Minute Particulars

"...minute and particular." -- Enormous Generalities

Wednesday, April 28, 2004



I worked through (there are a lot of links) the Abortion Is The Foremost Issue post over on Thrown Back since it seemed highly recommended on a number of blogs. Tom of Disputations has a fine response to the post.

Two things are missing for me in Fr. Rob's post and in similar arguments:
1) a distinction between what is immoral and what can be legislated
2) a failure to recognize, as I think Tom points out well, that, morally speaking, we are never directly placed in the bind of doing the lesser of two evils.
To the first point, there is a difference between saying:
a) direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder
b) hesitating or refusing to work toward making abortion illegal always constitutes a grave moral disorder
The first is what the Church teaches (Evangelium Vitae 62). The second is not to my knowledge explicitly stated in Church Teaching, though inroads have certainly been made in that direction. If we are to accept Fr. Rob's distinction between something that is always and everywhere immoral like abortion and something which isn't always and everywhere immoral like the death penalty or going to war, then we also have to accept that, morally speaking, directly procuring an abortion and refusing to legislate abortion are very different actions. As he might put it, "it is a difference in kind." Perhaps more on this later.

Regarding the second point: we are never directly placed in a situation where we are forced to do the lesser of two evils. As Tom mentions on Disputations, we can choose to do neither. One of the things I was trying to do in my MORAL SCOPE post below was point out that in moral matters there is no such thing as one objectively good action contradicting or compromising another objectively good action. The appearance of such a contradiction or compromise is a false dilemma. And so, morally speaking, it is wrong to couch an election in terms of a gradation of immoral actions:
Candidate A supports something that is always and everywhere immoral
Candidate B supports something that is nearly always and nearly everywhere immoral
Therefore I'll vote for Candidate B
One can, of course, vote for neither. Now, let me quickly state that I am not suggesting that this is how one should vote (see my disclaimer). In fact, my first point makes it clear that lining up the candidates in this manner, while it demonstrates the folly of framing an election in terms of moral gradation and as a choice of the lesser of two evils, isn't quite right. What does it mean to "support" A or B? For example, is it a claim that Candidate A is directly and intentionally doing or encouraging something? Or is it a claim that Candidate A is refusing to make something illegal? There's a difference. Again, perhaps more later.





Okay. Some kind bloggers linked to my objection a while back to our calling anyone "Catholic in Name Only" [CINO]. After reading some of the posts and comments that directly or indirectly respond to me, I'm convinced that:
a) some folks are a little too tightly wrapped
b) I should have followed up sooner about what I meant by "poisoning the waters" in the post
Domenico Bettinelli has done me the favor of not pussyfooting around with his explanation of what he means by "Catholic in Name Only" and so I'll respond to his concerns:
The term CINO simply means someone who calls himself Catholic for having received the sacraments, but who doesn’t hold to the vital, bedrock, basic teachings of the Church, and in fact publicly rejects them. In the old days, we’d call them heretics. In the new politically correct days, we call them CINO.
Now, we could probably each cite some definition of "heretic" that would push our respective points further in the direction we want. We could each cite our own bishop (does anyone cite his own bishop anymore?) some bishop somewhere who's put something online that would support our claims. Fine.

I don't want to quibble about terminology and I don't presume to speak for or against any bishop's statements on this; I do want to look at, as I mentioned in my post, some of the implications of this sort of talk among professed lay Catholics in the context of evangelization. How does the following look to non-Catholics who might be seriously considering the Catholic Faith for the first time in their adult lives, or those who are trying to grasp the reality of the Sacraments, or those who think no sober and serious approach to faith can ever be reduced to political allegiances, or those who . . . etc.:
A number of professed Catholics (not bishops, but laypeople) band together (in whatever fashion you want: blogs, articles, church halls, and so on) and publicly declare that another professed lay Catholic is a heretic or a "Catholic in Name Only." They don't personally know the person, yet they claim to know a personal relationship he has with God. They read statements he's made that don't seem orthodox, and so he must be a man of no faith. They see photos of him receiving "communion" in a non-Catholic Church, and so he must be flouting Church teaching on the Eucharist. They have reasonable evidence that he doesn't think abortion should ever be made illegal, and so he must be depraved and immoral and therefore a heretic or a Catholic in Name Only.
I suggest to you that this facile treatment (it is ironic that those laypeople who purport to be orthodox would treat the Sacrament of Baptism so glibly, presume so boldly, and suggest that being Catholic might be solely a matter of a few statements one makes) does a great disservice to those who take evangelization seriously and, obviously of greater importance, it distorts the truth of the Catholic Faith in the eyes of those who might actually be considering it. It cheapens it and makes it appear to be a matter of opinion or consensus or politics.

Political office may have moral implications for a Catholic politician, implications that most of us aren't burdened with (we have plenty of other burdens a politician might not have), but political office is not an ecclesial office and therefore a Catholic politician ought to be given the same scrutiny we would give any other professed lay Catholic. In light of the Catholic Faith, and in light of the fact that the critics I have in mind and originally commented upon aren't bishops (there is a difference and I'm only addressing the accusations made of Kerry by laypeople), the fact that John Kerry is a candidate for President is in the same category as the fact that some other person is an accountant or teacher or taxi driver. If it's appropriate for laypeople to claim publicly that Kerry is a heretic or Catholic in Name Only or some other such thing, then it's appropriate that we make such public claims about all of those around us.

My concern is that careless accusations are a sign of careless thinking about important distinctions. The Catholic Faith is not a job that one does well or not. And we, as Catholics, aren't therefore in a position to be judged by a panel of self-appointed judges. Such judgments obviously occur, and in this case and in my opinion they conflate faith with political allegiance and do more harm than good.




