Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Save the Planet the Iowahawk Way!

My boy Iowahawk is back with these stylin' tips for taking care of Gaia:

Nearly ten years after the Kyoto accords, our planet continues to careen helplessly toward certain environmental destruction. The skies are choked with pollutants. Polar bears are plunging through the thinning ice caps. Ben Affleck is still having problems finding a decent comeback project.

Thankfully, with the new release of Al Gore's blockbuster eco-documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," the world is finally heeding the disaster looming on the horizon. But mere consciousness is not enough to cure our current climate ills - it takes action. Here are a few simple things you to put the planet on the road to recovery.

...3. Crush a Third World economic development movement. One of the most pressing threats facing our environment is rising incomes in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Only a generation ago, these proud dark people were happily frolicking in the rain forest, foraging for organic foods amid the wonders of nature. Now, corrupted by wealth, they are demanding environmentally hazardous consumer goods like cars and air conditioning and malaria medicine. You can do your part to stop this dangerous consumer trend by supporting environmentally aware leaders like Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro to foster an economy of sustainable low-impact ecolabor camps.

4. Don't Have Babies. Many people are shocked when they learn that fewer than 25% of the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild have been spayed or neutered. Sure, babies make great fashion accessories and it's fun to give them awesome names, like Kumquat Wildebeest Paltrow and Toploader Enchilada Cage. But these miniature humans will eventually grow and begin ravenously consuming the Earth's depleted reserves of aux pairs and psychotherapists.

Just doing my part to help out the cause.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Reason to Believe

As I mentioned the other day, I'd been following a thread on a science blog about the compatibility (or lack thereof) of science and religion. One of the interesting things about this kind of discussion, is that one finds oneself hitting up hard against the basic assumptions that people work off of, assumptions so basic that people have difficulty even realizing that they're making them.

One of the standard materialist assumptions appears to be that since there is (in the materialist's opinion) nothing more to the world than the physical world, then obviously the main purpose of religion must be to explain the material world. Thus, one commenter on the thread said this:

The late Douglas Adams told a story about a man who thought there were millions of tiny people inside television sets, shifting everything inside around. After an engineer friend sat him down and carefully walked him through the technical processes and mechanisms involved in forming tv images, the man eagerly embraced the new explanation. BUT he still figured that, for all that, there might be just a couple little men inside that tv set. You shouldn't rule them out.

I think the science vs. religion debate comes down to the theme behind this story. One method builds from the bottom up through dint of hard work and discipline: the other way follows intuitive top-down explanations. Cranes and skyhooks. Those who operate and understand cranes -- and who still look upward for skyhooks -- are not unlike the moderate gentleman who wants to reserve a couple little men inside that television set.

The conflict isn't that they couldn't be there. It's in understanding how they got there in the first place, and why there are now so few of them.
There's an annoyingly trite vibe to the story, which I think mostly stems from the clear implication that religious people are these ignorant rubes who, if they only understood how the world really worked, wouldn't have to believe that the world was run by the little men in their TV sets and the big man up in the sky. According to this meme (perhaps using a Dawkins term is appropriate...) these ignorant rubes become so attached to the emotional assurance of believing that they are surrounded by little magic men, that even when they're shown how the world really works they often insist there might be a few more somewhere, just for old times sake.

Certainly, this fits with a certain Enlightenment idea of why religion came about: All these poor benighted people were sitting around the camp fires thousands of years ago, wondering why the world was the way it was, and so they assumed that everything must be commanded by a god -- the sun god, the moon goddess, the fire god, the fertility god, the war god, the love goddess, etc.

Now, for the most ancient forms of paganism this way of looking at things is not wholly without merit, but I think it's still something of a simplification. Your average neolithic person doubtless knew the making of fire, the planting of crops, the phases of the moon and the cycle of the seasons far better than the average member of your local chapter of the Skeptics Society. To the extent that people deified fire, the celestial objects, the seasons, and so on -- I think one must find the source more in a "There must be more to it than the simple patterns I observe" line of thinking.

Another thing many people forget in assuming that the ancients invented gods to explain how the world got there is: A great many ancient religions assumed that the world was eternal. The idea of creation ex nihilo is fairly unique to the Judeo/Christian tradition. Some pagan mythologies assumed that the current world was formed from some sort of primordial neutral state. (There are echoes of this in the Genesis account, where the "waters" appear to have existed from the very beginning.) Other mythologies assumed some sort of great cosmic cycle in which the world was reformed at intervals, mirroring the cycle of the seasons.

