June 2009 Archives
June 2, 2009
Chesterton on origins
Over the years, a number of friends and correspondents have pressed me on the somewhat arcane subject of political anthropology. The very origins of political man. The disputes can be bewilderingly subtle, and not a few times I have managed to argue myself into a real mess. But the gist of it concerns the question of the political development of man — how government or the state first enters the world and how it develops as an institution.
Now the modern philosophers have tended to rest a great deal upon what seem to me fairly hasty and unsupported speculations about the historical facts of political development; and many of these speculations have tended to uphold of view of the political life of man which may be described Progressive. Man has progressed in his political arrangements, at times haltingly, but still with an observable trend which associates the passage of time with advancement or perfection.
Thus, according to the moderns, we may say as a general statement that man has progressed up from tyranny and backwardness to liberty and enlightenment.
My answer is that I would sooner trust Chesterton’s arguments about the origins of man and state, than any of these reckless rationalists of modern political philosophy. I would not, mind you, insist that anyone embrace Chesterton’s own often fanciful speculations; I would only say that Chesterton’s speculations are no less trustworthy than Hobbes’ or Locke’s, that the truth is probably closer to the younger Englishman, and that, therefore, much of the foundation of modern political philosophy is quite unreliable.
In short, far from laying down a Chestertonian dogma, I only say that his insights are sufficient to show the fundamental inadequacies of the modern dogmas of politike episteme.
On November 28, 1994, notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was murdered in prison by a fellow inmate. Unspeakably heinous though Dahmer’s crimes were, his murder can only be condemned. To be sure, by committing his crimes, Dahmer had forfeited his right to life. By no means can it be said that the injustice he suffered was as grave as what he inflicted upon his victims. But the state alone had the moral authority to execute him, and no private individual can usurp that authority. Vigilantism is itself a grave offense against the moral and social order, and Dahmer’s murderer merited severe punishment.
The recent murder of another notorious serial killer – the late-term abortionist George Tiller – is in most morally relevant respects parallel to the Dahmer case. It is true that Tiller, unlike Dahmer, was not punished by our legal system for his crimes; indeed, most of those crimes, though clearly against the natural moral law, are not against the positive law of either the state or the country in which Tiller resided. That is testimony only to the extreme depravity of contemporary American society, and does not excuse Tiller one iota. Still, as in the Dahmer case, no private citizen has the right to take justice into his own hands, and Tiller’s murderer ought to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
As in the Dahmer case, though, the victim of this crime was himself an evil man and does not deserve our tears.
Do I seriously mean to suggest that Tiller was as bad as Dahmer? No, because Tiller was almost certainly a more evil man than Dahmer was. There are at least five considerations that favor this judgment.
First, Tiller’s victims were more numerous than Dahmer’s.
Second, Dahmer expressed remorse for his crimes. Tiller never did.
Third, and relatedly, Dahmer was apparently fully aware that what he did was evil, while Tiller pretended, to himself and others, that what he did was not evil. Some might think that such self-deception lessens Tiller's moral corruption, but in fact it exacerbates it. A man who knows that what he does is evil but does it anyway is corrupt; a man who has become so desensitized to the evil he does that he can no longer even perceive it as evil is even more corrupt. The sins of the former are likely to be sins of weakness; the sins of the latter, to be willful sins of malice. (Older moralists understood this. The modern cult of “authenticity” and “sincerity” has blinded us to it – and is itself a mark of our own grave moral corruption.)
Fourth, and again relatedly, Dahmer was evidently to some extent acting out of compulsion. This does not exculpate him, and the compulsion was a consequence of his freely indulging his evil for years. Still, his will evidently had become so corrupted that he eventually reached the point where he could barely control himself. The problem was only exacerbated by the fact that his murderous impulses were associated with various sexual perversions – always unruly under even the best circumstances – and that he had learned to indulge his dark desires in secret, free from the fear of exposure and shame that would deter most others afflicted by the same bizarre temptations. Tiller’s murders, by contrast, were committed openly, and resulted from no compulsion at all. It was neither bloodlust, nor sexual perversion, nor any other ungovernable passion that drove him to baby-killing, but the cold and cruel willfulness of the ideologue. If Dahmer was a miniature Caligula, Tiller was a poor man’s Stalin, Hitler, or Pol Pot.
Finally, Tiller added to his already unspeakable crimes the grave sin of blasphemy, insofar as he was (we now know) a churchgoer who evidently regarded his obeisance to Moloch as fully compatible with the religion of Jesus Christ. To my knowledge Dahmer never had the temerity to claim that a good Christian could be a cannibal.
This side of the grave, we are, mercifully, spared the knowledge of who is in Hell. As a Catholic, I pray for Tiller’s soul, as I pray for Dahmer’s. But it would be foolish to think it at all likely that either man died in a state of grace. Still, I’d give Dahmer better odds than the other, greater monster.
June 4, 2009
More on Boston Caritas Christi and abortion
Here's some follow-up to this post.
Boston's Catholic charity has apparently made a partnership with another company, CeltiCare. CeltiCare's representative Brian Delaney has definitely confirmed, as of May, that the program will provide "family planning services as appropriate." (Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a sub-link for this particular story on Catholic Action League's main page, so the only way to access it is to search for "CeltiCare" on the page, or, later, with the site name.)
As previously reported, the requirements of the contract are the provision of an 800 number to women seeking abortions and even, if necessary, transportation.
This March story from the Boston Globe (which just came to my attention) is particularly damning.
History professor and blogger Hugo Schwyzer is a colleague of mine at Pasadena City College. He is the son of the late philosopher Hubert Schwyzer, a fondly-remembered professor of mine at UC Santa Barbara. Hugo’s wife, like mine, recently gave birth. Each of us suffers from caffeine dependency. That’s pretty much where the similarities end, since Hugo is about as far to the left as I am to the right (which is saying something). Hugo once described me as “an absolutely delightful colleague with absolutely appalling views,” and I’m happy to return the compliment.
Hugo replies here to my recent post on the shooting of George Tiller. He had earlier presented his own views on the subject here and here. Take a look. Hugo warns his readers that they might find what I say infuriating, and I suppose I’d better say that most of the readers of this blog will find Hugo’s own views absolutely jaw-dropping.