I think I might link to the following disclaimer before any post that could be construed as political:

Political Disclaimer: This is not a political blog. I am either going to vote for Kerry or Bush in November (see here for why I wouldn't abstain or vote for someone who couldn't possibly win). I don't now know who it will be and neither do you. I am not consciously trying to sway you one way or the other by what follows or anything on this blog. While politics ought to be discussed, this blog is not the forum for me for such a discussion. If you think you know my political inclination ("political" in the sense of "Democrat" or "Republican" not in the sense of "man is a political animal"), you are wrong. Yes, you can guess and be right superficially, but your guess will not be informed by any explicit statement from me that I am aware of with regard to the 2004 election.




A while back I proposed the following image:

Picture the United States as a very big ocean liner. . . . I think an airplane, train, or car wouldn't quite work because I need an image that suggests the enormity of the country, the momentum of national policies, and the general stability of a democratic country centered on freedom and the rule of law that enables that freedom. Ocean liners are enormous, tend to go in one direction for quite a while, are difficult to maneuver or divert quickly, and rarely do U-turns in the middle of the ocean. And, of course, unlike other vehicles, an ocean liner in the open ocean is pretty forgiving of mistakes, of sloppy steering, aggressive steering, timid steering, or no steering at all. And, they rarely sink.

I suggested that voting is a decision about whom we want to stand at the wheel for a bit of time. The challenge for all of us is to get the right people in position to take the wheel. If on the eve of the election our preferred candidate is still climbing the stairs to get to the wheelhouse, we'd be foolish to vote for him. He's simply not in a position to grab the wheel. It doesn't seem very smart to cast a vote that one is reasonably sure will make no difference. The smart vote is the vote that actually helps determine which of the candidates actually at the door of the wheelhouse we want driving.

If you have a problem with who is in the wheelhouse or standing just outside the door, then you should work to get someone you don't have a problem with up and into the wheelhouse. Voting for some obscure candidate or no one at all on Election Day strikes me as futile. There's a point in every election in this country, when any reasonable person will grasp that either a Republican or a Democrat is going to step into the wheelhouse. This may change in the future. But that's pretty much how it works in 2004. If you know this, and if it's true on Election Day, then what possible justification could there be to not vote for one or the other?

Such a situation, as I hope to explain in a later post, is not a moral compromise. It can't be reduced to "choosing the lesser of two evils." That's a silly statement in the context of our political system as it exists today and it oversimplifies morality and fails to acknowledge the practical aspects of any political system.


Sunday, April 25, 2004


I've always liked Richard Rodriguez's reports on the radio, the few things of his I've read, and the couple of speeches I've heard him deliver. His recent essay, though, stumped me somewhat. At one point in the essay he writes:
I find myself in a one-sided battle against various bishops of my church, and at what I perceive is their abrogation of moral example. I do not expect the church to bless my union with another man, but I do expect the church -- at a time of sexual scandal within, at a time of extraordinary example of love and fidelity on the part of gay couples -- to admit at least ambivalence or puzzlement or pause at all the church does not understand about the mystery of love. The church is no longer my teacher, maybe because my life doesn’t teach the church.
I don't quite follow how the sexual abuse scandal ought to cause anyone "to admit at least ambivalence or puzzlement or pause at all the church does not understand about the mystery of love." That seems a bizarre link and suggestion; I'm sure I've missed his point.

But his last sentence is what I wanted to comment on. Unlike the despair ostensibly expressed along the same lines by someone like Andrew Sullivan, who stopped making sense about anything Catholic long ago, I find Rodriquez far more serious and sober. And so I'm more troubled when he writes something like "The church is no longer my teacher, maybe because my life doesn’t teach the church." I'm not troubled because I think he's right about the Church; I'm troubled because someone of integrity and intelligence, someone of apparent deep faith, can actually say something like that and not see why it unravels before the sentence is even finished. What possible understanding of Revelation and tradition and "thousands of years of subtlety" (his words) can a Catholic have in mind to arrive at such a conclusion?

This is a condescending thing to say, but, frankly, the essay reminded me of a comment by Melville on Emerson:
I could readily see in Emerson, notwithstanding his merit, a gaping flaw. It was, the insinuation, that had he lived in those days when the world was made, he might have offered some valuable suggestions.
Indeed, fill “Church” in for “world” and you’ve got an apt description of a very prevalent notion that goes something like this: if only we had “lived in those days” we might have offered some valuable suggestions to, um . . . to whom? The Father?, the Son?, the Holy Spirit? If the Church is, as Lumen Gentium states, "a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," it simply won’t fall into contemporary categories like “corporation,” “institution,” or, in the context of Rodriguez's words, "a student of various lifestyles and diverse traditions."

The Church is sui generis and resists being perfectly captured by one image or word. If you read through Lumen Gentium you’ll find many descriptions which provide us a brief and always fleeting glimpse of the mystery that is the Church. It is understandable that a non-believer would think this is gibberish. But I don’t understand comments by believers who seem to suggest that the Church ought to reform and revise continually and deeply the fundamental truths it preserves and protects, that it ought to learn from the enlightened folks among us and adjust accordingly.


Wednesday, April 21, 2004


The question of whether one can in good conscience lie to someone to protect the life of an innocent person (lying to a Nazi about Jews hidden in one's home seems the standard example) is often mishandled. The lie is either dismissed as trivial when compared to the good of protecting an innocent person, or it is considered a morally bad thing to do, but it should be done anyway since it's only a lie and an innocent person's life far outweighs the wrong of lying. Probably the most common answer is something like, "Well, the person asking the question doesn't have the right to the truth."

While we may all end up at the same conclusion, that one should "lie" to protect an innocent person (notice "lie" is now in quotes), I think the proper moral reasoning behind this is important. What is often missed is the fallacy of the question, a fallacy only recognized if one steps back a bit to see the full scope of the situation.

