What’s Wrong with the World

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December 2013 Archives

December 2, 2013

Shocka! Sex education isn't neutral

For years and years, amounting to decades, social conservatives have been saying that sex education a) should be taught by parents and b) as taught in public schools is not neutral but in fact encourages sexual activity by unmarried kids.

The latter point has been pressed again and again in the following terms: When you present sexual activity to teens as just another option which they should know how to engage in "safely" if they should so choose, that very faux neutrality is not neutral, because it communicates that unmarried sexual activity is normal and expected. Making premarital sex just another part of life throws any stigma surrounding it out the window and even gives the impression that those who are remaining chaste are somehow different or odd. The very premise on which the programs are based--"Kids are going to have sex anyway"--will influence the way the programs are taught. Then, too, the explicitness of many programs, by teaching kids about all manner of sex acts which they do not need to know about, destroys any innocence which parents might have managed to keep for their children up to that point. (And please understand that comments on this post will be closely monitored and that graphic comments will be edited or deleted.)

All in all, the continued liberal pretense that sex education in K-12 schools has not increased sexual activity among minors is in conflict not only with empirical evidence (Thomas Sowell has written well on this topic) but also with common sense psychology.

Social conservatives have been saying all of that since the 70's, at least. And it's all true. But I think at this point we should face up to the fact that sex education in the schools has gone well beyond any mere implication that premarital sex is normal and expected.

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December 9, 2013

An army of tent makers

In my rather unusual situation as the wife of a Christian professor and as, myself, the author of a number of articles related to Christianity and the philosophy of religion, I have the opportunity to encounter a lot of wonderful men (and some women as well) who are passionately interested in influencing the world for Jesus Christ. This happens not only (and nowadays not even chiefly) in person but also through the Internet--first e-mail and now social media have opened up a whole world of people eager to "serve the kingdom" and to love God with their minds.

That's absolutely wonderful.

Let me take the opportunity, therefore, to give a couple of opinions that may be unpopular and that may run contrary to what others are saying. These are just my opinions; take 'em or leave 'em. But then again, this is a blog. I'm not publishing this in a journal or giving it as a lecture. So you can take my opinions with a grain of salt. But I have some reason to believe that, if I write this post and promote it on some social media sites, it will reach the type of audience I have in mind. So here goes:

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Dylan notes

Don’t ever suppose that Bob Dylan wrote or recorded inferior music in the era immediately after the famed mid-60s explosion.

What Dylan wrote in the late 60s and early 70s was more country than rock, more Southern than Yankee, and more happiness or regret than strife or rebellion; for these and other reasons it alienated many in the New York crowd. But it was still excellent songwriting. Both Nashville Skyline and New Morning are very fine albums. That they supply the bookends to Dylan’s season of artistic indifference to anti-Vietnam agitation, social radicalism, and personal narcissism, only demonstrates conclusively that, contrary to representations, his 60s diehards do not believe in “art for art’s sake,” that in other words they cannot separate their principles of life from their estimate of art. This is no strike, mind you, against the 60s diehards. We traditionalists have long insisted that “art for art’s sake” detachment is not possible; that what Richard Weaver called a man’s “metaphysical dreams” have constant and discernible impact on everything he does, including his art. Pure aesthetic detachment is not a power that we mortal men possess.

Were the 60s diehards to just abandon their mandarin pretense that they alone, cast as they are among the proles of America, can attain sufficient artistic detachment to profoundly grasp Bob Dylan, we could get down to the business of proving their politico-artistic judgment of his late 60s/early70s production wrong.

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December 16, 2013

Choice Devours Itself: Child euthanasia in Belgium as "choice"

Belgium's Senate just passed a law legalizing "chosen" child euthanasia. Apparently the law has a few more hurdles to go through; I don't know Belgium's legal system or how a law becomes fully passed. But equally apparently, this law is on a roll and is going to go through.

I am particularly struck by the fact that, though there is no lower age limit on this law, the child is being spoken of as a fully competent legal agent, capable of choosing not just to get an ear pierced, not just to purchase cigarettes, but death. The child is supposed to submit a written request. The mind boggles, imagining a six-year-old being guided by his parents or doctors to print in big letters "I want to die" with a couple of misspellings.

