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Friday, September 22, 2006

The Evolution Solution

Christians believe God created the world through love, secular humanists believe random forces established life through violence.

Christians tell us that violence is the result of our sin, an illness no one was meant to suffer. Secular humanists tell us violence is the language and fabric of nature.

So, why do the champions of evolution in the classroom, the people who insist there is no God and that we are just highly-evolved animals, oppose violence?

How does that work? Doesn’t the whole point of evolution revolve around the idea that violence not only cannot be removed from the world, but that any attempt to remove it would destroy the very process that created the rich biodiversity we are all told we must preserve? If we believe in evolution, if we love what it has created, then why oppose the process through which it creates?

Let’s take a look at a specific case. I have already commented on the disappearance of the 1970’s “broody-hen” rhetoric. According to this line of thinking, anyone who opposed legal abortion viewed women as nothing more than egg-laying machines. According to this theory, pro-lifers who supposed to be opposed because they saw women as nothing but baby-making machines.

Oddly, now that embryonic stem cell research and surrogate motherhood has become all the rage, in other words, now that women really are treated like hens who are prized more for their eggs than their intellects, the “broody-hen” argument has disappeared. But that isn’t the only argument that is going by the wayside.

Remember when abortion was supposed to be a privacy issue, an issue between a woman and her doctor? When was the last time you heard that argument? It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Why did it disappear?

That’s easy. It disappeared because pharmacists are doctors of medicine. When a woman goes to a pharmacist to fill a subscription for Plan B, RU-486, or any other abortifacient drug, she establishes a doctor-patient relationship with her pharmacist, a relationship that we were long told is very private, very holy. Government has no place regulating that relationship, except when the doctor decides that drug-induced abortion is not safe or appropriate treatment for his patient.

Today, if any doctor dares to make such a judgment, he is required by law to send his patient to a doctor who doesn’t care about the woman’s life or health, i.e., a doctor who will fill a prescription for a death-dealing drug. Apparently, government has no business regulating the doctor-patient relationship except when the doctor refuses to participate in baby-killling.

Given this reality, is it any wonder that Jill Stanek – the nurse who reported how live-birth aborted children were being left to die – has discovered that the Department of Justice refuses to prosecute hospitals, doctors or nurses that kill infants? In other words, we oppose violence, except when it is directed at innocents?

A burning political question must be answered. What do you do when you are ruled by homicidal megalomaniacs? We can’t vote them out. The leaders of both parties are certifiably insane, as is the media that spins the edicts they issue.

Much as I despise sharia law and hate the idea of being ruled by it, it is becoming barely possible that being a dhimmi would not be a step down. We would simply be trading one set of evil rulers for another. The imams’ particular predilictions for evil may be different, but the evil itself is the same. As one Muslim demonstrator told Pope Benedict XVI, “We will oppose your worship of life with our worship of death.” That kind of sentiment could make him an honorary secular American.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Benedictine Insults

The recent Muslim upset over Pope Benedict’s remarks is entirely justified. Not because Benedict mis-represented Islam, but because he is changing Islam, and the Muslims know it.

Prior to the death of John Paul II, I was often asked who the next Pope would be. I answered by pointing out how popes have, during the course of the 20th century at least, been chosen in order to deal with the problems of the day. As Nazism waxed and waned in 1920’s Germany, Pope Pius XI laid the foundation for the work of the Pope who was instrumental in breaking the back of Nazi Germany: Pius XII. Pius XI had made Eugenio Pacelli the papal nuncio to Germany. Pacelli knew the German people intimately, he understood the Nazi threat, and he was the principle author of the stinging anti-Nazi encyclical Mit Brennende Sorge. His election as Pius XII was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.

Similarly, when the threat posed by communism to Europe had reached its zenith, Karol Wojtyla knew how to handle it. A man who knew communism intimately because he had grown up under its dark shadow all of his life, Pope John Paul II was considered so dangerous that the KGB tried to assassinate him. To date, even the Muslims haven’t matched the communists on that point.

Now we have Benedict, the man whose stated mission is to rescue Europe from herself. Europe, indeed, the West as a whole, has long entertained the quixotic hope that reason alone is sufficient to answer all questions of human life and liberty. As I have noted elsewhere, the Western decision to sunder reason from faith is the secular answer to the Protestant Reformation’s attempt to separate faith and reason.