June 5, 2009
Envoy Institute conference
Readers in the vicinity of Charlotte, NC might be interested to learn that the Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College will be hosting a three day conference on Answering Atheism and the Culture of Doubt from July 10-12. I’m scheduled to present three lectures. Further information can be found here.
Leiter hits new low. In other news, sky is blue, water wet…
In response to the recent shooting of George Tiller, I wrote that “vigilantism is a grave offense against the moral and social order,” that “no private citizen has the right to take justice into his own hands,” and that “Tiller’s murderer ought to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.” Brian Leiter, well-known serial liar, reports this by describing me as an “apologist for murder.”
This is the world we live in, folks. Black is white. Up is down. Killing unborn children is compassion. Condemning murder is defending murder. And Leiter is an arbiter of philosophical respectability.
NOTE: Readers coming over from The Liar Distorts who for whatever reason really need any further explanation of why Leiter's accusation is outrageous are invited to take a look at this further reply to Leiter -- posted, incidentally, before Leiter falsely alleged in an update that I had not replied to the "argument" he quotes from Shipley.
UPDATE 6/8: Though he frantically assures us he doesn’t spend his whole day reading blogs, Leiter has now updated his post one more time in response to my criticizing him for not informing his readers of the reply in question. He says he simply hadn’t seen it. I will extend to Leiter the basic courtesy he refuses to extend to me and take him at his word. After hysterically and libelously calling me an “apologist for murder,” Leiter now has the brass to suggest that I “calm down.” I will when you do, pal.
June 6, 2009
Leftist lawyers for libel [Updated]
In an update to his original post, and evidently seeing the need to offer at least some feeble justification for his libelous charge against me, Brian Liar quotes Jeremy Shipley’s comments on my original piece on Tiller as if they were especially insightful. They are not at all insightful. Some brief replies to Shipley’s remarks (which are in italics):
Virtual Library of Christian Philosophy
Tiller, Torture, and Ticking Bombs: A Thought Experiment
Brian Leiter, rightfully, condemns torture, eschewing utilitarian justifications for it, e.g., the ticking bomb scenario. That is, even if torturing X may lead to the saving of many lives, torturing X is not justified and ought not to be performed by any moral agent. Suppose our government tortures X, an Al-Qaeda operative who has participated in many murders prior to his capture. Our government's torturing, not surprisingly, results in important intelligence that leads to the government thwarting a terrorist plot that would have resulted in the horrific deaths of an estimated 2,000 U.S. citizens, including hundreds of elementary school children. Suppose that Leiter condemns the torturing as unjustified and a grievous wrong, but at the same time condemns X as an immoral person responsible for the deaths of many innocent human persons.
Would, at this point, Jeremy Shipley, who recently accused Ed Feser of insincerity, suggest that Leiter is "insincere," or would he do the intellectually decent thing and examine the moral philosophy that informs Leiter's judgments on such matters. And if he did, he would see that Leiter's judgment is perfectly consistent, and hardly the consequence of a character defect called "insincerity." And would real-world Leiter (or "Leiter Prime," LP) say of Imaginary-world Leiter (or IL), that IL is an "apologist for torture"? Would not we think that LP does not truly grasp IL's point of view, or would we say that IL is "insincere." You be the judge.
June 7, 2009
Catholic Answers vs. the IRS
You can about it here. Here's an excerpt:
The apologetics organization Catholic Answers has filed suit against the Internal Revenue Service claiming the federal tax collection agency has “intimidated” churches and non-profit groups into silence on politically controversial moral issues.
In an announcement posted at the organization’s web site, Catholic Answers president Karl Keating explained that the IRS fined the group for a 2004 e-letter it wrote saying that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry should not be allowed to receive Holy Communion.
Keating charged that Francis Kissling, then-leader of the pro-abortion front group “Catholics for a Free Choice,” had instigated the IRS action with a complaint.
You can read the whole thing here.
Zmirak on Tiller
Here is a fine piece by John Zmirak on why (a) Tiller was a murderous monster and (b) killing abortionists nevertheless cannot be morally justified. No doubt the Leiters of the world will soon be telling us what Zmirak "really" thinks...
June 8, 2009
The Leiter Reports, an apologist for murder?
If I understand Brian Leiter's criticism of Ed Feser correctly, a person, X, who makes the moral judgment that person Y is a murderer, and Y is subsequently harmed by another, W, who claims he committed the deed because he too, like X, concluded that person Y is a murderer, therefore, X is an apologist for Y's harm. But if this is the case, then Leiter as well as the Code Pink and Moveon.org activists were apologists for the man who carried the grenade that was meant for President Bush in a 2005 visit to the former Soviet republic of Georgia. In 2004, Leiter referred to Bush as a "criminal war-monger." In that same year, Leiter predicted with great confidence the imminency of a national military draft and claimed that President Bush was destroying the United States. Six months later in early 2005 he again claimed the draft was imminent. (Imminence, apparently, can procrastinate on occasion, or perhaps confirmation of the draft's reality was awaiting the arrival of the black helicopters). Also in 2004, Leiter claimed that Bush illegally disenfranchised black voters in Florida. On Bush's second inaugural, Leiter writes on January 20, 2005: "Very dark days lie ahead for humanity. On the most charitable (and implausible) interpretation, the talk about freedom is genuine. Even so, the idea that a single country would take it upon itself to "free" all those countries ruled by tyrannies would promise a global holocaust and bloodbath of unimaginable proportions." (my emphasis)
Writing several months after the grenade attempt, Leiter compares the Bush administration to the propagandists of Hitler's regime and elsewhere declares of Bush's White House: "most people in the world (having apparently learned the Golden Rule as children) consider the U.S., quite correctly, to be `the major threat to global peace' based on its currently unparalleled record of actual aggression and murder in the last couple of years."
So, to employ Leiter's own logic to his own comments, if Dietrich Bonhoeffer was justified in attempting to assassinate Hitler, then did not Leiter provide the grounds by which a citizen would have been justified in assassinating Bush? After all, according to Leiter, Bush was, among other things, a racist "criminal war-monger" who was destroying America, and whose plans "would promise a global holocaust and bloodbath of unimaginable proportions" for which he would institute (imminently, twice) military conscription. (emphasis mine). That's the sort of apocalyptic talk that would make a fire and brimstone dispensationalist preacher blush.
