a kind of nihilistic skepticism. But this, I would contend, is simply false.

Since I quoted briefly and a bit out of context, some clarification is needed. Chesterton would assert that atheism leads oftener to paganism. We see this, to an extent, in increasingly post-Christian Europe, though the migrating Muslim hordes might well ensure that many choose the crescent over neo-paganism.

However, you are right in suspecting that I would assert that rationally atheism should end in nihilistic skepticism. Now, Aquinas held man to be a rational animal, even as he lamented that, because of sin, most lived according to the senses. Yet perhaps Heinlein's verdict that man is a rationalizing creature rather than a rational one is most fitting. The reason, I would propose, why atheism so seldom ends in nihilistic skepticism is that man is seldom rational.

There are plenty of atheists and other non-Catholics who enjoy fulfilling lives and lucid ethical relations with their communities. It would have to be shown that these people fail in some crucial way to realize the logic inherent in their position.

Perhaps some further clarification is in order. Catholics view other religions as inherently heretical, which means that they are not imbued with the full sense of Truth, which we profess was revealed in the person of Christ Jesus and which is ever held by the Church. This implies that other churches are in possession of partial truths. Thus, while the Muslim lacks the truth of the incarnation, he is behaving rationally in serving his God. The Protestants are similarly bereft of the transubstantiated Eucharist, but are not behaving irrationally when they refrain from murder. Accepting the premises--that God exists, and that He has offered some commands which must be obeyed--the religious individual is behaving rationally.

The same does not apply to the atheist. Now, I'm not insisting that the atheist should go out and commit murders and rob liquor stores; nor am I insisting that atheists cannot be more moral than religious individuals. However, if you are having "lucid ethical relations", I cannot see how they can be described as rational. As Vox Day puts it:

So the atheist seeks to live by the dominant morality whenever it is convenient for him, and there are even those who, despite their faithlessness, do a better job of living by the tenets of religion than those who actually subscribe to them. But even the most admirable of atheists is nothing more than a moral parasite, living his life based on borrowed ethics. This is why, when pressed, the atheist will often attempt to hide his lack of conviction in his own beliefs behind some poorly formulated utilitarianism, or argue that he acts out of altruistic self-interest. But this is only post-facto rationalization, not reason or rational behavior. - The Irrational Atheist, p. 263

Since you are a student of philosophy, perhaps you can correct my conception. But if you are able to do so, you had best forgo your schooling to publish the book. Serving a centuries old dilemma would be a considerable achievement--and on a Monday!

If I have this right, the atheist's existence is fundamentally absurd. The logical ramifications have had trouble penetrating my theistic mind, but it seems to me that this would nullify any need for ethics based solely in rationality.

The Catholic apologist would then have to present additional evidence and further argument to establish Catholic thought as not only immune to these self-destructive tendencies, but also as the (unique?) solution to the challenges they pose.

I think it's been done. Do you have the time to read 2000 years worth of thinking?

Establishing this would take several volumes, but if I may use hints by way of proof, it is telling that, while the doctrine of infallibility wasn't formally declared until 1870, no pope has ever contradicted another while speaking when infallibility applies. The existence of a two thousand year old institution can not easily be explained; Augustine was using the existence of the Church as proof of its claims a mere four centuries after the Resurrection. How much more inexplicable is the Church's existence two millennia after God became Man! To exist for so long without contradiction is beyond implausible: it is miraculous.

As for the uniqueness of the Catholic Church, I shall merely quote the apostate James Joyce. After explaining his rejection of Catholicism, he was was then asked if he would become protestant. He responded: "What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?" If the Church does not have truth, then who, pray tell, does? To whom Lord shall we go?

Your second defense invokes miracles as evidence for the truth of Catholicism.

I'm not arguing here for the truth of Catholicism so much as the existence of the supernatural. In addition, it suggests that, for a lot of people, the evidence points to the existence of God, whether than away from Him.

I find this unsatisfactory for a lot of reasons. Many religions circulate stories about the supernatural to support the truths of their various, incompatible doctrines.

Definitely. But that doesn't mean all of them are wrong. I hate to appeal to the mob, but the prevalence of some form of religion in every civilization until our present enlightened time may suggest something more than mere utility.