By beginning and ending his Regensburg meditation on the futility of the West’s philosophy with references to Islam, Benedict subtly points out that Islam is a non-Christian version of the Reformation ideal. Like Martin Luther, Mohammed effectively separated faith from reason. Indeed, Islamic theology is avowedly non-rational, insisting that God Himself is not bound by the dictates of reason.

Like the non-Catholic Christian god, who assaults and kills his own son for the sake of humanity, the god of Islam can fool himself, change his mind, be other than what he has been. The primary difference between Luther’s non-rationality and Mohammed’s non-rationality lies only in the moderating force of Jesus’ lived example. Luther had at least that much, Mohammed did not.

Thus, Islam lives out an Old Testament style of violence. Prior to the advent of Christianity, about 10% of the Roman Empire was Hebrew. Like today’s Muslims, the Hebrews were known to get militantly defensive about their faith. At least a dozen different rebel bandits occupied Rome’s army in Judea between the time of Herod in 37 BC and the first revolt in 66 AD. The war ended only with the destruction of the Temple, but the violence would not stop there – the Bar Kochba rebellion would require a second Roman response, a response that decimated the land.

Up until that time, Hebrew law looked remarkably like the sharia law Muslims would develop a millennium later. Both required death for apostates from their monotheistic faith, both killed fornicators and adulterers, both permitted polygamy. The primary difference lay in the understanding of God’s rationality. Jews understood that God is rational, that rationality is part of the divine nature and that God does not change. Islam does not understand or accept this.

When the Jewish faith found itself subject to Christian Faith, it gradually saw the logic of the Christian worldview, at least in regards to law and its application. Two millennium of Christian-Jewish interaction led to a serious moderation of the Deuteronomic code. Today's Jews, even the most orthodox Jews, no longer stone adulterers and fornicators, individual Jewish believers are no longer under obligation to kill the idolater in their midst and polygamy, while still permitted from a theological perspective, is under the ban for reasons of prudence.

The question Benedict implicitly raises in his Regensburg speech is quite simple: even if we beat the Muslims, invade Iraq, Iran or any other Islamic nation-state that we can, what good will it do? Will that make Islam theologically capable of accommodating itself to the Catholic - not just the Christian, but the Catholic - worldview?

The current philosophy of the West, a philosophy that separates faith and reason, is bankrupt. Its companion in crime, Reformation theology, is bankrupt as well. Islam, at least Islam lived as Mohammed lived it, is an empty cup. Jewish philosophy and theology, Hinduism, Buddhism – none of them are capable of reforming either Islam or the West.

So, Benedict lays down a question that, when properly understood, insults everyone if only because reality is so rakishly cruel to our lives of illusion. The major difference between Islam and the West is this: Islam understands what Benedict said. The West does not.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Order of Catholic Parents

I recently received a critique of Designed to Fail: Catholic Education in America, from a Cistercian who teaches at a Catholic high school run by his religious community. Actually, I didn't receive the critique directly, rather, I received it second-hand from someone who had given a copy to the monk. The response to the book was quite remarkable.

The Cistercian Critique:
I did get to look at Designed to Fail for a little bit last night before bed. I liked a lot of the points and the style was lively and engaging. I think he's right about the neglected importance of adult catechesis and the importance of its "trickle-down" effects in the family, and I also feel deeply that he is correct that the "ecclesia domestica" cannot rebuilt so long as anti-child sins are not preached against -- or as long as integral family values are not preached for, more importantly -- in the Church. It's also true that parochial schools often trade-off with the resources that could be spent on adult faith-formation (although I suspect that's not the real reason why contemporary adult catechesis is so weak .).

[Editor's Note: I didn't formally respond to this paragraph in my reply below, but I found it interesting that he essentially denies Catholic schools are causing any problems in the Catholic community.]

Still, alongside the basic distaste for the importance of professional assistance/ guidance that Catholic schools can provide, I ultimately take exception to the apparent assumptions that all real Catholic parents can and should homeschool, and that all good lay Catholics should be attending didactic faith-formation classes at their parish. Maybe I'm misreading the tone, but if that's the big idea, I'm not sure I can buy into it.

As you would expect, I also don't really appreciate the implication that teaching children in schools is a misguided ministry. Although I am confident Steve would say different things about Cistercian than about most Catholic schools, the ideas that most families are equipped to homeschool, that well-raised Catholic children can reliably remain Catholic in (note I didn't say "endure") the current public school system, and that the "ex opere operato" grace of matrimony makes most parents sufficient (note I didn't say "basic" or "fundamental") catechists of their children -- these ideas I think are dicey.