Thus, Leiter, according to Leiter's own hermeneutics of political and moral discourse, was an "apologist for murder" during the Bush administration.
Of course, he could respond: "There is nothing inconsistent with claiming that Bush is a murderer, a racist, and a criminal war-monger while at the same making the judgment that it would be morally wrong to assassinate him." At that point, ironically, he would be offering the same sort of argument offered by Ed Feser, which Leiter dismisses as unpersuasive. But, unlike Feser who condemned the assassination of Dr. Tiller, I could not find anyplace in which Leiter condemns the possible assassination of President Bush as immoral, even though his incendiary language would seem to lend philosophical assistance to those who (however crazy and unbalanced) might have felt compelled to commit that act. But even if he did explicitly condemn that assassination as immoral, it would only mean that he and Feser are exactly in the same position.
Thoughts on Trinity Sunday
And now, dear friends, let us elevate our minds to higher and nobler things. (I am speaking to myself more than to anyone else.) Over at my own blog, some Trinity Sunday thoughts on the doctrine of the Trinity.
June 9, 2009
RIP, Private Long
Update: The tribute to read is the one composed by my friend Caleb Howe, himself a former United States Marine.
Daris Long, father and former Marine, stood behind his son’s casket wearing a red Marine Corps baseball cap and military medals on his chest and read aloud the letter he had planned to give his son on the day of his deployment. He spoke of duty, readiness, committment. “Your day only ends when you’ve done your duty,” he read with emotion. “You and your brother … are both heroes for having the moral courage to stand up when your country needs you most. You are in my hopes and my thoughts and my prayers. You are my son, you are my hero. I love you. Semper fidelis.”
Pvt. William Long did his duty. His day ends with honor. And we honor him.
Amen. The Republic has lost one of her true sons, long before his time. And the voice of his blood cries out from the land.
The BNP: Don't be Fooled
Some American conservatives seem to welcome this development, because they sympathize with the BNP's unambiguous stands against mass immigration and anti-white discrimination.
But this is a mistake.
Peter Hitchens, Christopher Hitchens' smarter younger brother, and a sound traditionalist conservative if ever there was one, absolutely nails the BNP here:
"I receive a distressing number of letters and emails from seemingly sensible people beguiled by this organisation.
"They think it is genuinely concerned with Britain's problems. I don't think so. I think it is obsessed with discredited and un-Christian racial theories.
"If it cared about Britain and wanted a real part in national life, it would surely get rid of a leader who once jeered that belief in the Nazi massacre of six million Jews was comparable to a belief that the Earth is flat.
"It would surely get rid of a clause in its constitution that makes 'ethnic origin', not opinions, the key test of membership..."
Hitchens goes on to cite this absolutely damning video of Nick Griffin, party leader and newly elected member of the European Parliament, on stage with the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke:
June 10, 2009
Libel’s in the air!
Here’s yet another willfully obtuse Liar Distorts reader (and a self-described “logician,” at that). I’ve put up a brief reply over at my own blog, which summarizes some key points already made but scattered over several posts from the last few days – and which, if these people have a shred of intellectual honesty or decency, will end this stupid discussion once and for all. Which means, of course, that it probably won’t end.
UPDATE: For what it’s worth, over in the comments section at my own blog, my pro-choice colleague Hugo Schwyzer – whose own pro-Tiller posts inspired my original Tiller/Dahmer post – rejects any suggestion that I approved of Tiller’s murder. (And no, I did not ask Hugo to do this – indeed, other than a quick greeting in the hallway we haven’t had a chance to talk since this controversy started.) As he always does in his disputes with his right-of-center opponents, Hugo exhibits what Leiter et al. never do: a sense of honor and fair play.
Anti-Christian White Supremacist Shoots Three People at Holocaust Museum
Update: Looks like this guy was a 9/11 "truther" who hated Bush, McCain, and "neo-cons." (This is not to say, of course, that everyone who holds these views approves of the Holocaust Museum shootings. Given recent goings on here, I thought I had to say that.)
According to the initial press reports, the name of the alleged shooter is James W Von Brunn (age: 89). I did some sleuthing and found some of his sick writings online. Here's an excerpt from one of the works of this pathetic loser:
Why is David Letterman walking funny?
Answer: Governor Sarah Palin cut him a new one:
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin took a second swipe at David Letterman on Wednesday, calling the CBS “Late Show” host’s jokes about one of her daughters “disgusting” and “sexually perverted.”
In an e-mailed statement, the Republican governor said: “Laughter incited by sexually perverted comments made by a 62-year-old male celebrity aimed at a 14-year-old girl is not only disgusting, but it reminds us some Hollywood/N.Y. entertainers have a long way to go in understanding what the rest of America understands — that acceptance of inappropriate sexual comments about an underage girl, who could be anyone's daughter, contributes to the atrociously high rate of sexual exploitation of minors by older men who use and abuse others.”
Her husband, Todd, added in the same statement that “any ‘jokes’ about raping my 14-year-old are despicable. Alaskans know it, and I believe the rest of the world knows it, too.”
You can read the rest of it here.
(Update: Letterman's latest response sounds like a stupid human trick. Read it here.)
June 12, 2009
But seriously, ladies and degenerates…
From the new Sacha Baron Cohen laugh-fest Bruno (per Drudge):
In one scene Bruno appears on a talk show holding a baby who is wearing a T-shirt reading "Gayby."
The sequence flashes to Bruno having sex in a hot tub while the baby sits nearby. He then boasts to the outraged studio audience that the baby is a man magnet.
My take: If you think this is remotely funny, there is something seriously wrong with you. And if you need an explanation of why there is something seriously wrong with you, there is even more wrong with you than I thought. But hey, let’s not argue about it; as Elizabeth Anscombe would say, corrupt minds cannot be reasoned with.
To be sure, “concerns” have been raised about the movie – not because of the baby sex jokes, but (oh dear, hide the children!) because of its possibly “homophobic” elements.