I'm using "lying" in this case to mean giving an answer to a question that ostensibly doesn't seem to be the truth. For example, answering "No" to the question, "Is John Doe hiding in this house?," when in fact you know that John Doe is hiding in the house, would seem to be a lie, the speaking of something that is not true. But such a question, assuming the context of murderous intent and the hiding of an innocent person, commits a fallacy of presumption similar to the well-known loaded question: "Are you still beating your wife?" Such a question hardly gets a chuckle now since it's so widely recognized as the quintessential loaded question which presumes something it shouldn't, that you are or have been a wife beater. But the shape of this kind of question can creep into moral questions and cause some to cringe at the apparent bind they're in. It need not.

In the above example of a questioner who seeks to kill an innocent person, the scope of the question needs to be widened a bit to see the fallacy of presumption the questioner commits.

Let's assume you are a person who has an obligation to protect the innocent when you are able. That obligation, in this instance, requires that you not blurt out to a potential murderer that an innocent person whom he would like to kill is hiding in your house. And so the question, "Is John Doe hiding in this house?," is really a bit like the "Are you still beating your wife" question because it presumes something that normally one doesn't have the right to presume. What is presumed is that someone indeed ought to blurt out to a potential killer that an innocent person is hiding in one's house. But that presumption, like the presumption that one is currently beating or has beat his wife, is not appropriate. And so, the classic example of a moral dilemma, while it might appear literally to be a simple question, "Is John Doe hiding in this house?," is really not quite so simple in its implications:
Potential Murderer: I presume that if you are hiding an innocent person whom I wish to murder in this house that you would tell me. That being understood, Is John Doe hiding in this house?

Person Hiding an Innocent Person from Potential Murderer: No (you presume wrongly).
Now, this might all seem like word play; perhaps it is. And, in its simplicity, my example starts looking a bit comical. Still, as I indicated below, if you think you'd be forced to "lie" to someone in such a context, and therefore think there are times when one virtue or objectively good gesture can contradict another virtue or objectively good gesture, I submit to you that you are in error and need to adjust the moral scope a bit to see the fallacy of presumption in such a question and the implications of its usage.

There is a fairly well-known passage in Newman's Apologia in the section titled, "Lying and Equivocation," that includes the following:
To these must be added the unscientific way of dealing with lies, viz. that on a great or cruel occasion a man cannot help telling a lie, and he would not be a man, did he not tell it, but still it is very wrong and he ought not to do it, and he must trust that the sin will be forgiven him, though he goes about to commit it ever so deliberately, and is sure to commit it again under similar circumstances. It is a necessary frailty, and had better not be anticipated, and not thought of again, after it is once over. This view cannot for a moment be defended, but, I suppose, it is very common.
I'm not sure if Newman had in mind the above example or something similar. And I for one hesitate to disagree with Newman without knowing the context better. Still, I balk at phrases like "on a great or cruel occasion a man cannot help telling a lie" and the like. I wonder if this goes too far, if the literal weight of a "lie" (again in quotes) is allowed to exceed context and implication?

UPDATE: I botched that conclusion! (Tom of Disputations was kind enough to discreetly mention my mistake). I will leave it in, though stricken, for those who have linked to this post. My point was not that Newman's own position was something I didn't quite agree with, but that I wasn't quite sure I was properly applying his example to my own.


Monday, April 19, 2004


The NY Times Magazine has an essay by William F. Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A. I thought he ended with an interesting statement:
Human rights emerge out of the fact that all people know misery. During the Spanish Civil War, Stephen Spender was a fierce opponent of General Franco and the Fascists. Reflecting on the war some years later, Spender, while retaining his horror at Fascism, looked squarely into the corruption of his own heart: ''When I saw photographs of children murdered by the Fascists,'' he wrote in ''The God That Failed,'' ''I felt furious pity. When the supporters of Franco talked of Red atrocities, I merely felt indignant that people should tell such lies. In the first case I saw corpses; in the second only words. . . . I gradually acquired a certain horror of the way in which my own mind worked. It was clear to me that unless I cared about every murdered child impartially, I did not really care about children being murdered at all.''
It's poignant, but I think the accent is on the wrong sylLAble, so to speak. Indeed a murdered child is a murdered child and nothing can or ought to gloss over such devastation. But human rights emerge out of the fact that all people have inherent dignity, a dignity that transcends politics and ideology. While "all people know misery" is an interesting take, it's too subjective and, to my mind at least, lacks the solid foundation one needs to assert human rights. Misery for some may be laughably petty when compared to the misery of others. And misery suggests a privation, a lack of what one ought to have, what one has a "right" to as a human being. But this builds human rights on a negation without identifying what a human being is or what a human being possesses in the first place.

I understand the desire of these organizations to remain somewhat secular and to avoid religious terminology; or rather, I should say I understand why the attempt is made. I'm not convinced, though, that one can really get a sense of human dignity apart from Revelation.

On a different though I think related note, I found the beginning of the essay problematic as well:
When I was a sophomore in high school, I became acquainted with a religious group that called itself Moral Rearmament. Its adherents were required to practice four virtues without compromise: absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness and absolute love. To a 14-year-old, this formula seemed eminently sensible, and I decided that I would become a disciple. And for a few days I was.
For those few days, I tried never to lie. I tried to vanquish every impure thought from my head. I tried to be generous to a fault and to bestow upon all of God's creatures my beatific love. But in short order I saw that these imperatives might conflict. When, for example, a much-cherished relative who was notorious for her bad breath asked me to give her a big kiss on the lips, which standard was I to follow -- that of absolute honesty or absolute love?

At a relatively early age, I learned that if you try to pursue two or more virtues at the same time, you may need to compromise one of them or the other.
Uh, no.

Properly understood, no virtue can compromise another. The quintessential and more serious example of what Schulz has in mind here is the moral dilemma that arises if someone believes he must lie in order to protect an innocent person. And his conclusion that one virtue can compromise another is precisely why I think a facile treatment of this dilemma can lead many astray. Perhaps more on this later.