The "subsidium" provided by priests, religious, and the greater lay community must be very substantial indeed in many or most cases. Professional theologians and catechists are often needed, as are professional Christian educators in secular subjects, if our children are to really go beyond the anti-modernist ghetto and become robust lay disciples in service of Church and society.

I also wonder if the idea of abruptly switching parish efforts from child-formation to adult-formation would result in grave frictions; for example, the teacher-mothers who are so comptently (or at least potentially competently, given adquate guidance themselves) able to nurture and catechize children would have to be replaced by an entire class of professional and full-time catechists (mostly male, I intuit) who would have to be the primary income-earners of households, thus inevitably promoting a dangerous kind of careerism and cutthroatness around things most sacred.

These are just my brainstorms on the topic; whether they really apply to Steve's view or not, I can't yet tell. It has certainly been a stimulating and thought-provoking book, and I look forward to delving into it again another time. My impression is that, for all of the distaste I have for bombastic Catholic lit that identifies the one "real problem" in the Church today, this book has some very important, provocative, and worthwile insights.

* On further reflection, I thought it might not hurt to explicitly mention that my concern about a full-on class of professional lay catechists has no relevance to the kind of work for parishes that people like you and Steve do now. You are of course welcome to share my thoughts with Steve; I hope he finds them helpful. (You can also paste in the second paragraph above, *if* you wish.) Like I said, I think he's on to something important, and if you think that could help him refine it, so much the better. And also I again emphasize that I didn't catch the whole context, and it's clear that he's done some important factual research. As far as further interaction about my comments, I'm open to that if he wants, because it is a topic of import to me, but maybe we can just leave that as an open question based on his wishes and my energy level! In Christ, Brother XXX

[Editor's Note: I did not respond to this paragraph in my reply either, but it is also interesting.
He is fine with having Directors of Religious Education or Adult Formation at the parish level, yet how is this not a "full-on class of professional lay catechists"? Why would his remarks NOT be relevant to work in parishes? Are parish workers immune from careerism or the need to be paid a living wage? These remarks are quite curious. In any case, my response is below.]

My Response
Thanks for sending me the interesting critique. I've noticed that the book seems to be a Rohrschach test in which different people "see" different sections of the text and fail to see other sections. As a result, it has been quite interesting to read reviews.

In the book, I explicitly point out that: 1) homeschooling is not for everyone and 2) the sacrament of matrimony does not provide the graces necessary to homeschool in every subject (rather, it provides only the graces necessary to do sacramental prep).

It seems to me quite obvious that having the grace (the power) to do a task is not identical to having the knowledge necessary to do the task. I don't have a copy of the book at my elbow, but if I recall correctly, I do have a section on the difference between grace and knowledge in the book itself. I know I certainly emphasize this every time I teach adults about sacraments.
Indeed, I believe I quote at least one papal document concerning the fact that the family is incomplete in itself in order to demonstrate to the more rabid members of the homeschool crowd that Rome does not believe homeschooling in all subjects is the answer.

Likewise, the Magisterium is quite clear on the importance of Catholic schools - my point is that very few of the parochial schools, high schools or "Catholic" higher education in the United States today actually conform to Rome's description of what constitutes a Catholic school.

In short, I agree that Catholic schools are necessary, I simply don't believe we have any (or at least, not many) in the United States.

Furthermore, I never say well-raised Catholic children can reliably remain Catholic in public schools, instead, I point out that there is little functional difference between the current Catholic school system and the public school system - rather a different emphasis. Again, if I recall correctly, I point out that public schools will crucify well-catechized Catholics. It is well-known that not every Catholic responds well to the opportunity for martyrdom.

The idea that all good lay adult Catholics should be attending didactic faith-formation classes at their parish is described in at least one Magisterial document and in the proceedings of the Council of Trent. One might argue that today's cultural circumstances call for different measures, but it's hard to see what else they would be. Thus, it is not clear why this idea is "dicey."

As for the transition to primary focus on adult formation causing grave frictions, it is not clear why that would be the case. Certainly the transition to a six-month preparation requirement in all dioceses for marriage prep went fairly smoothly, and it is not clear why this kind of transition need be any more stressful than that transition was.