We can get into a doctrinal debate if you wish, but while my knowledge of Catholicism is fairly extensive, I'm far less schooled in faiths not my own. It's an oversight I hope to correct in due time.

Certain social situations and psychological conditions provide ample incentives for more or less self-conscious confabulation: unique contact with the divine exercises a powerful hold on the human imagination, and the idea promises considerable power to those with the rhetorical zeal to make their case.

A grumpy old peasant who sees something in the sky might be self-consciously conflabulating himself--though I note that we'd have no doubt believing him if he were the sole witness to a murder--but 70,000 people suffering mass delusion is even more preposterous than the idea of the sun dancing in the heavens.

I also think you tremendously overstate the power religion holds. The Catholic Church is so powerful that 96% of adult American Catholics ignore her teaching on birth control. And yet, no inquisition.

Being religious myself, I think a large number of people believe in a religion because they think it true. There are others who cling due to cultural inertia or perhaps because they fear trying to find something else, but the latter two aren't the sort which hold a church together for centuries upon centuries.

It is not reasonable to attribute events to divine agency without compelling, independent reasons to believe in such an agent.

But sometimes crying miracle is the most reasonable thing to do. Not all "miracles" are the work of the Almighty of course, which is just one reason the Church is so very careful in confirming that a miracle has taken place.

We have beaten Fatima to death, so perhaps you could offer an explanation for the existence of the Catholic Church, if not by divine agent. If Christ was not who He said He was, then how did a small Jewish cult become such a force in human history?

My mind is a bit shot, so I'll finish this tomorrow. Interestingly enough, tonight's reading in The Imitation of Christ concerns avoiding superfluous words. Oh dear.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Murder will do that to a body

Can't say that happens when one gets one's ear pierced:

Women may be at risk of mental health breakdowns if they have abortions, a medical royal college has warned. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says women should not be allowed to have an abortion until they are counselled on the possible risk to their mental health.

I'm not any good at keeping up on social trends, but we still believe in guilt, right? I keep thinking back to Roskolnikov lying in his magnificent and tortuous squalor after committing his murder. This is too obvious for theology: if you do something wrong, you're probably going to feel terrible about it. I'm not about to construct a moral system around feelings, but it's interesting that a world which usually places importance on how actions make one feel completely ignores this impulse regarding abortion.

More than 90% of the 200,000 terminations in Britain every year are believed to be carried out because doctors believe that continuing with the pregnancy would cause greater mental strain.

And here I thought abortion was for incidents of rape, incest, and the mother's life.

I don't have strong enough words to condemn those who perpetuate the abortion holocaust. What survives of western civilization will be appalled at our pathetic attempts to justify the indefensible.

On lesser evils (part II)

In part I we looked at the abortion issue. To summarize, Clinton the fast-fading Obama aren't going to do a thing about all of the baby killing. John McCain, like many a republican before him, insists that he is pro-life. But given the inability of the GOP to do anything significant about what is, one would think, a fairly important issue, it would be unwise to take McCain at his word.

But there is another life issue. We are currently ensconced in two wars: the morally licit one in Afghanistan; and one in nearby Iraq, which both Pope John Paul II and the then Cardinal Ratzinger condemned as immoral. Now, neither were speaking ex cathedra, so, strictly speaking, the doctrine of infallibility doesn't apply. Yet just because the Pope isn't speaking infallibly doesn't give Catholics permission to disregard everything he says. John Paul II wasn't Alexander VI; by all accounts, he was a holy and orthodox Roman Catholic, and a very learned one at that. This isn't to say that every word he ever wrote was gospel truth, but one would need a very good reason to dismiss his application of a centuries old principle to a current situation.

Now if we can fix the mess in Iraq, we should certainly do so; the you-broke-it, you-fix-it principle applies to countries as well. But the irrelevant surge notwithstanding, we're no closer to winning the war in Iraq then we were when the statue of Saddam came a tumbling down. At heart, fixing Iraq is a problem for the Iraqis to solve. To some extent, we can buy--and have bought--them some time to put their house in order. But if the Iraqis don't want to play nice, there's nothing we can do about it. Oh sure, we can keep our troops in the region in perpetuity, but if troops are needed to ensure democracy functions, it's not exactly a democracy. It's more like Turkey.