DOUBT AND DESIRE TO SEE (from last year)

Sunday's Gospel portrays the well-known incident of "Doubting Thomas." It seems Thomas is chastised, or perhaps that's too strong, maybe chided(?), for his desire to see Christ and actually touch him before he will believe:
Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." (Jn. 20:29)
But I'm not so sure there's anything wrong with his desire to see and perhaps that's not why Jesus mentions Thomas's doubt. After all, Aquinas points out that:
Other things being equal sight is more certain than hearing.
Aquinas then says something that touches on what I think the real issue with Thomas's doubting is. It's not his desire to see as the other apostles had been able to see, but his blindness to the authority his fellow apostles have as witnesses filled with the Holy Spirit:
[B]ut if (the authority of) the person from whom we hear greatly surpasses that of the seer's sight, hearing is more certain than sight: thus a man of little science is more certain about what he hears on the authority of an expert in science, than about what is apparent to him according to his own reason: and much more is a man certain about what he hears from God, Who cannot be deceived, than about what he sees with his own reason, which can be mistaken.
Thomas's doubt is not a problem because he wishes to see, to have evidence he can touch; this is proper and a fully human desire. But he still doubts even after he has been told by those whom he knows and ought to believe. While he may not have known that his fellow apostles had received the Holy Spirit,
And when [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
I think we can know that their account to him must have been told with integrity and was believable within the context of their relationships. Hence the problem with Thomas's doubt.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004


A columnist recently claimed that John Kerry is "Catholic in name only." The tenor of it made me go check the bio link of the columnist. Ha! He's younger than I am. That really means nothing, but it makes me feel a little better about the insuppressible and condescending smile I get just thinking about his posturing, his huffing and puffing and finger pointing.

You might wonder why I might object to this. After all, my own position, while I hope less shrill, seems even more strident. In my post below on the issue of whether we can and ought to make judgments about the moral rectitude of another's conscience, I state that the recent Doctrinal Note on the participation of Catholics in politics rests on the fact that we can judge with moral certainty whether a politician is following a well-formed conscience as long as we restrict such judgments to well-defined Church Teachings and a proper forum. I then say that, after all, in the context of Catholic politicians, we ought to be able to claim, on some level, that there are times when he or she should "know better," when he or she seems to have failed to develop a well-formed conscience and is acting with poor judgment in the moral and political sphere. Otherwise, folks could claim they "followed their conscience" in moral matters and the Church would be compelled to remain silent and let such people portray themselves as faithful Catholics.

My objection to the "Catholic in name only" rhetoric is simply that it is not claiming that a politician is appealing to an ill-formed conscience, but that the politician is not Catholic. There's a difference. It is a claim about something we cannot glimpse and gainsays a relationship that we are not privy to. To claim that a certain politician who is a professed Catholic is not Catholic is not only theologically unthinking and shallow, but -- and this may sound strange -- it poisons the water for any Catholics who are genuinely trying to evangelize in the modern world. More on this point in a later post.

But back to the claim that we can judge with moral certainty whether a politician is following a well-formed conscience as long as we restrict such judgments to well-defined Church Teachings and a proper forum. There are certainly plenty of "well-defined Church Teachings" for one to grab onto and hold out for all to agree upon or not; but what might the "proper forum" be? There's the rub.

Now, I feel like I'm stating the obvious here, but partisan politics is not the appropriate forum for judging another's conscience. More on this in a later post as well, but for now let me suggest that statements like "Catholics can't be Democrats" or "Catholics can't be Republicans" or groups like "Catholics for Kerry" or "Catholics for Bush" make about as much sense as statements like "Catholics can't be good at math" or are as sensible as groups like "Catholics for Single-Malt Scotch." The term "Catholic," if used to signify one who is baptized and professes to be Catholic, is in a completely different category than most any political signification.* To yoke "Catholic" with some current political agenda is not only meaningless, but it necessarily distorts the word and conflates the deep categories of faith with the superficial categories of politics.

* - if one has in mind "political" in the deeper senses suggested in philosophical anthropology or the social teaching of the Church then such statements can indeed be meaningful. But "political" these days and in many of the debates on this typically means allegiance to some political party and the implications of such allegiance.


Friday, April 09, 2004


The Gospel of Luke has a conversation not found in the other Gospels:
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
All we know of these two criminals in this gospel is that they were, in fact, "criminals":
Now two others, both criminals, were led away with him to be executed.
Still, there's something very profound in the one criminal's confession:
1) he asserts that being crucified is a just condemnation for his and the other criminal's crime
2) he implies that he fears God and is concerned that the other criminal has no such fear
3) he recognizes that Jesus has committed no crime
4) he asks to be remembered -- not to be with Jesus when he enters his kingdom -- but simply to be remembered. It's Jesus who then says he will be with him in Paradise.
Much could be said on each of these and much more is suggested in the brief conversation as well.

I wonder about this sort of sobriety, this extreme conversation under excruciating (etymologically quite literally) conditions. It is remarkable that anyone could think crucifixion was a just punishment. It might be unheard of in many circles these days that even a depraved criminal might have a "fear of God" and expect such fear in another criminal. It is highly instructive that a condemned criminal is one of the few people at the crucifixion who recognizes Jesus' innocence. And it is awe inspiring that we find a quintessential prayer, sparse yet deeply profound given its consequences, in the simple "Jesus, remember me" uttered by the criminal hanging on a cross with Jesus.




Old Oligarch (via Summa Contra Mundum) has a nice post on the gesture of Christ washing the feet of the Apostles. Here's a small clip:
Christ is preparing His apostles to be His first priests. Christ chooses a symbol of great self-abasement to underscore the nature of this priesthood in imitatio Christi. Sharing in Christ's priesthood means sharing in his kenosis, His self-emptying, His self-sacrifice. Just as Aaron and his sons were the first priests of the Old Covenant, Christ washes the feet of the Apostles to be the first priests of the New Covenant. They have "already been washed clean" (Jn 13:10) of sin in Baptism. Now, they receive a special washing, proper to their ordination, so that they can worthily enter the New Tabernacle -- the first Tabernacle to contain the Eucharist, the Upper Room.