Some vague language is thrown in about the child's needing to "possess the capacity of discernment." I guess that means that technically babies can't request to be killed, but I will eat my hat if any doctor is ever prosecuted in Belgium for euthanizing a baby. See here for confirmation of that suspicion, especially this paragraph:

Several neonatologists have drawn up a procedure which enables euthanasia of premature newborn infants or those presenting a handicap in one of the three following instances: either the infant has no chance of survival, or it is deemed to only have a very mediocre quality of life, or the outlook is poor and it is felt that the infant will suffer unbearable pain.

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The Selfie Post

I am glad to say that until lately, I had never heard the cloyingly adolescent slang word, "selfie." Now that I have, though, there seems not much point in piling on to all the indignant commentary on the President's disgraceful conduct at the Mandela memorial. After all, we should expect nothing more from our chief executive, who has always been an eyelash (or a Washingtonian cover) away from becoming--speaking in strictly legal terms for a moment--a Kardashian. Having achieved a depressing kind of epistemic closure on the matter of Western decline, I am more interested in meta-commentary.

Readers of What's Wrong with the World may judge this Michael Goodwin column at the New York Post for themselves: "How the West was Lost by the Selfie President." It is good enough, if predictable. Predictable, that is, in its characteristically neoconservative refusal to get the point, grousing about some vaguery that is the decline of the West while straining to connect the whole affair to the administration's insufficient hawkishness in foreign affairs. We are supposed to nod gravely at his (inarguable) observation that such men as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill would have held in contempt men and women like Barack Obama and Helle Thorning Schmidt, whom Laura Wood aptly numbers among The Teenagers Who Rule Us.

Scroll down, if you dare, dear reader. Remind yourself that this column which, again, is good enough as far as it goes, appears in the digital pages of the New York Post. Ask yourself what Churchill would have had to say about a publication that referred its readership to such ennobling items as "21 Hot Pictures of Kate Upton in Honor of Her 21st Birthday," and "What Happened to Lady Gaga?" Ask yourself how seriously we are to take complaints about the decline of the West, and the childishness of its leadership, in the pages of a magazine that exhorts its readers to click over to a photo gallery of "Things You Can Get Away With When You're Drunk, but Not When You're Sober," which helpfully includes a sample image of a young woman passed out in the bathroom. (If that doesn't arouse your interest, simply refresh the page for more such links.) Finally, ask yourself what self-respecting conservative would permit his own work to float along in such a sea of refuse.

This particular episode of hypocrisy on the part of American Conservatism, Inc. is worth more than the usual dose of bitterness, since everyone involved, from our foolishly over-biting President to the professional conservatives who sell their outrage, is so eager to share the contents of his looking glass with the world that he cannot see the total nothingness that is reflected there. Some day I should compile such laughable contradictions--in which ostensibly conservative columnists and publications serve up red meat griping about the decline of the West, whilst simultaneously participating in it without any discernible pang of conscience--into a single post.

I think I have a title already: How the West Was Lost by the Selfie-Cons.

December 19, 2013

Call Me Sentimental

No, really. I dare you.

Alright, now that you've avoided that silly mistake, enjoy the following video. Yes, it's a commercial, but parents of young children will, I think, enjoy being manipulated by this latest viral ad banging its way around the interwebs:

December 22, 2013

Let the Duck Flap Give you a Lift This Christmas

First, full disclosure: I don't have TV channels and don't watch any regular TV shows, including Duck Dynasty. I have a computer and can see a lot of stuff on Youtube, and I have several DVD-capable computers and a free-standing DVD player, so I probably could if I wanted to, but I've never done so.

But I'm going to take it as read that I have a very general idea of the nature of the Robertson family and the show. And of course all of my readers know what has happened: Phil Robertson, family patriarch, expressed disapproval of homosexual acts in an earthily worded interview with GQ. He even, shocka, called the homosexual lifestyle sin. The A & E network then tried to slap him down by suspending him while oh-so-graciously not suspending the rest of his family members who are also on the show. Perhaps A & E was hoping that the family would bring him to apologize or would try to continue the show without him. The family, however, is holding firm and indicating that they will not go forward with the show without him and that they stand with him and approve of his comments as an expression of biblical morality.