And this doesn't even take the cost of the war into consideration. Ron Paul puts the cost of the war at 3.5 trillion dollars, after tallying hidden costs and inflation. He notes:

If $3.5 trillion is the true cost of these military adventures, $11,500 is the amount every man, woman and child in this country pays. So, a family of four would pay $46,000 just for this war. This is an especially painful number to me, as the median household income of my constituency in Texas is just $43,000 a year. In other words, war has cost more than an entire year’s worth of income from each middle class Texas family.

This is one reason why politicians love the federal reserve. If presidents were forced to fund wars with taxpayer dollars, we'd fight far fewer of them. Only by hiding the costs through inflation do the people allow themselves to fight today's wars with tomorrow's dollars. I've wandered a bit here, but the point is that while it would be nice to clean up the mess we've made, our obligations to do so extend only so far. The cost of empire is simply too high.

Which brings us to John McCain. The Senator has no problem with keeping the troops in Iraq for a hundred years. He's taken a lot of flak for this one, and rightfully so, but he makes a good point when he notes that we've had troops in Germany since the end of WWII, and in Korea since that war ended. In short, America has been an empire for sometime now. The Paulites, like myself, loathe empires, in part because they fall, in part because they're incompatible with liberty. But those who are troubled by thoughts that one's great-grandchildren may be shipped to the Middle East to keep the peace need to ask themselves if they are similarly troubled by our commitments to Germany.

And of course, to revisit Paul's point, keeping the troops in Iraq for one hundred years will almost assuredly prove impossible, a pity for all the neocon bleeding hearts. We're not allowed to say anything yet, but we're in the midst of a recession, and one that is only going to get worse.

The real problem with McCain's foreign policy is that he hasn't learned anything from Iraq. He's a threat to invade Iran--if Bush doesn't do it first--and seems intent on reigniting the cold war. In short, whatever his stance on the abortion issue, McCain fails at consistently applying the principle to all forms of human life.

Now, some of the ignorant hawks are worried that Hillary isn't as hellbent on killing Arabs--I mean spreading democracy--as they are. But she's far from being an anti-interventionist. The important point to remember with the Clintons, and Hillary especially, is that they are cold and calculating. I won't insist that they're bereft of principle, but at heart--or whatever organ she has in its stead--Hillary isn't about to take a terribly controversial stand if she can avoid it. When her healthcare program went up in flames she disappeared for awhile, and we never heard about it again.

If the neocons are right about the inevitable bloodshed that will follow upon the heels of a U.S retreat from Iraq, not only will this mark the first time they made an accurate prediction, it will also ensure that Hillary will be very wary of making the move. Moreover, the way her husband used force during his presidency leaves little for the non-interventionist to cheer. It might be unfair to suggest that she should be held accountable for his actions, but it's not as if she'd be a candidate for presidency without him--yeah, I said it. If she's distanced herself from her husband on this issue, I've not heard about it.

Obama, on the other hand, has upped his anti-war rhetoric considerably. Now, he's not a principled Paulite; if he's against the sort of nation-building we're presently attempting, he's not going to promise never to use the troops, for instance, in a humanitarian effort. Still, if Obama's completely wrong on the abortion issue, at a certain level, he's right when it comes to preemptive wars. My apathy toward the campaign has prevented me from listening to the man very often; he still strikes me as a bit vague, not to mention fascistic. But on this one issue, and this issue alone, I like what I hear.

So where does that leave the Roman Catholic? Ultimately, one must vote one's conscience, bearing in mind that all choices will be scrutinized by the Almighty. One could try to perform arithmetic, calculating the approximate number of innocents killed if each candidate were to emerge, but even Ayn Rand would find this a bit cold. Maybe it's because I'm hopelessly idealistic, but I can't defend a compromise that costs hundreds of thousands of lives.

But other choices present themselves. There are other parties, who field other candidates. They'll never win, of course, but there are far more important things than winning. Not to be cynical--wait, who am I kidding?--but it's not as if one's vote counts anyway. In all but the closest of elections, especially at the federal level, the difference between the vote totals of two candidates is far larger than the single vote each of us possesses. In the close elections, the court will exercise its duty to wrest the decision from the unwashed masses and into the hands of the unelected elites, where power always resides.