Thursday, April 08, 2004


The Eucharist, as Christ's saving presence in the community of the faithful and its spiritual food, is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history. Ecclesia de Eucharistia


Wednesday, April 07, 2004


Here's an image I might refer to more.

Picture the United States as a very big ocean liner; we can call it the USS . . . , um, I guess just "USS." I think an airplane, train, or car wouldn't quite work because I need an image that suggests the enormity of the country, the momentum of national policies, and the general stability of a democratic country centered on freedom and the rule of law that enables that freedom. Ocean liners are enormous, tend to go in one direction for quite a while, are difficult to maneuver or divert quickly, and rarely do U-turns in the middle of the ocean. And, of course, unlike other vehicles, an ocean liner in the open ocean is pretty forgiving of mistakes, of sloppy steering, aggressive steering, timid steering, or no steering at all. And, they rarely sink.

Thus my image. Let's take it for a spin in the context I have in mind.

Politics on the national level often centers on who is at the steering wheel of the ocean liner. Once you get the wheel, you can ease the liner in a different direction or slow it down or speed it up; but such things take time and you're likely not going to bring it to a full stop or turn it around 180 degrees.

To get to the wheelhouse on a large ocean liner, you have to work your way up various levels and finally get past various check points. Crying out from the bilge that you don't like how the ship is being steered or that you could do a better job yourself can be a good catharsis, but in the end it's futile. In fact, at any one time, there are usually only a few people who are physically in the wheelhouse or just on the other side of the door, only a few who could step in and steer if necessary.

This is my image of national politics. At the moment we cast our ballot, unless we want to vote for the leader of our little group down in third class where we don't even have a porthole to look out of, our choice is limited to someone either in the wheelhouse or right outside the wheelhouse door. While we can and ought to try to get the right people poised to step into the wheelhouse, if they aren't standing outside the wheelhouse when it's time to vote then we would be foolish to toss our vote away on the sweaty, courageous, smart guy still down in the boiler room.

Our task as voters on the national scene is twofold:
1) on Election Day, choose the best candidate who really can step into the wheelhouse and steer for a while

2) the rest of the time, try to get good people up various levels and staircases so that they might one day be standing outside the wheelhouse door waiting to step in and grab the wheel if elected
That's my image. More to come.




TS O'Rama directs us to an article in which Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., recommends three books:
Let us suppose that someone wanted to read, say, three books that would explain in clear, profound, and incisive terms the whole structure of human life, its destiny, and how it stands before God and the world. What books would I recommend? . . .

I would recommend three books. . . . : (1) Josef Pieper: An Anthology . . . ; (2) Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien; and (3) Ralph McInerny, The Very Rich Hours of Jacques Maritain: A Spiritual Life. None of these books is very long. Each is relatively easy to read. All three are as profound as any book ever written. They all deal with what is.
Intersting. I have and have carefully read the Pieper; I don't know the other two. I just requested the McInerny book from my local public library.

But speaking of three books, Do you know what three books are the most widely sold books on the planet? According to this article (via Transterrestrial Musings), after The Bible and Das Kapital, the third most widely sold book on the planet is that little book on the Passion edited by Mark Shea (well, give it a few more weeks) . . . the third most widely sold book on the planet is Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince. I really like Saint-Exupery's work and The Little Prince is a gem of a book. My favorite line from the book, at least it was years ago when I wasn't so tainted, is:
Adieu, dit le renard. Voici mon secret. Il est très simple : on ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux
There are two related articles to the above here, which mentions that the plane Saint-Exupery was flying when he disappeared has been found, and here, which mentions a suicide theory.


Tuesday, April 06, 2004


Here's (via Open Book) a link to the notes of someone attending a trial in New York that involves a challenge to the recent ban on partial-birth abortion:
There are three trials underway in U.S. District Courts in California, Nebraska, and New York involving a challenge to the national ban on partial-birth abortion, which was approved by Congress last fall and signed into law by President Bush.
Now, there's of course going to be a slant to any reporting on anything so highly charged; but if the following testimony from a doctor who performs abortions is accurate, it's mind-numbingly outrageous:
Q: Do you discuss the killing of the fetus?
A: I tell them that when I cut the umbilical cord of the fetus, the fetus exsanguinates.
Q: "Exsanguin" what?
A: In layman's terms, it would be drained of blood.
Q: Do you tell them that?
A: No.
Q: Do you tell them whether the fetus feels any pain?
A: The fetus may have a heartbeat, but I do not think it is alive.
Q: Do you ever tell them it will hurt? A: It does not hurt her.
Q: No not the mother, that it will hurt the fetus?
A: The intent of the abortion is that the fetus will be terminated. (emphasis added)




A cow pope? (via The Corner):
The Cow Pope’s mission is a call to the faithful and to the Vatican to reexamine what it truly means to treat “the least” of God’s creation . . . .

The Catholic Church pledges, after Christ's example, to have a preferential love of and devotion to the destitute, the abused, and the neglected. . . .

God created every animal with the capacity for pain and suffering. But on today's factory farms, animals are dehorned, debeaked, and castrated without painkillers. They are genetically bred to grow so quickly that many suffer lung, heart, or painful leg collapse. Finally, they are trucked without food or water, through all weather extremes, to a frightening and hellish death.
Oh my.

While many are rightly disgusted with the inhumane (etymologically not the best word to use here) savage treatment of animals by the food industry, especially when it comes to the treatment of large mammals, there is a consistent failure among many animal rights groups to acknowledge the gaping chasm in dignity between human beings and any other animal.

Last year I touched on how we might grapple with the morality of an issue that has some similarities to this topic:

There are a lot of ways one could enter the vast pool of wisdom that the virtue tradition created. You could dip your little toe in gingerly with a question about whether it's okay to sneak into a movie theater without paying (why is that always the quintessential light-weight morality question?) or you could do a cannon ball into the middle by grappling with an issue like torture right from today's headlines.