Don’t worry, gentle reader, things could always be worse. And will be. And soon. After all, we moderns do everything faster and better than our forebears, especially civilizational decline. As they say in show biz, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
June 13, 2009
Movement to get David Letterman fired?
The Trouble with Larry
Okay, I've had my drink, and my good night's sleep. And then I spent my whole morning skimming through Lawrence Auster's hundreds (I mean, really - hundreds) of posts attacking Peter Hitchens, Mark Steyn & Melanie Phillips - not to mention Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, etc.
I usually just skip these posts of his, 'cause I find them so depressing and counter-productive. But this time I forced myself to pay attention.
And I'm sorry to say that I can only conclude that our own commenter Ilion is correct: Mr. Auster regularly engages in downright misrepresentation of the oddly chosen targets of his rhetorical wrath.
But you don't have to spend hours searching through his archives, like I did, to see this in action. All you have to do is check out our exchange (such as it is) in the thread linked above:
You can’t make this stuff up, folks
The Leiter reader who parroted (and still parrots) the “apologist for murder” libel against me is awfully upset because, with some mild sarcasm, I referred to him as…
a logician. (Gasp!)
Specifically, I noted that that’s how he referred to himself on his site.
I know, I know. Nasty stuff. But hey, I was in a bad mood that week – what with, you know, people like this very doofus calling me an “apologist for murder” and what not.
Still, the poor, poor man. Apparently I hurt his feelings. You see, by “logician” he didn’t mean to portray himself as some especially penetrating thinker or anything. Just a guy who studies logic, that’s all. Or something like that. Anyway, he’s written a 1,254 word post explaining himself, so do read it, and disabuse yourself of the terrible calumny I directed against him.
Because, you know, he would never, never misrepresent someone else’s words. Nor would he ever ridicule someone else who defended himself against a libelous misrepresentation.
And Brian, I know you like to ridicule people for offering “lengthy” self-defenses – when you’re not ridiculing them for giving “non-replies,” that is. (The good old “Heads I win, tails you lose” strategy – clever one, Bri!) But please lay off this guy, huh? He’s very sensitive…
June 14, 2009
Anniversary of G. K. Chesterton's death
Today, June 14, is the 73rd anniversary of the death of the great Catholic writer, G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936). My colleague, Ralph C. Wood, has a wonderful online collection of articles and links about and by Chesterton. You can find it here. The following are some Chesterton quotes. You can find a larger collection here.
Something right with the world--FMER, an excellent conference
My very dear colleagues and readers,
You've probably figured out by now that I wasn't around my usual haunts and usual computer access last week much. I just got home last night from Leuven, Belgium, from a wonderful conference on Formal Methods in the Epistemology of Religion.
I have to admit that I'm doing the Wizard of Oz thing. ("There's no place like home.") I'm no traveler, that's for sure. I hope not to hear for a long time anyone ask me in a dead voice, "Has your luggage been in your possession at all times?" No! No! My luggage has been sitting quietly on my living room floor, and I haven't even looked at it for several hours!!! (Goes off into maniacal laughter.)
But what I want to talk about is the conference, because that's something that was right with the world, and it's nice to talk about something good for a change.
You can’t make this stuff up, folks (Part 2)
Everyone knows that Brian Leiter regards me, Frank Beckwith, and WWWtW in general as worthy only of being “ignored,” that he “doesn’t spend his entire day reading blogs,” and that “lengthy” responses to smears like his are worthy only of ridicule.
Well, everyone except Leiter himself, anyway. ‘Cause Big Bad Brian is back, with yet another, 522-word rant about me, Frank, and our fair blog, inspired by some passing comment I made about him buried deep in one of the comboxes below. (Go here and scroll to the bottom.)
Yup, we’re just beneath his attention, folks. And he’ll scroll through every combox and keep posting update after lengthy update until we get that through our thick skulls!
Someone, please, throw in the towel, would you? It’s embarrassing to watch this guy fight himself again and again… and lose every time.
[Twenty bucks says he will simply be unable to keep himself from replying to this. I’ll throw in another ten if said reply refrains from calling this post “lengthy” or if the expressions “crank,” “reactionary,” “theocratic fascism,” or “Texas Taliban” don’t appear. Anyone?]
June 15, 2009
Pascal's Wager and dying to live
Pascal's Wager was much discussed at the FMER conference I've already reported on. I'm not myself a fan of Pascal's Wager for a number of reasons, the chief of which is that I have serious Cliffordian questions about the legitimacy of trying to get oneself to believe something for other than evidential reasons, as a "bet."
Richard Swinburne's stated preference in one Q & A is for a wager that involves acting as a Christian, not necessarily trying to "get oneself to believe" in the truth of Christianity. And I am told that in the English apologetics tradition of the 18th and 19th century, the practical recommendation was that, in view of the importance of the truth of Christianity, one should take plenty of time to investigate the truth-claims seriously. I do heartily endorse this last view, and I am often frustrated at the lazy ease with which people lose their faith or reject Christianity, but it bears little resemblance anymore to Pascal's original wager.
Anyway, it has often seemed to me that even if we waive the kinds of hesitations I have about the wager, one thing that is not considered much is the question of what the non-Christian has given up if Christianity is false. Jesus said we should take up our cross and follow Him, and the picture I think a lot of philosophers have in their minds of what the wager would involve is something much tamer, like going to church or giving up riotous living. But how would the utilities be changed if, to wager, one were required to give one's life as a Christian, perhaps in some torturous way?
Not that there's anything wrong with that....
(Update: I just remembered that I had done this before, finding just the right poses in the four photos in question. Here it is, from 2008.)
I just took down a WWWtW entry in which I placed a poster that included Seinfeld and Newman next to each other, with me and Brian Leiter below. And the title was "Is Brian Leiter my Newman?"
Because, as all Seinfeld fans know, Jerry and Newman (not to mention Elaine, Kramer, and George) are jerks, I thought it would bring a little levity to the discussion by the parallel as well as our similar appearances.
