Thursday, November 30, 2006

Patterns of Dissent

In seeing how people justify dissent from Church teachings, some patterns emerge:

  • ”Just as bad as...”
    Here, the bishops might make a statement claiming that one questionable act is in the same general class as another act which is more indisputably condemned. For example, they might say that contraception moves the marital act away from its ideal, and toward things like lying and encounters with prostitutes, those who which to defend the questionable act flop to the floor about how mean the bishops are to draw such a moral equivalence, and claim they lose credibility by doing so. Examples include editorials in Commonweal and NCR in response to the bishops’ statements on human sexuality. Andrew Sullivan is a master at this one. I’ll admit to doing this myself at times.

    I’m not sure what can be done to confront this. It strikes me as an attempt to evade a Cross. This is an understandable response to being confronted with a cross – why should I have to carry a cross? I’m not as bad as those other people over there! But it is still not correct.

  • ”Human Experience
    Both of these editorials cited above also cite “human experience” as a reason for the bishops to reconsider their positions. Another flavor of this is to say that the teachings are nice in the ideal, but out of touch with the reality on the ground, as was often done to oppose the Magisterium’s categorical condemnation of torture.

    Robert Araujo comments on this nicely. It’s not at all clear that the “human experience” that leads one to oppose these teachings in not human experience that should inform the positions the Church takes on these issues. It is a vague phrase – never specified, likely because it boils down to selfishness.

    Yes, I am aware there are heart-breaking circumstances that might lead one to favor positions contrary to the Church. There are good reasons a couple might not want to have more children. I deal with one myself. But I don’t believe that the dissent from the Church’s teaching is based on these hard cases anymore than support for abortion is driven by compassion for victims of rape and incest.

    I think the typical couple that dissents from this teaching could accept more children into their lives if they were willing to forego some non-essential material comforts our ancestors never dreamed of like cable television, cellular phone service, a second car, or some meals out. I’m not saying that giving these things up would be easy, but it strikes me as a poor reason to tell Mother Church she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

    I think those inclined to dissent from these teachings know it to, which is why they don’t say it in detail but hide behind the squishy “human experience” term. That way, the reader can see it as a couple that already has three children with CF that is just scraping by, when in reality the writer is thinking about a couple that doesn’t want to have to miss the next season of The Sopranos

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Though she almost ruins her piece by stretching things passed the point of credibilty at times (e.g. the "nuclear option" was not actually executed, and IMO would not have been the blow to democracy McWhorter makes it out to be), I think Diane McWhorter makes some good points about the dangers of our putting Nazism on its own unique evil pedestal.

During the Dick Durbin flap, it amazed me that the Administration and its defenders actually were trying to move Durban's words in the direction of a direct equivalence with Nazism. Then, they could invoke Godwin's law, discredit Durbin, game, set, match.

To me, this is stunning. And it seems to create a perverse incentive. If you're going to enact policies that have somewhat fascist overtones, you may as well go all the way and get as close to the line of absolute fascism as you can. That way, you'll probably attract a comparison to Nazi Germany, which you can use to discredit not only that critic but more measured criticisms as well. You make the story about that -- the press and blogosphere will eat it up, since it's more interesting than investigating the ins and outs of legitmate criticism.

Thus, "not as bad as Nazi Germany" becomes our new moral standard. And indeed, "not quite as bad as Nazi Germany" becomes a preferable position to "somewhat questionable."

It's time to take the Nazis off the pedestal.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Weekend Football Roundup

Michigan Loses to Ohio St.; Remains No. 2

That seems about right. Ohio St. won the game, so they deserve to be number one, and it's had to think there's another team in the three-pont difference between Michigan and Ohio St.

That being said, I do have a problem with that No. 2 ranking translating into a rematch in the BCS Championship Game. Michigan had their crack at the Buckeyes; they didn't take advantage of it. None of the other teams may be "as deserving," but Michigan definitely isn't.

To put my cards on the table, I've never thought that a college football season ending with some ambiguity over who was the "national champion" was a tragedy. The BCS has resulted in some great games -- last year's Rose Bowl, the Ohio St.-Miami game from a couple years ago -- so I like it as far as it goes. But I never thought it was a grave injustice if the two best teams didn't match up with each other in a bowl game. It's nice to know what your ceiling is, but if you need to be declared "national champion" in order to feel good about an undefeated seaon, there's something wrong. It's not enough to win all your games -- you must be declared better than everyone else.