Moral issues can be difficult in two ways. The first difficulty is getting a handle on the theoretical aspects of an issue. What precepts are we obliged to follow? What kinds of actions are morally licit? The other difficulty is the application of morality to particular actions.

Take the standard, boilerplate example: A hunter shooting another hunter whom he mistook for a deer (assuming he didn't think it was a deer wearing an orange vest, smoking a cigar, and cleaning a rifle by the campfire!) is a different moral event than a premeditated plan conceived by one hunter to shoot deliberately another hunter. The intention of the person acting is an important factor in specifying whether the action was good or bad, whether the shooter was morally culpable or not for killing another hunter.

For anyone who believes that human beings are created in the image of God and have an intrinsic and divine dignity, most extreme moral issues aren't difficult in theory. That torture is always wrong is something that in theory is pretty clear for those who recognize the dignity of every human being. The difficulty is located in the consideration of what constitutes torture and how these tenets must be applied, not in the moral principles involved. But if you hope to convince others who don't accept your principles of faith and only acknowledge a morality grounded in reason and human nature you start getting into some tricky moral quandaries.

One of these tricky spots in a morality prescinded from truths of faith becomes clear with a kind of question that goes something like this:
Why should anyone ever refrain from an action that cannot reasonably have any negative consequences for them?
Why shouldn't we torture someone who will eventually end up dead or in prison for life anyway?

Here's the rest of the original post if you care. The answer, in my humble opinion, to the cruelty to animals question very much depends on your answer to the above question, though, frankly, the question about animals is ancillary to any question about the treatment of human beings. This is what I think is missed by many animal rights proponents. You are what you do. That is the first step to any moral system that would consider cruelty to animals morally wrong.


Monday, April 05, 2004


I've gotten into a little loop of links from blogs I don't normally read. This post over on The Corner (via Andrew Sullivan) raises the issue of Kerry's Catholicism:
Here's Kerry taking Communion at a Protestant church. Here's what PJPII reiterated on this matter in his encyclical ECCLESIA DE EUCHARISTIA: "The Catholic faithful, therefore, while respecting the religious convictions of these separated brethren, must refrain from receiving the communion distributed in their celebrations, so as not to condone an ambiguity about the nature of the Eucharist...."

I really don't mean to nitpick. Who knows a judgment call a person makes in such a situation. That said, I'm tired of Kerry being protrayed as the "Catholic candidate" when a) he is no such thing, and that would be clear if more bishops (and they slowly are) would make such things crystal clear (i.e. you cannot advocate for abortion and call yourself Catholic and b) Catholic are not going to vote in a bloc, as a bloc, for or against him.
This is really tricky terrain where what seems obvious isn't and what is important is often overlooked. I wrote about this issue a while back [at the time I didn't have Kerry in mind] and likely will again as the election season heats up. Here are a few excerpts edited a bit:

Here's an interview with Cardinal Stafford from last August that has much to say on this issue. You should read the whole thing, but this especially caught my eye:
The general principle is this: If we judge that religion is irrelevant to politics, then we are recognizing that the political realm is no longer part of the realm of God. If we divide the religious, the sacred, from the secular, then we are limiting severely, into very narrow confines, the action of God in the life of the world. But that's not what we confess in our faith as Catholics. God is not simply the God who is limited to a very specific area of life. He is the Creator of all that we see and all that is not seen.

For the Catholic politician who lives fully his or her baptism, it is impossible that God should simply be a "tag-on" to the system, whether it is political or economic. That is not the Catholic understanding of God. He is the Lord of Life. We confess in the Creed [that] he is the Spirit, he is the Lord, the Giver of Life.

Governor [Mario] Cuomo and President John Kennedy, both Catholics, did a severe disservice to the Catholic laity by setting a path that limits God in his role as Creator and Redeemer of all of mankind. And for Catholic politicians today to believe that they [Cuomo and Kennedy] are guides for their consciences, puts them at total odds with the Catholic magisterium and with the Catholic tradition.
Justice, or at least our justice system, insists that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt -- even and especially when everything seems to the contrary. Likewise it might seem that the preeminent role of conscience in moral judgment suggests that we presume someone is following a well-formed conscience until it's proven otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt.

So, what would it mean to make a judgment beyond a reasonable doubt regarding a well-formed conscience? After all, in the context of Catholic politicians, we ought to be able to claim, on some level, that there are times when he or she should "know better," when he or she seems to have failed to develop a well-formed conscience and is acting with poor judgment in the moral and political sphere. Otherwise, folks could claim they "followed their conscience" in moral matters and the Church would be compelled to remain silent and let such people portray themselves as faithful Catholics.

I think Cardinal Stafford's point, and the point of the recent Doctrinal Note on the participation of Catholics in politics, rests on the fact that we can judge with moral certainty whether a politician is following a well-formed conscience as long as we restrict such judgments to well-defined Church Teachings and a proper forum. A Catholic politician who grasps even a glimmer of what the Church teaches couldn't object with integrity to a well-defined Church teaching like that on abortion. And to claim that one is appealing to a well-formed conscience as one publicly contradicts such Church Teaching does not seem credible, or at least, it seems that we can gainsay such a claim with moral certitude.

But what about Catholic politicians who don't disagree with Church Teaching but disagree about legislating moral matters? Is abortion, for example, something that can really be legislated? Well, I don't think there's quite the wiggle room many politicians claim on this; Church Teaching has been pretty clear. There's this from the above Doctrinal Note:
When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia (not to be confused with the decision to forgo extraordinary treatments, which is morally legitimate). Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death.
And this from Evangelium Vitae, 72-73
Disregard for the right to life, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good. Consequently, a civil law authorizing abortion or euthanasia ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law.

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection.
And finally, from the USCCB:
We urge those Catholic officials who choose to depart from Church teaching on the inviolability of human life in their public life to consider the consequences for their own spiritual well being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin. We call on them to reflect on the grave contradiction of assuming public roles and presenting themselves as credible Catholics when their actions on fundamental issues of human life are not in agreement with Church teaching. No public official, especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support direct attacks on innocent human life.
I'm not sure how one could be much clearer within the context of Church Teaching (in the context of a personal letter from a bishop to a Catholic politician, I suppose one might find even more explicit and specific guidance).