If a candidate meets one's criteria, go ahead and vote. But trying to figure out the lesser evil is, as we have discovered, quite confusing. More to the point, it becomes, in the end, a contest to condone the most benevolent of two tyrants. If a vote could help restore liberty, I'd be the first to advocate it's use. But when it's only object is to crown a despot with a facade of legitimacy, I can't condone voting.

I sometimes wonder who lesser evil types would vote for in a contest between Hitler and Stalin. The example isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. Voting for a lesser evil is still sanctioning evil. Our consciences flare up when confronted with the Hitler/Stalin example for a reason. Replace the names, and fiddle a bit with the numbers murdered, and you've got this year's presidential contest.

And that's why I'll be staying home come election day.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Faith and "logic", a follow-up

An old high school friend, and one for whom I have a great deal of respect, responded to a previous post. He writes:

You're right that we cannot avoid commitment to a large set of beliefs not subject to logical or abstractly rational proof. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there is a substantive difference between, on the one hand, those beliefs that we are compelled to adopt because they are the necessary preconditions of practical activity or rational discourse, and, on the other, those beliefs that we may endorse, repudiate, or blithely ignore according to our contingent circumstances and inclinations.

That my friend exists is a belief of the first class; that I will, upon my death, find myself somewhere in the Christian afterworld is a belief of the second class. The truth-status of the first class entails nothing about members of the second class, which must in each case be evaluated on their own merits. You recognize this, of course, but I would nevertheless maintain that it is disingenuous of you to conflate my faith in the persistent stability of the ground beneath my feet with your faith in the Resurrection.

Lichanos made essentially the same point. I'm afraid I may have too casually cast aside his remark.

My original point was that some faith is required to live; but this fact is less important than the degree to which it is necessary. In retrospect, this is little more than affirming that man must believe in something. Again, true, but probably beside the point. Which is now elsewhere.

My intention is not to smear non-believers as believers, merely to point out that belief itself isn't inherently illogical; it depends on its object.

You recognize this, of course, but I would nevertheless maintain that it is disingenuous of you to conflate my faith in the persistent stability of the ground beneath my feet with your faith in the Resurrection.

And yet, to me, the difference is minute. I started to capitulate on this one, but I'm afraid that won't do. Now, I am not a moral relativist, of course, and so I cannot pretend that what is true for you is false for myself, and vice versa. I can only insist that I profess as much assurance in the Resurrection as I have in the stability of the ground on which I walk.

G. K. Chesterton, who has been a prodigious influence on my thought, tried to capture this in the third chapter of Orthodoxy:

That peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."

There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. That is the ultimate evil against which all religious authority was aimed.

Now, I do not insist that you believe in the truth professed by the Catholic Church if "logic" dictates that you do otherwise. Faith is a very strange thing, coming to a man at odd times, and for--seemingly--inexplicable reasons, and leaving just as peculiarly. I simply maintain, again, that the same "logic" that compels prudent thinkers to believe in the validity of our senses, and so on and so forth, compels me to profess to be Catholic.

At last we encounter the chasm of faith. How difficult it is for the two camps to converse across such an abyss. Too many believers are wholly incapable of dialogue with non-believers because they cannot understand that what in them is natural and logical is totally alien in others. I think that's one reason why converts--from atheism, or at least agnosticism--make such excellent apologists, and why those who have always been religious tend to be effective only at getting a rise from the members of the choir.

As I see it, the issue ought to be framed, not in terms of any putative opposition between logic and faith -- or, for that matter, between science and religion -- but just in terms of *evidence*.


People who disbelieve in God do so, not out of reverence for any abstract ideal of logical rigor, but quite simply for lack of credible evidence to the contrary.

Understandable. But I would wager that the vast majority of religious individuals believe because of the evidence. Now, again, I'm not asking you to believe based on my evidence, or that of anyone else for that matter, but it's worth taking into consideration.

Consider the miracle at Fatima. Dawkins inexplicably brings this up in his book, only to dismiss the whole affair, probably as mass delusion. Yet is not the supposition of the miraculous equally, if not more, plausible? The answer is dependent on one's worldview. If one denies that miracles can occur, any explanation is more plausible than an impossible one. But on what grounds may we make this denial?