So I've also never been in favor of a playoff system. It would remove the last semblance that these guys are supposed to be students, for one thing. Also, as last year's baseball season demonstrated, a playoff does not guarantee identifying the best team.

I also think the BCS has concentrated too much attention on the teams in contention for the No. 1 ranking. For example, last year's Heisman nominees were Reggie Bush, Matt Lienart, and Vince Young, all of whom were in the national championshop game. Lienart one the previous Hiesman. The year before, Leinart won it for #1 USC. The year before that, Jason White won it for #1 Oklahoma. Now, I know there's usually a correlation between outstanding individual performances and team success, but this seems beyon conincidental.

I propose one change to the BCS system -- you must win your conference in order to be in the champtionship game, and each conference must declare a champion. This would prevent re-matches, and things like Nebraska getting to the championshop game despite not even getting to its on conference title game. It would also return some focus to winning your own conference instead of positioning yoursel for a national title.

Panthers Shut Out Rams

Stick a fork in the Rams -- they're done. Without Orlando Pace, the Rams couldn't protect Bulger, which takes away their two Hall of Fame-caliber receivers. This will not end well. I don't see Bulger making it through to the end of the year.

McNabb out for year

The Eagles are done, too.

I had high hopes for this year. I thought that with the Owens thing in the rear view mirror, the Eagles could be poised for a good year. But things never quite came together, and you wonder if their window has close.


  • Not too worried about the Colts, despite their loss.
  • The Rutgers ride was fun while it lasted.
  • This was one of the oddest endings I've seen, with Denver seeming to want to blow the game, and San Diego not quite letting them.

    These odd endings seem to happen a lot in prime-time games, by the way.
  • If you don't have the NFL network, you will miss NFL games! I like how they worded these ads to make you think you'll miss games you would have seen in previous years, and try to make you think you'll miss playoff games.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Futile Suffering

Via MOJ, and NRO, we have a quote from Jim Holt that neatly encapsulates where we're going wrong in our culture:

the decision to kill ill or disabled babies should be governed by “a new moral duty,” namely, “the duty prevent suffering, especially futile suffering.” Holt writes: "To keep alive an infant whose short life expectancy will be dominated by pain — pain that it can neither bear nor comprehend — is, it might be argued, to do that infant a continuous injury."

I know I should ground my arguments in secular terms, but for people of a religion whose symbol is their God nailed to a cross, the idea that we can determine what is "futile suffering" is repugnant.

This, I think is the biggest disconnect between American culture and the Gospel of Life -- American culture makes no room for the Cross, not room for the sactifying power of suffering. If the path ahead leads to suffering, we buy our way out of it. If that means destroying some embryos that's fine, so long as they're not developed enough to suffer.

Out culture is built not around maximizing joy and happiness but around minimizing human suffering. We think we can get to Easter Sunday without Good Friday.

We haven't been effective in witnessing to it, maybe because we don't completely believe it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Of Drunks and Streetlamps

This post reminds me that as documents trickle out of the USCCB conference, we'll need to read them using my guide.

It's important to remember that the purpose of the bishops' teaching is not to instruct the faithful, but to affirm what you already know to be true (even if it's that the bishops are bunch of harsh bigots or spineless squishes). So, please do not allow anything that comes out of the conference to change your beliefs or attitudes. Rather, our task is to evaluate the documents based on how effective they are in affirming what we already believe.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Babies and bathwater

Via MOJ, a Commonweal post by Cathleen Kaveny listing framing methods used by conservative Catholics and other religious people that she hopes will go by the wayside.

1. A Manichean world view: it’s Good v. Evil, the forces of light v. the forces of darkness. And by the way, WE are GOOD.

Fair enough -- we could do with more self-examination.

2. A delight in demonizing the opposition: who could see anything good in the forces of darkness? How could the forces of darkness have any point worth considering whatsoever?