But the problem for we lowly voters is that it's rare to find a viable candidate who publicly espouses Church Teaching consistently on all issues. And most folks don't want to throw away their vote on someone who doesn't have a chance to win or is a limited single-issue candidate who will flounder in other important political matters. So, what to do?

I suggested an approach in the original post, but I'm not completely comfortable with it and I hope to make another pass at it soon.




There've been some stories lately that the hunting of baby seals is resuming. According to this report:
Commercial hunting of baby seals is back and even bigger than when it stirred a global outcry two decades ago.

Horrified by the clubbing of adorable infant harp seals, animal rights advocates swayed public opinion against the hunt. Environmentalists joined the campaign, fearing the species was being depleted. World sales collapsed. Even Canada reacted with revulsion and began stiffening regulations on the kill . . . .

On ice patches of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the hunt looks nearly as brutal as ever. For as far as the eye can see, dozens of burly men bearing clubs roam the ice in snowmobiles and spiked boots in search of silvery young harp seals. With one or two blows to the head, they crush the skulls, sometimes leaving the young animals in convulsions.
A gruesome image.

Now, in an apparent effort to appear less brutal and more humane, it seems from the following descriptions that some seal hunters are abandoning the club and choosing a more humane and clinical approach to the slaughter:

Here's the first:
. . . then forces the scissors into the base of the skull or into the foramen magnum. Having safely entered the skull, he spreads the scissors to enlarge the opening . . . . removes the scissors and introduces a suction catheter into this hole and evacuates the skull contents.
Hmm . . . I wonder if the more clinical approach will lessen the public outcry to save the baby seals?

Here's another description of the technique:
I closed the forceps, crushing the skull . . . .
Again, a bit more sophisticated than "one or two blows to the head," but will this tidying up really make the hunting of baby seals more palatable to those who might otherwise oppose it?


It seems I got my quotes mixed up from another post. The above two quotes are descriptions of partial-birth abortion, not the killing of baby seals, the killing of baby humans, not cute fuzzy baby seals. Sorry for the mix up.

It would be nice, modifying the first paragraph of the above story about baby seals, if such passion and outrage were directed at the killing of infinitely more precious beings:
Horrified by the brutal killing of adorable infants in utero, animal and human rights advocates swayed public opinion against the practice. Environmentalists joined the campaign, fearing the species was being depleted. World sales for services and associated industries collapsed. Even [fill in the country] reacted with revulsion and began stiffening regulations on the kill . . . .


Sunday, April 04, 2004


This critique of The Atlantic Monthly's State of the Union segment of a few months ago is brutal. It has some of the funnier lines I've read in a review:
This 33,000-word barge grinds bottom for 40 pages, unimpeded by wit, verve, originality, or any of the other attributes we associate with successful political rhetoric or good magazine journalism. If you can imagine a dozen 750-word New York Times op-ed pieces, each bloated by a factor of three or four or five, suffused with the earnestness of a parson, and constructed with the flattest language available, then you've still not comprehended the pomposity of this special section.




Reflections on pursuing a common date for Easter (via Ut Unum Sint):
This year Christians in East and West will celebrate Easter/Pascha on the same day, 15 April - a precious gift at the start of the new millennium. On this, Christians around the world are agreed. . . .

The consultation recommended that the principle of calculation recognized by both Eastern and Western churches and established by the Council of Nicea in the year 325 should be retained. According to this principle, Easter falls on the Sunday which follows the first full moon of spring. The Aleppo participants also recommended that the spring equinox be calculated "by the most accurate possible scientific means". Moreover, the basis for reckoning should be "the meridian of Jerusalem, the place of Christ's death and resurrection".




If you're browsing the works available on Project Gutenberg, you might be surprised at what you find under the H Index just a bit past "Hugo, Victor" and a little before "Hume, David." The author has a proclitivty for the letters A, C, G, and T and the opening paragraph really didn't hook me, but what do I know? See what you think; this is from the first chapter with the intriguing title, "Chromosome Number 01":

(via Pharyngula)


Saturday, April 03, 2004


A funny metablogging inquiry (uh, via Kevin Drum I think, or was it Matthew Yglesias via Amy Welborn?):
There is nothing outside the blog

I coined the title. Here's my proof. But already my proof calls into question the statement itself -- is not Google outside the blog? . . .

But what of the news articles and punditry on which bloggers comment? A story of significant import is heavily quoted in all manner of blogs -- any given story is likely quoted hundreds of times over, in its entirety, throughout the blogosphere. . . . What does it mean when we link to an Atrios post rather than to the article itself? What if we cannot link to the article without also linking to Atrios, as the one who gave us the heads-up? We would not have known the article existed without Atrios, or without the blogger who read Atrios and told us what Atrios had found.

The article is more real -- has more effects -- in the blogosphere than outside it, and may even continue to have effects without anyone going back to the original. The original only becomes important in terms of the ongoing debate in the blogosphere. The reference to the original takes place in the blogs, in the form of quoting the other stuff that Andrew Sullivan "conveniently overlooked," and continues to propagate throughout the blogosphere. (emphasis and some links added)
This very tangentially reminded me of how Vatican statements first see the light of day.

I often wonder why we can't go straight to the source and find the address or comment or actual words that all the news organizations are splashing around. Not next month, but now. Without the original, which I realize can usually be found with time and persistence and some more time and a little luck, many of us have to squint at the glaring hyperbolic headlines and interpretations of reporters.

In the few minutes I had to track it down, the best I could find on the latest papal statement on patients "who are in the clinical condition of 'vegetative state'", was this report. But why is this so fragmented? Why not give us the actual words in full or a link to the source? I wanted to comment on the statement but I didn't think I ought to without seeing the whole thing. Probably by now it's up in full somewhere. But why the delay? Why keep such things tucked away?