In any event, my colleague, Jon Kvanvig, raised an objection to my entry on the Leiter blog. After thinking about it, I thought it best to take my entry down. Here are comments that I submitted to the Leiter blog, that may or may not be posted:
My colleague, Jon, makes a good point. And for that reason, I will take the poster down. I chose the photo of Brian because of the hand-folding that corresponded roughly to Neman's. This is why I cropped out the water bottles and the slouching. Aesthetic concerns were not foremost in my mind when putting this together. What I was looking for was similar poses.
In any event, it was not intended to offend but draw a humorous parallel between the rivals on the 90s sitcom and the bantering between Brian and me. It was all intended for good fun. I am from a family of comedic types, including a sister who has a book coming out in October: Raising the Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation
Nevertheless, I apologize for needless offense. My hope is that Brian and I can become friends. As I have noted on several occasions, I think his work in philosophy of law--especially a recent piece I linked to on southernappeal.org--is illuminating and insightful.
June 16, 2009
Wrongful birth suits are back
Now we're back to what's wrong with the world, I'm afraid.
Wesley J. Smith (whose blog I have to catch up on now that I'm back) reports that an Oregon couple is suing because they didn't find out their baby had Down Syndrome until after she was born. So they couldn't kill her.
I don't know if pro-aborts try to argue that these suits are wrong, but it would be hard for them to do so consistently with their position. Is there any way to be pro-choice, really pro-choice, to hold that it should have been the couple's "choice" to abort that baby girl if the test hadn't registered a false negative, and still to hold that such a suit is wrong? I find it difficult to find any way. Which is yet another reductio of the many for the pro-choice position.
I'm glad to say that my state is one of the 1/3 the story reports has banned such suits. Thank goodness.
The value of silence
One of my pet peeves is that there are very few public places--except maybe a library--where there is not an electronic device putting out a cacophony of images and sounds (the latter of which is often confused with what I once knew as "music"). Whether it's the grocery store, the doctor's office, or even the gym, there's an endless stream of stuff impinging upon your eyes and ears.
So, I was delighted to come across this piece, "Silence, Please," authored by Susan Hill. Here are some excerpts:
June 17, 2009
Hume, science, and religion
Can a follower of David Hume consistently accept modern science while rejecting First Cause arguments for God's existence? It seems not, for reasons I explore here.
UPDATE: By popular demand -- OK, one guy asked me -- here is a further post on empiricism and Aristotelianism, expanding on some themes of the post linked to above.
Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology
The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (edited by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland) was released on Monday, June 15. Among the contributors are some of my favorite thinkers: William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Tim and Lydia McGrew, (my Baylor colleague) Alexander Pruss, and Victor Reppert.
Congratulations on producing what is clearly going to be an influential collection of chapters.
June 18, 2009
Texas lawmaker introduces Steve Pinker infanticide law
A Texas lawmaker wants to make murdering your baby under one year of age much less of a big deal if a jury decides that you suffered from post-partum syndrome. The law, introduced by Democrat Jessica Farrer, would make such crimes "infanticide" rather than regular murder, with a maximum sentence of 2 years in jail. It was perhaps not good strategy to have the bill endorsed by the attorney who defended Andrea Yates.
But some might try to argue that the sentencing phase of trial often takes stressors into account and that this move is merely more of the same. But that does not seem correct. For one thing, we do not have separate classes of crime on the books with extreme reduction in sentencing for people who kill their nagging wives or bullying employers. Imagine if a murder charge with a possibility of life imprisonment were reduced to a conviction for "employer-icide" if a jury concluded that your "judgement was impaired" by anger and pain caused by the persistent nastiness of your employer.
The threshhold here is so minimal that nearly any woman who murders her child under one year will be able to claim the exemption. The jury must merely judge that her "judgement was impaired because of childbirth or lactation," an extremely low standard that does not even come close to "not guilty by reason of insanity."
And if juries do take into account judgement impairment at all at the sentencing phase, why do we need a special law for this type of judgement impairment and stress, especially a law that automatically reduces the sentence so drastically?
I believe that the reason a law of this sort is even introduced (though hopefully it will not pass) is because a certain group of people have more sympathy for mothers who murder their newborns than they have for those who murder adults, even if the stress upon the murderer of an adult is sometimes at least as great as the stress upon a new mother. I move that this law be called the "Steven Pinker Infanticide Act of 2009" and booed off the floor accordingly.
Note: Before anyone else brings it up, I should say that I speak here as a woman who has suffered from post-partum depression.
Michael Bauman on Government Bailouts
David Letterman apologizes
This occurred a couple of days ago, but I neglected to mention it. I posted about the controversy last week (here and here), and it is only fair that I give Letterman a proverbial pat on the back: Good for David.
If truth be known, I have always been a huge fan of Letterman, and very much enjoy his humor. I have always had a weakness for liberal comedians, the music (though not the politics) of leftist folk singers, German ice skaters, and Alaska governors . Go figure.
They came in second, ahead of the ruling Labour Party, and way ahead of the British National Party (BNP).
Like the BNP, they have taken a strong stand on immigration: "We will freeze immigration for five years, speed up deportation of up to a million illegal immigrants by tripling the numbers engaged in deportations, and have 'no home no visa' work permits..."
Unlike the BNP, they are not a "whites only" club. Also unlike the BNP, they have sound conservative policies on the economy, on education, on welfare...in fact, on pretty much everything, so far as I can tell.
Not to mention that their signature issue is opposition to British absorption into the abomination that is the EU[SSR].
So what's not to like, here?
L.A. County suggests interesting idea: unemployed parents should care for their own children
From the Los Angeles Times, and not the Onion:
With steep state budget cuts under debate in Sacramento, Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to push for changes to CalWorks and other government aid programs they said would save nearly $270 million.
Included in their suggestions is a novel proposal: Put unemployed parents to work caring for their own children.
Read the whole thing here.