Precisely because adults, especially parents, are more responsible individuals than are children, the actual investment in training personnel would be less, not more, than is currently required. As I point out in the book, if we rely on the well-catechized parents in the parish (i.e., the homeschooling parents) we have already gone a long way towards providing the necessary catechists. Even professional speakers in a year-long series would cost less than the grade school teachers.

Finally, if avoiding "careerism" and the need to pay a living wage to teachers are the objections to teaching adults (lest these attitudes grow up around things most sacred), then could not these charges be laid equally well at the door of every Catholic school in the country? Indeed, do I not lay these very charges at the door of every Catholic school? Is it not the case that the Catholic schools currently suffer from exactly the problem of careerism and the need to pay a living wage to people incapable of guarding things most sacred?

Put another way, do even the Cistercians refuse all moneys paid to the school, instead teaching without any recompense at all for their time? To the extent that any Cistercian accepts any recompense at all for his teaching, is this money, food or lodging not part of the "living wage" that comprises his ability to live in community? Is there no "careerism" among any in the community? Perhaps I am a cynic, but I do not believe religious vows strip away concupiscence, so I would find any answers in the negative in these areas rather hard to credit.

And why should the Church find the payment of "the living wage" a problem? Certainly Brother XXXX is not advocating the completely unworkable solution of staffing all Catholic schools with religious orders? The problems with doing this are laid out rather clearly in the book - it is a solution that has been tried and has been found wanting, at least in the United States.

So, while I appreciate the kind words he has to say about the importance of adult formation, I find his objections either seem to ignore passages in the work itself or seem to ignore the conditions in the Catholic schools.

The problem here revolves around enabling Catholic parents to do what they are ordained to do. If we consider Catholic parenting to be the foundational religious order of the Catholic Church, then this is the one order which cannot be allowed to fail. The Church can and has survived without Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, even without Cistercians, but She cannot survive, She has never lived life, without the order of Catholic parents.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Stop Oyster Abortions!

How many people know that Prozac is an abortifacient?

Yes, it seems oysters spontaneously abort when exposed to Prozac in streams and lakes. How would they be exposed?

Well, as I've pointed out in the past, people don't fully metabolize the drugs they take. The unmetabolized drugs used by your neighbors and friends pass out through their urine and enter the water supply.

In the United States, water treatment plants don't filter out pharmocalogically-active drugs like hormonal birth control pills or Prozac. So oysters will continue to suffer. To quote Yahoo News (which made this a headline news story):

"The study found that the drug causes female mussels to release their larvae before they're able to survive on their own.

'The results from this study were quite alarming. When larvae are released too early [i.e., aborted - editor's note], they are not viable, which only contributes to the problems faced by struggling populations of native freshwater mussels,' co-investigator Rebecca Heltsley of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston, N.C., said in a prepared statement."

Now, no one bothered to note that spontaneous abortion is a known side-effect of Prozac.
And few people realize that RU-486 also works as an anti-depressant. As Plan B, and other high-dose morning-after abortifacients become popular, this problem will just get worse, not better. But no one wants to talk about it.

In fact, it isn't possible to find a news story that indicates Prozac causes abortions in people. Its abortifacient ability apparently only becomes newsworthy when it affects oysters.

Similarly, no one talks about the effects of the birth control pill on the nation's water supply, except insofar as it harms fish.

And virtually no one discusses how the increased presence of all of these drugs in the first world water supplies might be linked to low fertility rates in first-world countries.

People used to eat oysters to increase their sexual prowess. Looks like that tradition will go by the wayside soon.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

It's Just Fiction

Bill Clinton is upset.
Madeline Albright is upset.
The Democrat party is upset.

How odd.

Sure, ABC has put together a 9/11 movie that portrays all three in a negative light, but that's not a big deal, right? After all, it's just fiction, it's just a movie, if it were written down, it would be just a novel.

I'll bet they will spend lots and lots of time to debunk a work of fiction.

How absolutely ridiculous.
Just ask Dan Brown and Random House.

Which raises a related question: why is Random House and James Frey, author of "A Million Little Pieces", giving back the proceeds on his sales?

Random House didn't offer to refund the money on Brown's work, even though the only difference between Brown and Frey is that Frey wrote a book claiming to be history which turned out to be partially fiction, while Brown wrote a book which was fiction, but claimed to accurately portray history.

Catholics and other Christians were very angry with Brown, but no harm, no foul.

On the other hand, Oprah got very angry at Frey.

It's comforting to know that Random House knows who they can safely cross and who they can't. This answers all those people who say publishing houses have no standards.