Friday, April 02, 2004


I found some interesting language in this recent story about the legal rights of an unborn child:
The Senate approved legislation on Thursday making it a separate offense to harm the fetus in a federal crime committed against a pregnant woman . . . .
That's not the interesting language.

But try this on:
Opponents of the proposal, while saying they sympathized with the desire to severely punish anyone who would attack pregnant women, said they were troubled by the definition of the "child in utero" covered under the bill as "a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb."
Have we really come to the point that we have to indicate the species of a child in utero?

Also in the above, I'm not sure why opponents of the bill would claim "they sympathized with the desire to severely punish anyone who would attack pregnant women." Are they implying that there's a difference between attacking a woman who is pregnant and a woman who isn't? If so, what's the difference and wouldn't this difference unravel their position?

Here's another strange one:
"Instead of passing a consensus bill to punish criminals for their horrific acts, the president's allies are taking advantage of this issue to further their campaign to oppose a woman's right to choose," said Kate Michelman, president of Naral Pro-Choice America.
Doesn't her statement imply that the death of an unborn child in a crime is a "horrific" act? Otherwise, why would she talk of passing a bill to punish criminals? It's already against the law to assault or murder a woman and those found guilty of this are typically punished. So, what makes the death of the unborn child "horrific" in Michelman's mind? And is she suggesting that a woman ought to be able to choose to do some horrific acts herself and without the intervention of an assailant or the government?




As an answer to a recent query, I give you the following from Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses:
The night was almost warm. He and Rawlins lay in the road where they could feel the heat coming off the blacktop against their backs and they watched the stars falling down the long black slope of the firmament. . . .

Rawlins propped the heel of one boot atop the toe of the other. As if to pace off the heavens.
My daddy run off from home when he was fifteen. Otherwise I'd of been born in Alabama.
You wouldnt of been born at all.
What makes you say that?
Cause your mama's from San Angelo and he never would of met her.
He'd of met somebody.
So would she.
So you wouldnt of been born.
I dont see why you say that. I'd of been born somewheres.
Well why not?
If your mama had a baby with her other husband and your daddy had one with his other wife which one would you be?
I wouldnt be neither of em.
That's right.
Rawlins lay watching the stars. After a while he said: I could still be born. I might look different or somethin. If God wanted me to be born I'd be born.
And if He didnt you wouldnt.
You're makin my goddamn head hurt.
I know it. I'm makin my own.
They lay watching the stars.




The other day I was getting my haircut when a boy who must have been six or seven sat in the chair next to me and proceeded to give the barber instructions on how to cut his hair:
I want this much off the top, but leave it like this here, don't cut much on the back, keep the sides like they are . . .
I chuckled (quietly) and thought about how I not only didn't get to choose my hairstyle at six or seven, but I didn't even know that there was a choice about such things. The kid seemed so concerned about his looks that he didn't seem to be a kid anymore.

Yesterday, I read the following from a letter to the editor of the local paper about the Pledge of Allegiance case before the Supreme Court:
Never, in all my years of schooling, have I been told that I wasn't required to say "The Pledge of Allegiance" along with the rest of my classmates. This is the fact that the Supreme Court justices don't understand. Children are not told what rights they have. Most students don't realize that they have options.
Guess how old the letter writer is? In her forties? Thirties? Twenties? Here's a further clue from her letter:
It is painful for me to have to watch my classmates say the pledge, with the teacher leading them, when I refuse to recite. The fact that the teacher is the one who leads "The Pledge of Allegiance" is significant. As young children, even before we enter school, we are taught to obey the teacher. So, when the teacher says, "Now it is time to recite 'The Pledge of Allegiance,' " we do. Many students are afraid to stand up to the teacher, because they are afraid they will get in trouble. Especially in elementary school, students do not want to stand out. They want to be just like their friends, even if they don't necessarily agree.
Hmm . . . they don't recite the Pledge in any college that I know. Perhaps a high school? She continues:
"The Pledge of Allegiance" is not only a prayer but also a promise that young children are coerced into reciting. Most kindergartners don't even know what the words mean.

The pledge and the ritual of reciting it have flaws. Students need to be informed that they do not have to promise something that they do not agree with. Teachers should explain to students what the pledge means, and the harder words should be defined. In my opinion, no children should promise something if they don't know what it means. It is up to us -- older students and adults -- to explain to younger pupils that in some circumstances it is OK to not do as everyone else does.
Brace yourself. This is from a 13 year old woman girl! I'm not linking to it or using her name because I don't want to help the bizarre cause of the adults behind this letter.

Don't get me wrong. I don't doubt the letter was written by a thirteen year old. My concern and question is: What can this girl be enduring to write so seriously, so cheerlessly, so adult-like?


Thursday, April 01, 2004


Dappled Things has a nice post with a link to the Society For The Oral Reading Of Greek And Latin Literature (SORGLL) where you can hear some of the classics read by those who claim to know how it might have sounded. SORGLL also provides a link to this page with additional audio clips.

I'm no classics scholar and I actually don't try to play one on this blog. Still, with regard to the classical language that I've dabbled in, Latin, I've never really understood the insistence on the classical pronunciation. Yeah, I'm familiar with some of the scholarship that's been done to estimate what the pronunciation likely was. Still, I use the "ecclesiastical" pronunciation when I pronounce (er, to myself most of the time) the little Latin I know. It strikes me as a little weird and artificial not to pronounce Latin in the manner that it survives today. Here's more than you probably wanted to know about ecclesiastical Latin.

The best argument, though, against the "classical" pronunciation is the fact that Caesar's "Veni, vidi, vici," [I came, I saw, I conquered] would sound kinda' wimpy as: "Waynee, weedee, weekee." Try it fast a few times. It's hard not to laugh at that pronunciation. And when I imagine wascally Caesar trying to sound important with his pronouncement, Elmer Fudd's voice always creeps in.