Also fair enough -- those who differ with us do so for what are good reasons that are typically rooted in compassion. We thing it's misguided compassion, but it will not be guided in the correct direction by us yelling about how evil they are, and by engaging them, we can make policies that work for all involved.

3. An inability to recognize hard questions, and to acknowledge good faith disagreement about difficult moral and political issues. To Catholic culture warriors, the question of stem-cell research, or the Terri Schiavo case, weren’t even hard questions. The very suggestion that they are hard questions proved your moral turpitude.

Eh, not so fast. Some questions aren't hard. It shouldn't be hard to know that theft is wrong. Or rape. Or, yes, wars of aggression and torture. For someone to suggest that these are hard questions suggests that some self-deception is going on.

And yes, it is hard for me to see how one can fail to recognize that destroyin one human life for another's benefit is wrong and something we shouldn't do. And that if all someone needs to continue to live is to be fed, we should continue to feed her. We were reminded in last week's Gospel how simple morality really is. Difficult, but simple. Pretending that it's complicated yes, is usually a sign of moral turpitude. Perhaps pointing this out isn't the best choice for an initial approach in engaging these people, but we shouldn't pretend it's not the case.

4. An ends-justifies-the-political-means mentality. If what it takes to rid the world of Saddam is prevarication on WMDs, so be it. If what it takes to save Terri Schiavo is to violate settled principles of federalism, so be it.

And now I'm officially off the bus.

End-means justification is perfectly fine so long as the means are not intrinsically immoral. I wouldn't normally rip off another person's sweater, but I might to administer life-saving CPR.

I can accept that lying or embellishing evidence of WMD's was and is immoral. Bearing false witness and all.

But "violat[ing] settled principles of federalism" is not intrinsically immoral. And it seems especially odd to see this implied in an article arguing for nuance. If adhering to settled principles of federalism means sitting on our hands while a woman is starving, screw federalism. If adhering to settled principles of federalism means botching a post-hurricane relief effort because things like that are really the states' responsibility, screw federalism!

Yes, I know -- federalism was more of a post-hoc excuse for the pathetic effort thatn a guiding principle for the governement's (non)-actions. But still, we all recognize that getting people out of a flooded city is a higher moral principle than federalism

5. An inability to see nuance, or to take into account anything but one moral principle at a time. Abortion is the taking of innocent human life. Nothing else needs to be said. Therefore it should always be illegal, even in cases of rape or incest. If you think the question of the woman’s consent to sex is at all relevant to the legal status of abortion, you’re the enemy.

In the paragraph above, Kaveny was suggesting that we sacrifice Terry Schiavo on the altar of federalism; now she's criticizing others for letting one moral principle wiegh to heavily?

Also, if I'm not mistaken, our own President Bush holds the position that Kaveny describes as that of the "enemy." And I thought he was the guy we were too attached to.

And what, exactly, is the moral principle that says that fetuses conceived by rape do not have a right to life?

6. A preference for the stick rather than the carrot – after all, you can’t fight a war with a carrot. Support marriage by banning gay marriage; don’t provide married couples with the social support and other resources they need to make their commitment stick. Be pro-life by banning abortion, not by voting for social services that will prevent unwanted pregnancies or help mothers and fathers make a long-term commitment to raise children.

Listen, I like things like the 95-10 initative. And banning abortion does not discharge our duty to babies conceived in difficult circumstances. But it is the necessary first step. Yes, first.

I know I'm displaying the characterisic lack of tolerance and recognition of nuance by even drawing this parallel, but if someone in the 1850's said that the best way to address the injustice of slavery is not to ban it, but to offer incentives and support to southern plantation owners so they could compete wihout access to slave labor, how seriously would you take his opposition to slavery. If you were a slave and had the ability to vote, would you vote for the candidate who proposed this solution (along with a commitment to never criminalize slavery), or the candidate who wanted to criminalize slavery?

Yes, there I go again, seeing things from only one side. But there is an injustice being done. And a prerequisite for effectively addressing it is legally recognizing it as an injustice.

I agree we could all do with a healthy dose of humility and compassion when we enter into debates. We should recognize that our adversaries are not neccesarily our enemies. But we shouldn't pretend not know what we know.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Midterm Reactions

Amendment 2 Approved

I was somewhat giddy(see 8:12 comment) at the thought this would fail, but it appears to have passed.