I bring up Fatima because it is fairly well known, and because it occurred in the presence of numerous skeptics who confirmed the facts, even if they may have disagreed with the conventional explanation. But little Fatimas happen all of the time. Millions of people have experienced, or know someone who has experienced, the miraculous. To believers, all of the evidence points directly to the existence of God. This isn't intended to be tautological. It's a bit clearer to say that those who do not deny a possibility of a God find that the evidence points to His existence.

You agree with me in rejecting some of these abstract oppositions, but you then immediately proceed to invoke them again in order to justify religious faith. Or have I missed a step?

I'm not sure I follow this. Clarification may be needed.

(On a bit of a side-note, I would also be curious to hear you explain what you mean by "logic" and the sense in which your "being logical" depends upon the Church.)

Allow me to quote Chesterton again. In an essay titled Why I Am Catholic, he writes:

Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes. The Catholic Church has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making those old mistakes; from making them over and over again forever, as people always do if they are left to themselves. The truth about the Catholic attitude towards heresy, or as some would say, towards liberty, can best be expressed perhaps by the metaphor of a map. The Catholic Church carries a sort of map of the mind which looks like the map of a maze, but which is in fact a guide to the maze. It has been compiled from knowledge which, even considered as human knowledge, is quite without any human parallel.

There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years. Its experience naturally covers nearly all experiences; and especially nearly all errors. The result is a map in which all the blind alleys and bad roads are clearly marked, all the ways that have been shown to be worthless by the best of all evidence: the evidence of those who have gone down them.

To give but one example, when last we spoke, you acted surprised that I spoke so negatively about the war. Indeed, it should have been surprising, for, alas, I was once a republican--and will no doubt be forced to undergo terrible purgatorial pains for such. My journey to libertarianism was not simple, but my anti-interventionism doesn't stem simply from my hatred for the ever-expansive state. It has also been informed by a Catholic mind, specifically the just war doctrine of the Church.

During the run up to the War in Iraq, the left insisted that war never solved anything, which, in addition to being completely incorrect, didn't make sense given all of the countries Clinton bombed. The right had lost it's mind after 9/11, but I went along with them because--oh the folly of youth--if the left was wrong, the right must be correct.

Yet had I listened, Pope John Paul II spoke out against the war, not because war is always bad, but because this one was. And he did so by using the road map of which Chesterton speaks.

That's just one example, but I think you get the idea. It's not enough to be right about something. It's important to be right for the right reasons. To do that, one must think correctly, and the Church has helped me to that end.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A delightful sound

Ideally, this is how the Presidential race would play out:

Every vote counts. But what happens when there are no votes at all? That's the situation city officials in Tamarac are facing. No voters showed up Wednesday night to cast a ballot in an annexation referendum for an unincorporated Broward County community.

Come on, tell me that wouldn't be amusing. If CNN and Fox News had no viewers, this world would be a better place.

The courts help decide the will of the people whenever the vote is close anyway. If we all avoid voting, the Supreme Court can do its job and appoint our overlords, eliminating the middle man in the process. If we're going to have plutocracy, we may as well have a streamlined one.

A follow-up on "Catholic" education

Hoosiertoo offers some good thoughts which deserve a response:

Actually, Catholic education needs to be expanded. Having sat in CCD classes, I see the biggest need of Catholic youth is to be evangelized and discipled. This is impossible to accomplish in a public school setting and a Catholic school that buys into all the assumptions and methodology of the educracy won't cut it either.

That's probably true. Some folks from the St. Paul area--whence I hail--are starting a school called Chesterton Academy. What a name! Anyway, they seem to be attempting to avoid a lot of the pitfalls of Catholic schooling. They're keeping things small, trying to involve the parents, and refusing to regulate Catholicism to a religious ghetto. I wish them luck.

I think you're right in highlighting the erroneous assumptions bought into by too many Catholic institutions, but I'm not exactly optimistic about the chances that we can discard decades old mistakes, at least quickly.

Setting aside the curriculum, and stuck with students who come from less than Catholic homes--the one redeeming accident of my education--what would you attempt to do with a school? My suggestions regarding Catholic literature represented an attempt to plant a seed, which might blossom later. As is, most of these kids are going to abandon the faith. But maybe they'll stumble upon Brideshead Revisited in some used bookstore somewhere, vaguely remember reading it, and decide to pick up a copy.