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Mark Steyn, Booted and Spurred

As my devotion to the spirit of ecumenical conservatism latterly has been revealed to be rather shaky, please indulge me a Credit Where Credit is Due moment. Mark Steyn, whom I have elsewhere criticized in very harsh and dismissive terms, has posted a response to Jason Lee Steorts on l'affaire Duck Dynasty, and his response is of the scorched earth kind I wouldn't have expected to hear from him. It would seem that Steorts adheres to the "GLAAD is just using its right of free speech so nothing bad has happened here" school of cultural warfare. Steyn is having absolutely none of it, and his reply signifies that he grasps the real stakes in the ongoing homosexual Kulturkampf:

I’m not inclined to euphemize intimidation and bullying as a lively exchange of ideas – “the use of speech to criticize other speech”, as Mr Steorts absurdly dignifies it. So do excuse me if I skip to the men’s room during his patronizing disquisition on the distinction between “state coercion” and “cultural coercion”. I’m well aware of that, thank you. In the early days of my free-speech battles in Canada, my friend Ezra Levant used a particular word to me: “de-normalize”. Our enemies didn’t particularly care whether they won in court. Whatever the verdict, they’d succeed in “de-normalizing” us – that’s to say, putting us beyond the pale of polite society and mainstream culture. “De-normalizing” is the business GLAAD and the other enforcers are in. You’ll recall Paula Deen’s accuser eventually lost in court – but the verdict came too late for Ms Deen’s book deal, and TV show, and endorsement contracts.

This is an important point in a critical debate on the right. It simply will not do to bless the behavior of outfits like the Human Rights Campaign on the grounds that they are not engaged in anything illegal when they seek to destroy a man for violating some liberal piety or other. Steyn zeroes in on the same statement that nearly inspired me to write a post of my own on the subject, that is the facially totalitarian threat on the part of a GLAAD spokescreature that, having deprived Phil Robertson of his standing and no small part of his livelihood, it was now time to begin the "next step" of his re-education, namely that he sit down with a few real-life homosexuals and, presumably with some GLAAD-approved political officer on hand to guide the proceedings, get his mind right. Robertson will love Big Brother.

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December 23, 2013

RIP Dr. Edmund Daniel Pellegrino

Of all periodical literature, the obituary may boast of the most potential to simultaneously inform and uplift. Before I read this obit for Dr. Edmund Daniel Pellegrino I knew a little more than nothing about him; and now I feel a swell of warmth and excitement, not untouched by regret, about the possibility of learning something about this remarkable man.

Pellegrino was born on June 22, 1920 in Brooklyn. He attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, received an undergraduate degree from St. John’s University, and a medical degree from New York University. He interned at the famed Bellevue Hospital and, after a brief stint at a tuberculosis hospital, returned to Bellevue and NYU, specializing in internal medicine and the physiology of calcium in the kidney. Thereafter, he embarked on a career in academic medicine that would take most people several lifetimes to accomplish. He launched the primary care program at the hospital in Hunterdon, New Jersey, and before he was 40 became the first chairman of the department of medicine at the University of Kentucky. He was the first dean of Stony Brook University Medical School, chancellor for health sciences at the University of Tennessee, president of the Yale-New Haven Medical Center, president of the Catholic University of America, director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown, and founder of Georgetown’s Center for Clinical Bioethics, which was recently named in his honor. He received fifty-four honorary doctorates and numerous prestigious awards from medical associations and bioethics institutes. He was a member of the Institute of Medicine and a Master of the American College of Physicians.

Pellegrino began writing on the subject of medical ethics in the late 1950s, well before the word “bioethics” was coined. In 1969, he helped to found the world’s first formal bioethics society, the Society for Health and Human Values (precursor to the current American Society for Bioethics and Humanities), and served as its second president. He was founding editor of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy and a regular contributor on ethics for the Journal of the American Medical Association. He served as chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics during the second term of President George W. Bush, and as a U.S. representative to UNESCO for the development of its Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights.

An accomplished scientist and consummate clinician, Pellegrino still ran a lab while president of Catholic University and saw patients into his 90s. He was a scholar and teacher of extraordinary talent. His writings — twenty-three authored or edited books and over six hundred scholarly articles — were prolific and influential. He was a tireless lecturer of immense enthusiasm and a generous mentor to physicians, graduate students, and anyone who came to his office seeking advice and counsel.