One of the earliest materialist/atheist philosophies, Epicurianism, theorized that the universe consisted of atoms falling parallel to one another until (at certain random intervals) an atom swerved, causing collisions which created the material world, which would in turn degrade, and finally return to the primordial state of falling atoms, only for the cycle to repeat itself. (A cosmology with an oddly modern ring to it.)

Nor, when one reads about the period in which the Classic world became the Christian world, does one hear about the Christian explanation of the world's origins being a major (or even minor) factor. Was the Good News, "Lo, I say unto you that the world was created in six days and a union mandated work break"? No, the Gospel message which proved so powerful that it transformed the known world was that there was but one God, that He was infinite in goodness, love, mercy and justice, and that He had died to redeem us from our sins and lead us to life everlasting.

One of the beliefs found in nearly every culture the world over is that the human person is not a mere assemblage of water, carbon-based molecules and trace elements that for a while performs a complex series of chemical reactions that produce the experience we call "consciousness" but rather that there is something which truly is the person which departs the body at the moment of death. Some three thousand years ago, as the Iliad was being composed, the idea that some animating principle which contained the consciousness left the body at death was so obvious to the Greek bards that "his blood poured out upon the sand and his soul went howling into the underworld" (with numerous variations thereon) was the standard way of describing violent death.

I think the two greatest attractions of Christianity to the pagan world were firstly that there was but one Christian God, and that He was infinitely good, just and loving (compare that to the personality profile of most pagan deities) and secondly that there was hope for the just of a life everlasting significantly more compelling than either an endless repeat of one's life or a dreary, ghostworld existence. (See Odyssey XI and Aeneid VI for how dreary the classical conception of the afterlife was.)

It's not the little man in the TV questions that have, throughout history, caused people to turn to religion for answers. Rather, people seek from religion answers to the questions that no amount of knowledge about the physical world can hope to answer: Why are we here? Is there an afterlife? How do I lead a 'good' life?

Though an atheist himself, Douglas Adams provides a quote for every occasion. My own reaction to the materialist credo is drawn from the same author: The universe is a terribly big place. So big, indeed, the most people choose to live somewhere rather smaller of their own creation.

Update on Jack

Barb writes:
I just wanted to update you on Jack....unfortunately, he had to go back into the hospital last Wednesday because his blood counts were so low and he was running a fever. They put him on antibiotics and he was doing better. Now he has developed a secondary infection...they had expected him to get mouth sores, but instead he has gotten terrible sores on and in his bottom...they are very painful. He will be having a CT scan done to determine the extent of the infection. They have him on morphine and another antibiotic and told us he will probably be in the hospital all week. Very depressing for him and his parents...
We really do appreciate all your prayers...
Please keep praying for this little boy and his family. We've been asking for the intercession of the parents of St. Therese, Louis and Zelie Martin.

Venerable Louis and Zelie Martin, Servants of God,
You offered many prayers for your own sick children.
We unite our prayers with yours for Jack's healing.
May God look favorably on your intercession and, in His Mercy, grant us our request.
May His will be done in all things.

Venerable Louis and Zelie, pray for us!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Remembrance of Things Blast

Last Wednesday's WSJ featured an article about the remnants of World War I still surfacing in places like Ypres, Belgium.

The region saw (depending on how you count them) nine major battles during the course of 1917, as the allies fought to capture the town of Passchendaele, and the Germans tried to bleed the Allies dry in a war of attrition. Some half a million men died in the area during 1917, and as many as 15 million shells were fired in what became one of the most heavily shelled regions in military history.

Today, a 120 man bomb disposal unit from the Belgian army works the area year round. When live munitions are found (usually on a construction site or by a farmer plowing his fields) the unit is called in. There are too many munitions found each year for the soldiers to dispose of them in place. In stead the pack the shells in sand and haul them back to the military base, where shells are carefully identified before demolition. Shells containing poison gas are carefully drained under hazmat procedures. Then the shells are blown up. The soldiers have to stop work whenever a train passes downwind in case they fail to identify a gas shell before demolishing it.

While bomb disposal units in most of deal with the occasional unexploded bomb or shell from one of the world wars, the disposal unit in Ypres processes 330 tons on munitions in the average year, and this year is already looking like producing a record haul.

Many of the sites they clean up are ad hoc ammo depots of 12-20 artillery shells abandoned by one side or another. The scattered munitions cause a steady stream of 2-3 civilian casualties a year. Last year, two construction workers tried sawing through what they thought was an old pipe. It turned out to be an artillery shell which blew up, killing one and injuring the other. Two years ago, Mr. Cardoen-Descamps (who owns a farm and runs a museum/bed and breakfast with his wife) plowed over a buried shell in his field. The blow blade cut the shell open and struck a spark against the casing, sending a 30-foot-high flame into the air. A friend of his had a similar experience this year, which sent a piece of shrapnel clear through his tractor, but left the farmer unharmed.