Homeschooling will not happen for more than a very small percentage of Catholics who are by and large thoroughly indoctrinated - as is indeed the American church - in the culture. In fact, the American bishops collectively are a large part of the problem, as parents aren't going to feel the urgency to change if the hierarchy is content to live with the status quo, if indeed they aren't, like Mahoney in LA, actively engaged in pushing the envelope even further.

That's an excellent point regarding the Bishops. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the New Oxford Review; they're a conservative, orthodox Roman Catholic monthly periodical. Try to pick up an issue or two if you can find it; heck, subscribe. In one of the recent issues, they discuss the voting guide approved by the Catholic Bishops. It's a cacaphonic disaster, insinuating that abortion and racism are on the same moral plain, and offering nothing cogent in the way of advice for how to handle politicians who insist on waging unjust wars.

Infected with the "spirit of Vatican II", many of the seminaries became hotbeds of liberal Catholicism--see NOR writer Michael Rose's Goodbye Good Men. It seems we've finally started to correct the problem. The hope is that holy and courageous young men answer God's call to the priesthood, and again give lay people examples to follow.

Since the Church is hierarchical, the initial push for reform must come from the top down, and the top-o-the-heap is B16. It should be noted that "libertarian" and "Catholic" is considered an oxymoron by the vast majority of Catholic thinkers. Those of us who are libertarian and Catholic are on the fringe of the Church, not the mainstream. This is hardly a surprise when you consider the communal nature of the Church and the fact that in the past Church and State were much more in tune.

I justify my libertarianism because of the heterogeneity of the American culture. A strong state makes a certain amount of sense in a homogeneous society, but it's worth mentioning--not to you, since you're well aware of this--that Kings were far less powerful than governments are today. If the state was remotely Christian, I might tolerate it, but when abortion is legal and we routinely invade other countries--or just conveniently bomb them from the air--it's time to call for a drastic reduction in the size of the state.

The social gospel Church cannot thrive in a secular state; you cannot serve two masters.

Another excellent point. If the Church took care of the poor, the state wouldn't have impetus to do so. To a certain lamentable extent, the rise of the state was due to a failure of Christians, not only to live like Christ, but also to refuse to give the state a role for which it had never been designed.

I've tossed around the idea of writing a book about Catholicism and libertarianism, but I'm far too distracted with other things. Seems like something someone would hav

There is a solution to the problem, I think, and I'm not sure I can articulate it, but I'll try in a later post.

It'd be nice to set up these discussions in a forum format rather than burying them in blog comments.

If you'd like, I could let you post things over here on my blog, if only for this particular topic. If you have any other suggestions don't hesitate to let me know.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

One weird lizard

Most of the columnists I read are decidedly right-leaning. Actually, my favorite columnists, with the exception of the one and only Patrick Buchanan, tend to be libertarians. I should probably read more left-leaning columnists, but I avoid them for two reasons: 1) none of the popular left-leaning columnists strike me as good writers; and 2) for all of the recent dearth of good commentary amongst the anybody-but-the-Democrats crowd, it's hard to capture just how badly the left lacks ideas. Proscribing more government spending for every ailment under the sun was vaguely novel a century ago, but after one hundred years of failed government programs--to say nothing of the millions of corpses, casualties of progress--it takes either historical ignorance or simple idiocy to advocate more government involvement.

The one glorious exception is the ever enigmatic Camille Paglia:

Would I want Hillary answering the red phone in the middle of the night? No, bloody not. The White House first responder should be a person of steady, consistent character and mood -- which describes Obama more than Hillary. And that scare ad was produced with amazing ineptitude. If it's 3 a.m., why is the male-seeming mother fully dressed as she comes in to check on her sleeping children? Is she a bar crawler or insomniac? An obsessive-compulsive housecleaner, like Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest"? And why is Hillary sitting at her desk in full drag and jewelry at that ungodly hour? A president should not be a monomaniac incapable of rest and perched on guard all night like Poe's baleful raven. People at the top need a relaxed perspective, which gives judgment and balance. Workaholism is an introspection-killing disease, the anxious disability of tunnel-vision middle managers.

As always, the entire thing merits a read. The Hillary campaign has certainly gotten weird lately. The ad makes way more sense for the McCainiac; it's not as if the hawks are going to give Hillary the go with the GOP nominee gnawing at the bit to attack Iran and snarling at Russia. The point, I suppose, was to emphasize Obama's inexperience, but if that inexperience means he's going to be cautious about pushing the little red button, my guess is there are a lot of Americans who will opt for inexperience.