Oddly enough, one wonders, given our culture's Cartesian skepticism on the nature of marriage and family, and its immodest certainty about other maters, how anyone could know who their own children are. Clearly, it can't be because of genetics, since that would be unjust discrimination based on race: affording free shelter and food to someone because they happen to come from the same "people" or "stock" would be declared "racist" in virtually every other context. And it can't be because the state says they are your children, since the state itself would have to have criteria to make that judgment, and that criteria can't include "genetics," "tradition," "common sense," or the unity of husband of wife and their natural moral responsibility for the progeny that springs from that union, since such notions, as we are told by our intellectual masters, are mere bigotries of the uncouth and unenlightened. And thus they are on-par with the most vulgar injustices in the history of mankind. Moreover, the fact a man would give preference to his own genetic progeny rather than those of strangers, and that the state provides an imprimatur and encouragement (and sometimes funding) to that arrangement, seems to violate equal protection against orphans, the "children" of negligent "parents," and those other children for whom he was not the paternal cause and yet require his assistance and resources
So, I have two questions: Do you really know who your parents are? And do you really know who your children are? And if you answer yes to both, what would be the ground of that judgment?
June 19, 2009
I can't stay mad at Lawrence Auster for long...
Even though the feeling clearly isn't mutual:
(I mean, my heavens! It seems that I have "the reading comprehension of a six year old," I'm "moronic," I'm acting "out of bad will"...)
(Oh, and [unkindest cut of all] I'm "passive aggressive," too!)
Luckily, I have a deeply, almost criminally, insensitive nature - not to mention extensive experience dealing with the only guy on the internet who might just possibly have an even thinner skin combined with even more creative exegetical skills than Lawrence Auster's.
Anyway, be all that as it may, most of the stuff that Auster posts on his website every day is more worth a read than most of the stuff that you'll find on the average "conservative" website. And he can't stop me checking in, or linking.
'Tis respectability doth make cowards of us all
In Steve Burton's thread on the UKIP, commentator Old Atlantic said,
They aren't hated like BNP is. They are respectable, so they will chicken out in the end to do anything.
Well, I think of myself as a cynic, but that one made even me blink. Yet one can see the point. And that point leads to the following depressing conjecture:
Every political party that at time t is conservative and not loony will eventually either cease to be conservative or become loony at some time t+.
One cause of this dynamic is the fact that plain, ordinary, traditional conservative views are as much hated by the left and treated as being as much beyond the pale as really crazy views. In the present (new) stage of the culture war, the shrillness is reaching a point of diminishing returns, and it is hard to tell how much more shrill the left could be about, say, a person who believes that homosexual acts are immoral if instead he were a Holocaust denier. It's the grade inflation of leftist outrage.
A perhaps unexpected effect of this is that, to hold on to one's conservative moral views, one has to be prepared to be thoroughly hated and demonized. But once you get inured to being thoroughly hated and demonized, you sometimes find yourself in the same group with people with other views for which they are hated and demonized, who have latched onto your party. I've called this elsewhere (though I don't have time to find the link, and it was in a combox) "ideological static cling." Hence, unfortunately, the ranks of R.P. supporters (please do not mention his full name in the comments thread for fear of Google-led trolls) contained a disproportionate number of 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and the 9/11 conspiracy theorists also courted the Constitution Party candidate and were, at least, not completely rebuffed. Similarly, the super-traditional followers of Lefebvre among Roman Catholics ended up, embarrassingly, containing at least one Holocaust-denying bishop.
If, on the other hand, a party purges these loony elements, there is the very real sociological danger that the party will become worried about respectability in and of itself, which will inevitably lead, under pressure from the left, to their losing their original conservative credentials.
What do my readers think about this dynamic? And can anything be done about it?
June 20, 2009
Will Wonders Never Cease?
Obama almost, kinda, sorta, makes a forceful statement on Iran:
"The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.
"...If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion..."
Well - take that, Ayatollah Khamenei!
I only hope that Daniel Larison & like-minded "paleo-cons" won't be too put out by this, after they've spent the whole last week defending Obama's previous see-no, hear-no, speak-no-evil approach to the current regime in Iran, while damning the dreaded "neo-cons" for suggesting that slightly stronger rhetoric might just possibly be in order.
This Must Not Be Lost...
...in a combox.
Frank Beckwith writes:
June 22, 2009
Christian evangelization of Muslims forbidden in...Dearborn
Readers may remember this story from almost exactly a year ago. In Birmingham, England, police forbade Christians from passing out Christian tracts and speaking to Muslims about Christianity on the street in a "Muslim area." News from what Auster calls the Dead Island, right?
Well, yes, but now via Jihad Watch comes word of something unpleasantly similar happening in our beloved United States, in Dearborn, Michigan. Every year, a group called Arabic Christian Perspective sends its representatives to walk (on the public sidewalks) among the people attending the Arab International Festival in Dearborn and to distribute Christian literature to them. As a courtesy, ACP notifies police in advance of its intention to do this, and this year the police told them they couldn't. Instead, they would have to man a booth in a restricted area. At first, they were offered a centrally located area, but later they were arbitrarily moved to a location on the fringes of the festival. A federal judge refused to issue a restraining order against the police, so ACP has had to obey the police for this year. Be it noted that, according to the ACP's lawyer, this ban does not apply generally to any group wishing to distribute literature at the festival and, indeed, has not applied to the ACP in the past. So there is no question of this being merely business as usual. Moreover, as there is no evidence that any other group has been treated in this way (I suppose PETA would, if they wanted, be able to walk about and distribute pamphlets on the alleged cruelty of Muslim slaughter techniques, for example), there is every reason to believe that this is content-based and targeted at the Christian group because of the nature of their message and the Muslim context. It could even be that the police are afraid that the Christians could be attacked and are sincerely concerned for their safety, but protecting innocent people engaging in legal activities is, after all, what police are for. "These thugs might beat you up if they don't like what you are saying, so you have to shut up" is not, repeat not, the American way. A freedom of speech lawsuit has been filed on the group's behalf in federal court. At least we have that recourse in the U.S. We'll see how the suit comes out.
The lawyer has said that he intends to advise his clients next year not to pre-notify the police of their intentions. That should be interesting. If Dearborn police wander about the festival specifically looking for Christians to round up on the basis of the literature they are distributing, that should be a knock-down for a new lawsuit. In fact, it would be a great idea for friends and associates of the ACP to go out distributing some entirely different type of literature, something that might somehow be deemed "Muslim-friendly," to see what happens to them. But I don't know what the legal ramifications are of such "reverse sting" operations.
It can happen here. It is happening here. The consequences of mass Muslim immigration (Dearborn is 30% Muslim) continue.