So, the pro-ESCR crowd managed to buy their amendment. I hope they're happy with themselves. I found this especially rich:

Donn Rubin, of the Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, said, “We've known for a long time that a large majority of Missourians support stem cell research. Unfortunately, the issue was clouded to a great extent in the last few weeks ... I think that's why the margin of victory was as narrow as it was.”

Ah, yes, pity the poort Amendment 2 advocates, with their 30 to 1 money advantage and array of star power, who nevertheless had the issue clouded. Perhaps if they had built their case honestly, instead of hyped promises, they wouldn't have been open to such "clouding." I mean really, how can a campaign that ran ads in pretty much every commercial break for the last month dare to complaing about their issue being "clouded?"

Oh, well..

McCaskill defeats Talent

I think Jim Talent is a decent guy who got caught up in the anti-GOP current, and lost because of it. And I am not expecting anything special from McCaskill in the Senate.

This may seem like sour grapes, but it looked to me over the past week that Talent's heart wasn't in it. I think he was tired of trying to bridge the tension between running for himself and running from the party's unpopularity. When I saw him give his concession speech last night, he seemed relieved, glad he doesn't have to play this game anymore.

He's still a young man, hopefully he'll do some more good things.

Dems take House

No skin off my nose. I think Washington needs a shake-up.

The big issue this would seem to have an impact on is immigration, which I'm not too firmly on one side or the other.

I saw Dan Murtha interviewed on NBC last night, and if he takes on a leadership position, I think his reputation is going to suffer. He looked to me like he has one gear -- angry. He couldn't take "yes" for an answer.

Yes, Dan, your anger about the Iraq war is understandable. But you just won the election, and now you have to govern. And blind rage isn't going to do it.

If he becomes House majority leader, I expect he'll become a punch line for a lot of Letterman and Stewart jokes.

Dems appear to take Senate

This is a bit more troublesome for me, because of the judiciary. Bush has already demonstrated that judicial nominations is one area where he'll give a little bit. If there is another vacancy on the Supreme Court, I don't know that Bush has either the capital or the will to back a conservative nominee against a Democratic Senate.

This will be especially true if, as expected, Christian conservatives emerge as the scapegoats for the rout. Especially with Santorum going down. (Even though he went down to a socially conservative Democrat, and his defeat probably has more to do with his stubborn defense of the Iraq policy than his social positions). I mean, do we even need to read Andrew Sullivan today to know that he's saying that today's election results should serve as a wakeup call to the GOP that to remain relevant they need to break the chains with the "Christianists?" Let me check... Here it is! I suspect more will follow.

It'll be an easy bone for Bush to throw to nominate a "moderate," and distance himself from the now discredited Christian Right.


  • MO Cigarrette tax defeates -- Somewhat surprising to me. It's interesting to me that we'll gamble on embryonic research, which may or may not cure diseases, but we won't take serious measures to curtail smoking, which has more certain health benefits.

    Probably demonstrates that any initiative that has the word "tax" in it faces an uphill battles.
  • Minimum wage increase approved by wide margin -- It will be interesting to see how regions with higher minumum wages fare compared to those who have the federal one.
  • Tom Brokaw's "perspective" -- I suspect a high correlation between Tom Brokaw's "perspective" on what "America was saying" and Tom Brokaw's personal beliefs.
  • The New Divide Kaus says the red-blue divide may go away, and that may be true. I don't think either party can count on taking whole sections of the map anymore, especially the GOP in the central plains. In order to have power, the GOP will need to find a way to appeal to what were "blue states." They can't just write them off and count on winning the South and West. That's a good thing.

    But I think the red-blue state divide may be replaced by a lower scale urban-rural divide. Every state may be up for grabs (or at least open to Democrats), but regions remain solidly in one camp or another, especially with gerrymandering.

    This was driven home watching the results in Missouri come in last night. Amendment 2 was and McCaskill were trailing by 5-6 points most of the night. Then the results from the St. Louis and Kansas City cam in, and McCaskill and Amendment 2 surged ahead.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Pardon My Dust

I finally decided to ditch the ugly template this was on, and I'm still ironing out the kinks.