As we approach the hundredth anniversary of the Great War, and it's events become a matter of history rather than memory, these explosive remnants of things past live on.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Who bringeth to my remembrance the sin of my infancy?

As I've been thinking about sparring toddlers, I thought a bit of Augustine might be appropriate.

Who bringeth to my remembrance the sin of my infancy ? For before Thee none is free from sin, not even the infant which has lived but a day upon the earth. Who bringeth this to my remembrance? Doth not each little one, in whom I behold that which I do not remember of myself? In what, then, did I sin ? Is it that I cried for the breast ? If I should now so cry,--not indeed for the breast, but for the food suitable to my years,--I should be most justly laughed at and rebuked. What I then did deserved rebuke; but as I could not understand those who rebuked me, neither custom nor reason suffered me to be rebuked. For as we grow we root out and cast from us such habits. I have not seen any one who is wise, when "purging" anything cast away the good.
--Confessions, Bk 1, Ch. VII
Sometimes when the girls fight, it's because they're tired or cranky or hungry. But often it's because of jealousy or selfishness. Anyone who says that children are naturally sweet and innocent hasn't seen how a toddler reacts when another kid starts playing with one of his toys, even one that he had no interest in before. It's selfishness -- of an irrational and uncalculated variety, but selfishness nonetheless.

13. Did I not, then, growing out of the state of infancy, come to boyhood, or rather did it not come to me, and succeed to infancy ? Nor did my infancy depart (for whither went it ?); and yet it did no longer abide, for I was no longer an infant that could not speak, but a chattering boy. I remember this, and I afterwards observed how I first learned to speak, for my elders did not teach me words in any set method, as they did letters afterwards; but myself, when I was unable to say all I wished and to whomsoever I desired, by means of the whimperings and broken utterances and various motions of my limbs, which I used to enforce my wishes, repeated the sounds in my memory by the mind, O my God, which Thou gavest me. When they called anything by name, and moved the body towards it while they spoke, I saw and gathered that the thing they wished to point out was called by the name they then uttered; and that they did mean this was made plain by the motion of the body, even by the natural language of all nations expressed by the countenance, glance of the eye, movement of other members, and by the sound of the voice indicating the affections of the mind, as it seeks, possesses, rejects, or avoids. So it was that by frequently hearing words, in duly placed sentences, I gradually gathered what things they were the signs of; and having formed my mouth to the utterance of these signs, I thereby expressed my will? Thus I exchanged with those about me the signs by which we express our wishes, and advanced deeper into the stormy fellowship of human life, depending the while on the authority of parents, and the beck of elders. -- Confessions, Bk 1, Ch. VIII

Reflecting on how much small children learn from their parents, not just from their words but from their actions as well, always gives me pause. My girls may well be picking up habits and quirks of behavior amd unconscious attitudes from me that they'll carry with them throughout their lives. The time to instill in a child what's most important to you is when they're young and pliable and molding themselves to their parents' routines -- I think it must be a common mistake to wait until kids are old enough to "understand" a routine before it's implemented. (I recall some point in my teenage years when my mother decided that we needed to call her "ma'am". It didn't fly with us -- we were too old for it to come naturally and it felt forced and showy. )

And here's a paper for all of you interested in learning more about the concept of child development in Book I of Augustine's Confessions:

1 Book I of Augustine's Confessions(1) contains a remarkable account of child development. The maturation from infancy to later childhood is presented in its relation to the Trinitarian spiritual principle which animates human life, which is both the principle of its creation and the end which it seeks. Augustine's account is thus vibrant and exacting because it has hold of the objective principle of human subjectivity, because it knows the spiritual logic of the development of human reason and will.

2 It is this comprehensive standpoint which allows Augustine to speak vividly to those in our own time, which accounts for his attractiveness to those who profess either modernity or post-modernity, and which in its full development allows us to profess both.(2) Augustine's portrait of child development does not fall into the trap of confining the contours of the human spirit to the patterns of his own specific social world. Were this the case he might be thought a guide to the cultural practices of North Africa under Roman dominion in the fourth century A.D. As such he might offer a sociology of child development but not a philosophy, and the significance of his account would be merely historical.

3 It is a genuine difficulty of our time to find in speculative thought a freedom which cannot be reduced to such social-psychological parameters. The contemporary reader of the Confessions, then, faces a difficult confrontation with a text which advances an infinite spiritual logic unfettered by contingent cultural structures which is by its own account the determinate principle by which we would understand the truth of all social engagement. Where the determinate expression of practical life extends no further than the production and acquisition of goods and the creativity of an unbounded aesthetic will, fueled by the moralism which either upholds or descries these expressions, one will find philosophical thought foreign and estranged from itself.