Lincoln Open Thread (but be careful)
The status of Lincoln in Conservative iconography has long been hotly disputed. To my way of thinking, it cannot but continue to be disputed, though one hopes that the heat of bitterness and acrimony will diminish. Lincoln is one of the most enigmatic and captivating of all historical figures. He blazes across the firmament of human history an impenetrably bright comet, its luminance tragically extinguished before anyone could get a good handle on its true inner character. I have heard it said that nothing is surer to boost the sales of any sort of book than the insertion of the word "Lincoln" in the title. Seems plausible. The man whose first and perhaps greatest talent was chopping wood (and I am not the sort of man to denigrate so ancient and sacred a talent as that) made use of the minimal instructional resources at hand to produce an intellect prodigious in practical political shrewdness, in farsighted statesmanship, in humor, in creative philosophical speculation, and above all in the art of rhetoric. How can this be? It is a question that will ring from sea to shining sea until this Republic is no more, and beyond.
The enigma of Abraham Lincoln, I submit, precludes us from dogmatizing as his final status for or against Conservatism. Men can and should present their views on the matter, but they should keep in mind the essential mystery of this statesman, and the sadly incomplete nature of his testimony to mankind. I myself have vacillated wildly over the years. I have written in the past of Lincoln as a kind of American Richelieu, "a consolidator and statesman of genius, an amalgam of despot and patriot, whose project by its very success wounded liberty, but who nonetheless commands admiration for his singular greatness in trying times." At other times I have written of my great sympathy for Harry Jaffa's protrayal of Lincoln.
The soundest claim of his Conservatism, in my view, takes cognizance of his remarkable expounding of Natural Law through both statesmanship and philosophy. Virtually no American established more forcefully the authority of a transcendent order of justice, to which men owe obedience as individuals and as communities, than Abraham Lincoln.
All the world is in revolt against Natural Law, and it is Lincoln's distinction to have anticipated certain strains of that revolt when they were in their infancy, and laid out an unparalleled edifice of thought and action to counteract them.
In any case, at the request of our illustrious Steve Burton, I present this post as a Lincoln Open Thread, with the caveat that dogmatic polemics, though common enough on Lincoln-related threads, are not welcome here. Let us keep to the sort of generosity and good will with one's opponents that Chesterton so often exemplified. Below the fold is a section of Willmoore Kendall's review of Crisis of the House Divided from National Review in 1959, which I present as further food for thought.
June 22 - Feast Day of St. Thomas More (1478-1535)
From the website of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Austin, Texas:
He was, of course, a man for all seasons...
...a classical scholar, a humanist, a statesman, a politician, a man of prayer, the author of the famed Utopia, a theologian, and a lawyer by profession.
And yet, St. Thomas More is also a man for our times and a model for us today as we strive to serve God in our social, religious, and familial relationships.
His contemporaries knew him to possess a keen wit, a merry sense of humor, and a great common sense. He was a warm and friendly man who always seemed more concerned about the needs of his friends than his own needs. His friendship extended to looking after the poor in his village and to singing in his church choir.
June 24, 2009
The materialist shell game
Don't be taken in! Some more philosophy of mind, over at my personal blog.
There's a structural problem...
...for successful conservative male politicians.
As conservative politicians, they are bound (morally speaking) to uphold heterosexual monogamy as the foundation of civil society.
Which, of course, it is.
But, as successful males, they are also bound (a-morally speaking) to cheat on their wives - men being what they are, and the opportunities for successful males being what they are.
Add in the all-seeing gaze of the modern media, and the only conservative male politician who can possibly succeed in the long run in the U.S.A. today must be either a saint or a eunuch.
Rare folks, these days, saints & eunuchs...
The tragedy of usury.
Writing at The New Ledger, Francis Cianfrocca lucidly explains the precarious financial condition of the Republic. In the course of this he also provides some very useful economic history about how we got where we are. The answer to how we got here is deeply entangled with the geopolitics that emerged after the devastation of the World Wars and the Depression.
One way of looking at it is that we got here because after those historic calamities, concentrated in Europe, no one was left with the credibility to anchor world finance -- no one except America. "The bottom line is that the United States exports dollars, which function as a store of value in the global trading system much as gold did in the past."
Let it be noted that this settlement -- generally referred to as Bretton Woods, after the resort in New Hampshire where the victors in the Second World War met to begin the work of bringing to the ravaged world to a workable system of finance -- faciliated an expansion of wealth almost unparalleled in history. Under the operation of this settlement, both Germany and Japan were restored to a level of prosperity which would have been unthinkable to most observers at point of their ruin and subjugation after the war. Under the operation of a modified version of this settlement, China, India, and other nations in Asia have similarly witnessed an explosion of productive economic activity which has lifted countless millions out of grinding privation. And under the operation of the settlement, Americans became the richest people ever to walk the earth. The accomplishments of Bretton Woods should not be overlooked.
The problem here, as I see it, is that the position of the United States as the fons et origo of the world's reserve currency, the primary "store of value in the global trading system," presented extraordinary moral and even spiritual vulnerabilities. In a word, it exposed us to Usury on a staggering scale.
June 25, 2009
Family Values comes to medical ethics--Conservatives, do not fall for this
The invaluable Wesley J. Smith, who is now on a well-deserved vacation, posted just before he left a link to this sickening little article on the site of The Hastings Center. In the course of discussing it, Smith alerts me to something I'd never heard of before: The culture of death in medical ethics is now trying to pass itself off as "family values" in ethics.
Reading the Hastings article, I see the rhetoric. There's a reason why Socrates hated the sophists so much. I imagine they were very effective in their day and in their way. And conservatives, especially conservatives of a particular sort who regard themselves as anti-individualist, may be especially vulnerable to the kind of snake oil being peddled here.
Let me explain:
June 26, 2009
Jonah Goldberg on the media and Michael Jackson's death
Over at NRO, Jonah Goldberg offers some nice insights on the way the media have covered Michael Jackson's passing. Here is an excerpt:
[H]is relatively early death wasn’t “tragic.” He was one of the richest people in the world. He spent his money on perpetual childhood and he was perpetually with children not his own.