It's also amusing that the democrats, who have--rightly--criticized Bush and company for fear mongering in regards to the non-existent threat of the Islamo-bad-guys, are now siding with Bush--at least some of them anyway.

I'll try to get to the war issue later this week. Suffice it to say that Obama is the best anti-war candidate in the race for President, albeit to a certain extent by default. I could never vote for him, since he's a fascist--see Jonah Goldberg's book; his calls for unity are classically fascistic--but I hope he continues to emphasize his anti-war positions. Faced with a choice between killing unborn American babies, and killing unborn American babies plus Iraqis and Iranians, I'll hope for, but never condone with my vote, the lesser evil. A half-hearted go Obama.

Monday, March 10, 2008

On lesser evils (part I)

"All truth is simple... is that not doubly a lie?" - Friedrich Nietzsche

A dear friend and I had an engaging, and rather heated conversation about my insistence on staying home come next election. This has not been the first time someone has expressed disappointment at my decision; and if I cannot but plead guilty to the twin charges of pessimism and--political--hopelessness, I can at least attempt to make my case--again--for refusing to condone a lesser evil.

I've already discussed at length my antipathy towards, not simply the three candidates remaining in the race for the presidency, but the entire pretext of democracy which continually produces such candidates. As a libertarian, I believe government should be small, sufficient only to protect the rights of life, liberty and property, and to provide a means whereby violations of these rights can be addressed. If the modern American state is not the antithesis of libertarianism, it is nonetheless very much opposed to it. For not only does it concern itself with other "rights", but it routinely allows for the violation of the only rights we can be said to possess.

For instance, while the government currently protects the "right" of the mother to choose to murder her unborn child, it does not protect that child's right to life. Meanwhile, property rights are suspect, and while the democrats are correct to point out that the Bush administration has been less than forthright about protecting civil liberties, true freedom has been a rarity, not only in human history, but even in the ostensible home of the free. From the Alien and Sedition Acts, to Lincoln's jailing of journalists suspicious of the war; from Wilson's similar imprisonment of dissidents, to FDR's internment of the Japanese, George W. Bush is in grand--if not necessarily good--company. Far from being a novel development, the attention paid to the suspension of Habeas Corpus is valuable because government is constantly violating our rights, and without the eternal vigilance of which Jefferson speaks, our liberty, even that little that we have, will disappear.

Surveying the field, it is obvious that Obama, Hillary and McCain are cut of the same cloth as their predecessors. Apparent differences do exist, but on the fundamental question of the role of government they have all declared on the side of largess, that is, against liberty.

But what, you may ask, does all this talk of liberty have to do with anything? These so-called thoughts and ideas emanate, it is said, from a Catholic body. In short, shouldn't the issue of life be more important than liberty, at least to the Roman Catholic?

Technically speaking, this is true. On the other hand, there is a vital connection between inalienable rights. I will not belabor the point; suffice it to say that while it is theoretically possible to have a society in which the citizens, though bereft of liberty, suffer no threat to their actual life, in practice, it is never so. The right to life, liberty and property stem from an understanding of the human being. An absence of rights reveals a lack of understanding of man. The bloody twentieth century gives a good indication of what happens when man is no longer seen as made in the image of God, and instead becomes a mere tool in the hands of his fellow beings. To put it in reasonable shorthand: the loss of liberty leads to a loss of life.

But let us put this all aside to examine the life issue itself. We turn first to abortion. Let's take Obama and Hillary first. As democrats, it's unlikely a Catholic could vote for either of these candidates in good conscience--don't get angry democrats; I'll blast McCain before all is said and done. When NARAL gives someone a 100% stamp of approval, it's a sign to run very quickly in the opposite direction.

This leaves McCain. He gets a 0% from NARAL--good news--but he only gets a %75 from NRLC. Then again, the pro-life Ron Paul only gets a 56%; my guess is his affinity for states' rights hurt him amongst the constitutionally confused ideologues of the NRLC.