Friday, September 01, 2006

State of Emergency

Imagine living in an area your whole life, and your father before you, and his father before him, when you suddenly began to notice new people in your neighborhood. First just a few, but then it changes. More come in, most from another country. First one stranger, then several, then dozens, the friends and relatives from the old hometown arriving in an ever-increasing flood, buying the houses and land near yours and setting up housekeeping.

The governing authorities notices the influx of newcomers and takes steps to limit the inflow of people. They pass laws, step up border enforcement and try to keep the flow to a manageable level.

It doesn’t help. Due to the problems in their home countries, more and more of the foreigners come in every day. None share your religious faith, which is the religion of the region, many are lawbreakers, some are even terrorists. These newcomers begin to insist they want to set up their own state, a new state that governs itself and doesn’t recognize the lawful authority in the area. Eventually, they succeed.

Does this story sound familiar? Of course it does. It is the story of the formation of the state of Israel.

Due to anti-Semitism in Europe, a group of secular Jews in the late 1800’s became convinced that they should establish a Jewish homeland in the Palestine area, then a part of the Ottoman Empire. Following WW I, Britain gained control of Palestine. Even though Jewish land acquisitions were perfectly legal, British authorities recognized the influx of Jews created flashpoints with the native Ottoman Arab population. They attempted to limit immigration.

This was not only unsuccessful, it was radically unsuccessful. The growing anti-Semitism in Europe coupled with the restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine created Jewish terrorist cells, bent on overthrowing British rule at all costs. These Zionists were, in fact, allied with the Nazis prior to WW II, since Hitler had his own reasons for encouraging a weakening of British control in the region. Even during the war, Germany always encouraged its Jews to emigrate to Palestine and the flag of Israel was the only one permitted to fly on the same flagpole as the German Swastika.

Eventually, the combination of increasing population, unending violence and world shame over the Holocaust did the trick: Israel became a nation.

Now, of course, at this point some readers are feeling a little cheated. You may well be thinking, “You deliberately mis-led us by your opening. You wrote so as to make us think you were describing events in North America, but you pulled a fast one. That is grotesquely unfair.”

And you would be right. I was being unfair. I deliberately wrote the opening story in order to remind you that this is how the United States annexed Texas and California.

In the early 1800’s, the area that comprises Texas and California was ruled by Mexico. Protestant Americans rode across the borders and settled Mexican territories. Despite laws that required all immigrants into Mexico to convert to Catholic Faith, many of these settlers either did not do so, or did so in name only. Worse, many of the immigrants from the United States had criminal records. They were lawbreakers.

After colonizing the area, often illegally, these immigrants successfully fomented rebellion and formed their own state, the state of Texas. Unfortunately the boundaries of the state were never clearly defined. When Texas was absorbed by the United States, the boundary disputes continued. President Polk sent troops into the disputed area to establish a military outpost. While deliberately attempting to militarize an area that was not clearly controlled by the United States, American soldiers were fired upon by Mexican soldiers.

Polk insisted that “American blood has been spilled on American soil” and thus began what would become the Mexican-American War, in which Mexico lost over half its territory. This is the war Abraham Lincoln publicly railed against (he voted for supplies for the troops, but against the war). It is the war that Henry David Thoreau went to jail over. It is the war Ulysses S. Grant was ashamed to ever have participated in.

What’s that? I’ve switched subjects again? You thought I was talking about the waves of Mexican Catholics coming into the United States? Hmmm… I wonder why?
Most conservatives are (as I am) four-score behind Israel and against the Arabs, even though the Arabs made the same complaints seventy years ago about Ashkenazi Jews that many of those same American conservatives make now about Mexican Catholics. On the other hand, most liberals vigorously support both Hispanic immigrants and the Arabs against Israel, even though the Zionists were merely an early version of the radicals amongst the Hispanic population.

Of all the popular political voices on the spectrum, Pat Buchanan is alone in being logically consistent on these points: he opposes both Hispanic immigration and support to Israel. But that is the beginning and end of his consistency. After all, how can an orthodox Catholic be opposed to pro-life, anti-homosexual Catholics immigrating into Protestant America? Why preserve a culture of death?

In my last post, I pointed out quite a few logical inconsistencies. With this post, I have given you another set. Next week, I will discuss a set of facts that are clearly inconsistent, but whose solution I simply cannot fathom. I'm hoping you will be able to help me out.