Meanwhile, in the last ten days, we’ve seen or heard of remarkable people who’ve given their lives for freedom in Iran. We’ve heard of innocents killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the last decade, America has lost thousands of heroes in noble causes and thousands of innocent bystanders who were denied the simple joys of life through no fault of their own. Those deaths are tragic, and we're hard pressed to think of more than a handful of names to put with the long line of the dead.
If anything, Michael Jackson’s life, not his death, was tragic....
I feel sympathy for Jackson’s family and friends who understandably mourn him. But I can't bring myself to mourn him any more than I mourn the random dead I read about in the paper everyday. Indeed, I confess to mourning him less.
Every channel says this is a sad day for America. I agree. But not for the same reasons.
You can read the whole thing here.
(Originally posted on First Thoughts at First Things)
Religion is Knowledge Too
A commercial from Macedonia. (HT: Inside Catholic)
"Alas, our well-educated young people are finding that their lives are being ruined by a despotic tyranny.
"'Students who failed to understand the words "despotic tyranny" have been complaining about their history A-level exam.
"'It is claimed the question "How far do you agree that Hitler's role 1933-45 was one of despotic tyranny?" was too confusing for some students to understand.
"'A protest group called Despotic Tyranny Ruined My Life has been set up on Facebook.
"'So far 1,151 people have joined the group, leaving comments such as "My life is DESTROYED because of this exam. Seriously" and "This exam made me sad.'
"What's at once impressive, pathetic and sad are the self-righteous complaints of the students. Look and despair. These are next year's university intake..."
June 27, 2009
Design, Theism, and Romans 1:20
At the 11th Hour, the Cardinal seems to get it right
After dragging out the process for a good, long, time (for no apparent good reason), Cardinal Sean O'Malley is to be commended for withdrawing Caritas Christi at the 11th hour from a joint venture in which an insurance company half-owned by Caritas would have provided abortion and sterilization to the poor in Massachusetts. According to the Boston Globe story, the insurance venture is now wholly owned by the secular Centene Corporation, rather than being 49% owned by the Catholic charity company as it previously was. According to the story, Caritas Christi's hospitals will receive patients covered by the Centene venture, as they receive patients covered by other insurance companies. Patients seeking abortions will be told that they must contact their insurance company--in this case the Centene-owned Celticare. Caritas claims that this represents no change from their previous policy regarding patients seeking abortions, which I would say is plausible enough.
Apparently, this means that Caritas isn't getting a contract with the state and is, rather, just continuing business as before. The contract with the state is now merely with Centene-owned Celticare, and Caritas can go back to doing things as it always did. That, at least, is how this is being reported, and I hope that it is true.
Some have implied that the financially distressed Caritas will go out of business altogether if it does not get this contract with the state. Naturally, I hope that this does not happen, though a Christian organization should certainly not provide abortions as the price of continuing to stay in business. If Caritas stays afloat without the state contract, this will only make the original intention to seek the contract with all its illegitimate requirements all the more blame-worthy and unmitigated.
June 29, 2009
Richard’s Holiday Camp
New Atheists like Richard Dawkins feign outrage at any suggestion that their creed itself amounts to a kind of religion – even as (for example) they issue their own suggested revisions of the Ten Commandments (see The God Delusion, pp. 263-4). Now, a reader informs me, Dawkins has decided to sponsor his own version of Bible Camp. I kid you not. All Dawkins needs now is a camp song; have fun coming up with your own lyrics.
Global Bioethics Conference in Deerfield, Illinois, July 16-18
What's Wrong With the World readers in the greater Chicagoland area may be interested in an upcoming conference on Global Bioethics sponsored by the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. It will be held July 16-18, 2009 on the campus of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois. Among the featured speakers are yours truly, O. Carter Snead (Notre Dame Law School), and David P. Gushee (Mercer University). You can find out more about the conference here.
(Originally posted on First Thoughts, a First Things blog)
June 30, 2009
Christina Hoff Sommers on Myths in Feminist Scholarship
Lemon's Domestic Violence Law is organized as a conventional law-school casebook — a collection of judicial opinions, statutes, and articles selected, edited, and commented upon by the author. The first selection, written by Cheryl Ward Smith (no institutional affiliation is given), offers students a historical perspective on domestic-violence law. According to Ward:
"The history of women's abuse began over 2,700 years ago in the year 753 BC. It was during the reign of Romulus of Rome that wife abuse was accepted and condoned under the Laws of Chastisement. ... The laws permitted a man to beat his wife with a rod or switch so long as its circumference was no greater than the girth of the base of the man's right thumb. The law became commonly know as 'The Rule of Thumb.' These laws established a tradition which was perpetuated in English Common Law in most of Europe."
Where to begin? How about with the fact that Romulus of Rome never existed. He is a figure in Roman mythology — the son of Mars, nursed by a wolf. Problem 2: The phrase "rule of thumb" did not originate with any law about wife beating, nor has anyone ever been able to locate any such law. It is now widely regarded as a myth, even among feminist professors.
A few pages later, in a selection by Joan Zorza, a domestic-violence expert, students read, "The March of Dimes found that women battered during pregnancy have more than twice the rate of miscarriages and give birth to more babies with more defects than women who may suffer from any immunizable illness or disease." Not true. When I recently read Zorza's assertion to Richard P. Leavitt, director of science information at the March of Dimes, he replied, "That is a total error on the part of the author. There was no such study." The myth started in the early 1990s, he explained, and resurfaces every few years.
Read the whole thing here.
To the puzzlement of many, one of the first changes our new President made to the White House was sending back to Britain a bronze bust of Sir Winston Churchill that had watched over the Oval Office since the September 11th attacks. There was little explanation for this gesture, or hint of its significance.
The significance of Churchill for Americans, and for all mankind, need hardly be hinted at. He was the greatest statesman of the calamitous twentieth century, and among its greatest men of letters.
Fortunately, though America now lacks the bronze of the great man, thanks to ISI, a small publisher out of Wilmington, Delaware, we no longer lack a current edition of one of his neglected literary works. ISI has brought forth a new printing of Churchill’s 1932 collection of essays, Thoughts and Adventures, and we are all the richer for so superb and enjoyable a read.