He was also a deeply committed Catholic — Jesuit-educated, Thomistic in his philosophical temperament, active in an Archdiocesan program providing free care to the indigent of Washington, an advisor to bishops and to the Vatican.

America has obviously lost one of her greatest physicians. That I am not familiar with his work is a strike against my learning, but clearly not against Dr. Pellegrino’s stature.

Pellegrino also became a great champion of the role of virtue ethics in medicine, both in his writings and in a popular lecture on the topic over a succession of annual Intensive Bioethics Courses at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics. His teleological approach to medicine easily accommodated a virtue-ethics view. For Pellegrino, virtues such as competence, compassion, fidelity, integrity, respect, phronesis (prudence, or a practical wisdom), and self-effacement characterized the good physician; these virtues expressed excellence in achieving the healing ends of medicine. Moreover, anyone who knew Pellegrino also recognized how much he himself exemplified these virtues and served as a true role model of the good physician.

He was fully convinced that the healing mission of medicine precluded abortion, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide. Hewing to a consistent “seamless garment” approach to these issues, he just as vigorously opposed physician participation in capital punishment and advocated broader access to health care for all.

Virtue ethics is very interesting because according to its understanding, virtue expresses excellence in real human life. Now “real human life” clearly implies reference to circumstances and instances that are unique and unrepeatable. The education in virtue that life as a poor man’s son impresses is rather different in detail from the impress of life as a rich man’s son. Thus virtue always expresses its excellence under pressure from particular conditions.

In recent years a Catholic scholar at Marquette has persuasively located Adam Smith at the origin of virtue ethics. Smith’s hierarchy of virtue electrifies. The Scotsman was almost a mediaeval virtue ethicist. Catholics and admirers of Adam Smith will wrestle with this slim volume for many years. I’ve spent the last three months wrestling with it, and probably have many months to go. I also heard the author speak here.

These ramblings aside, my main purpose here is to encourage. Though the profession of medicine is oppressed, perhaps unto death, by love of death; though the imperious sanctimony of the inquisitors of the culture of death is no more evidence that in bureaucratized medicine; still we can be heartened to know that modern American medicine has produced such men as this.

RIP Dr. Edmund Daniel Pellegrino

December 24, 2013

Christmas: Something Real


One of the reasons that I oppose postmodernism so fiercely is that it teaches man to believe that there is no ultimate metaphysical reality on which to hang his hat. The buck never stops anywhere. There is no "closure."

That is a dangerously false idea, because it separates us from reality and the acknowledgement thereof, which is the way of salvation. In fact, I would argue that there is a sense in which all sin is the denial of reality.

The Incarnation is God's response, in the form of a gift that is undeniably real, to the problem of man's sin. That is not to say that only the physical is real. But, since man is a creature of flesh and blood, a creature of the senses, and since only through Christ's birth, life, and death can the atonement be accomplished, God brings His own Ultimate Reality to us in the form of flesh and blood: A baby. An undeniably real, historical child, born at a particular time, in a particular place, of a particular mother.

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December 29, 2013

Charity and Philanthropy

Modern philanthropy has a lot to answer for. As William Schambra expounds in this superb New Atlantis essay, the iniquities of the Lovers of Humanity go beyond their disgraceful embrace of eugenics to a deeper rejection of love itself. Preferring rational bureaucracy, distant, cold, calculating, to the humble warmth of human interaction, the philanthropists set out to do great things for mankind. They never cared to reflect on the evils they inflicted on particular men.

The statement of a British reformer goes to the heart of these philanthropic blunders:

The superficially sympathetic man flings a coin to the beggar; the more deeply sympathetic man builds an almshouse for him so that he need no longer beg; but perhaps the most radically sympathetic of all is the man who arranges that the beggar shall not be born.

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December 31, 2013



Some of our more faithful readers may have noticed a long overdue recent update here at the What’s Wrong with the World website – we’ve updated our homepage look and the blogroll. The first thing you’ll probably notice is the image in the upper right-hand corner has been changed to a picture of the famous Donatello Crucifix along with the quote from Chesterton’s “Ballad of the White Horse”. We felt that if this merry band of bloggers was going to be marching to do battle with the twin evils of jihad/liberalism (see below) then we’d like to do it under the banner of Christ crucified to help remind the world that “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” [1 Corinthians 1:18].

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