We'll get to the war issue in part II, but on the abortion front, the republican nominee is pro-life enough to allow well-intentioned pro-lifers to talk themselves into supporting him. But just like Nixon, and Ford, and Reagan, and Bush I, and Bush II, President McCain won't do anything about abortion. I say this based on the record of his predecessors, which is a bit unfair, but if McCain has a record for doing anything, it's disappointing conservatives. Let's not forget, in one of the more hysterical aspects of this election, Ann Coulter is campaigning for Hillary--against McCain.

Republicans like to point out that since the average Supreme Court Justice is approximately 106 years old, the next President will get a chance to appoint a few more justices. And since the court is divided, just one more justice could help us overturn Roe v. Wade--which makes 2008, altogether now, The Most Important Election Ever. The only problem is that republican appointees have had control of the court for some time now. Seven of the nine have been appointed by republican presidents, and yet, unborn babies keep dropping like Iraqi children--sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. Deflecting responsibility is also a cop out. Politicians can profess to be pro-life and then act surprised when their nominees turn out to be apathetic about overturning Roe. This reminds me of my favorite part of democracy: how unelected judges make all the important decisions.

The GOP had control of both houses the Congress and the Presidency. All they needed to do was pass a bill that returned abortion to the states; the liberals would have become hysterical and appealed the law, but at least we could find out how Bush's justices were going to
rule on the abortion issue. Of course, since the GOP is full of cowards, this isn't going to happen. It's also worth pointing out that while some republicans--Coolidge comes to mind--might appoint strict constructionists, it takes considerable faith to expect as much from one of the ringleaders of the Gang of 14.

I tried to refrain from bitterness, but am finding it difficult to do so. On the one hand, I am compelled to share my revelation; on the other, as it ends in political despair, I am tempted to refrain from speaking, and allow my fellow man to continue in behavior I can only charitably describe as misguided. But Dr. Eco's Brother William would frown on me for hiding the book from my fellow, well, monks I suppose.

Obfuscated metaphor aside, I must quote Vox Day, who succinctly captures the salient point in the whole abortion debate:

Indeed, it is possible that no party has profited as greatly from the abortion industry as the Republican Party. When one considers the political situation in 1973, with a long-time Democratic Congress, Nixon's resignation just around the corner and a Supreme Court full of liberal Republicans, it is amazing to consider how the righteous anger of millions inspired by the Roe v. Wade decision has helped reshape the American political landscape.

So, it was intriguing to read the uncharacteristically insightful Eleanor Clift making the following observation in Newsweek:

Now that the GOP is within striking distance of overturning Roe, they're having second thoughts ... "Any activist will tell you they'd rather have the issue out there than to have it resolved," says this pro-choice Republican, who has worked on the Hill and for various Republican interest groups. "If Roe were overturned, we'd be electing Democrats as far as the eye can see."

Irrefutable, if unfortunate. Whether or not the republicans are using the abortion issue to maintain power, they benefit tremendously from the status quo in regards the abortion issue. Vox concludes:

But the dark and dirty secret of the Republican Party is that it is only nominally pro-life. Given the history of the last 33 years, voting for vocally pro-life Republicans has proven to be as ineffective a way to stop the slaughter as voting for abortionette Democrats would have been.

His point warrants serious consideration. After more than thirty years, the burden of proof is on the republican party to prove that they are doing something about abortion. I can only insist that one vote one's conscience, assuming it is properly informed by Church doctrine, but I expect the republican party to overturn Roe v. Wade when the Vikings win the Super Bowl--or hell freezes over, which, to a Viking fan--alas, poor chaps--is the same thing.

In part II we'll examine the other life issue, specifically that big old war--sorry, conflict--going on over in the Middle East.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Can't do that

He should have worked at an abortion mill instead. They would have given him a medal:

A hospital nurse was jailed for life Tuesday, with a recommendation he is not released for at least 30 years, for murdering four frail and elderly patients and trying to kill a fifth.

Colin Norris, branded "evil" by the judge, gave all five women overdoses of diabetes drug insulin as they recovered from surgery on hip fractures at two hospitals in Leeds in 2002.

The prospect of collapse, which will be heightened by Obama, Hillary, and McCain, has me in a state of apathy mixed with melancholy. I haven't gone away, but I'm not going to write unless I have something to say.

On a less pessimistic note, Chalmers Johnson's blowback trilogy is on the way. Of course the subject thereof is the imminent collapse of the American Empire. Sigh.