Our weekend plans

Three-day Memorial weekend? Yep.

Guest from out of town coming in? Check.

Big barbeque on Monday? You betcha.

Baptism to attend Saturday night? Oh yeah.

Four-year-old tests positive for strep? Of course.

That may explain part of the general combative atmosphere. And now (since the lab called, before the antibiotic arrives home) the girls are playing like a dream, and sharing cups, and hugging each other, and kissing the baby. No, girls, not that!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Toddler bleg

Anyone have any practical tips for dealing with toddlers who fight tooth and nail, especially when mom is tied down nursing the baby? Noogs and Babs are big enough and active enough to leave scratches and bruises on each other -- they both look appalling. And of course neither of them take it very seriously when I'm sitting in the arm chair trying to get the baby to sleep and quietly bellowing, "Both of you stop it right now! I mean it! If I have to count to three and get up, you two are in Big Trouble!"

Science & Religion, Compatible or Not?

John Farrell linked to a really interesting post on Dispatches From The Culture Wars yesterday, which talked about the controversy within the pro-evolution side of the creationist/ID/evolution debate over whether religion and science are compatible.

The author, a self described deist, takes Dawkins, Dennett and their various blogsphere supporters to task for asserting that science and religion are totally incompatible, and that true intellectuals are "too smart" to be religious.

Normally, when I wade into the evolution controversy, I'm arguing either against fellow Christians who assert that evolution is untrue, or secularists who insist that religion has been disproved by science. So it's interesting reading someone who is not in the religious camp (being a deist but not of any particular religious creed) dealing with a similar set of questions. The author's comments are general sensible and well thought-out, but perhaps more interesting is the range of opinions displayed by the commentors (most of whom disagreed with the author and asserted that religion and science are incompatible.)

Definately worth a read.

The Christian in the World

Christians are indistinguishable from other men neither by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrines. With regard to dress, food, and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

...To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restrictions the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body's hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian's lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.

--Letter to Diogenes

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Celiac disease and First Communion

Every now and then there's a flap about a family leaving the Church because special accomodations aren't made for their child with celiac disease (in which the child cannot digest wheat, and so can't receive the Host). Here's how an faithful Catholic family dealt with problem of celiac disease:
Sparky made his First Holy Communion on Sunday. It was a very special day of course, but even more special, in a way, because he has celiac disease. Celiacs cannot digest wheat and so Sparky could not take Jesus in the form of bread. Instead, he took only the Precious Blood.

Our pastor did a lovely job using Sparky's special circumstances as a teaching moment. In his homily he spoke of how Jesus, Body and Blood, is present in both the form of bread and wine.
...on Sunday, my heart lept for joy. I wept joyfully as my son took the chalice into his hands. All that mattered was that Sparky really loves Jesus and was thrilled to be partaking in Holy Communion. The wheat thing didn't matter at all.
Read the whole story, including Maureen's OSV article about her pain at realizing that her son could never receive the Host and the current options for sufferers of celiac disease.

My Civility Score

Which Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Are You?

YOU ARE RULE 8(a)!You are Rule 8, the most laid back of all the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. While your forefather in the Federal Rules may have been a stickler for details and particularity, you have clearly rebelled by being pleasant and easy-going. Rule 8 only requires that a plaintiff provide a short and plain statement of a claim on which a court can grant relief. While there is much to be lauded in your approach, your good nature sometimes gets you in trouble, and you often have to rely on your good friend, Rule 56, to bail you out.
Take this quiz!

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| Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code

h/t Speculative Catholic

Divorce and Canon Law

Jay Anderson at Pro Ecclesia has up a post about the Bai Mcfarlane divorce project:
The appellate court case involves William (Bud) Macfarlane, a self-professed practicing Catholic who left his wife Marie (Bai) Macfarlane in July, 2003, and sought a no-fault divorce. The divorce was granted against Bai’s objections, and Bud was given permanent custody of the children. The court criticized Mrs. MacFarlane’s opinions and the Catholic Church’s teachings on the sanctity of marriage in its decision to grant custody to her husband, and to forbid her to continue homeschooling the children.

Mrs. Macfarlane laments: “I was forced to stop homeschooling because the court psychologist stated it was bad after second grade, despite the fact that my children scored well on standardized tests. My youngest child is in daycare although I want to care for my children at home. Now, I have no right to make any decision regarding their upbringing. Finally, although we as a family poured our lives into building a non-profit foundation, my husband runs it and I have been ordered to get another job.”

“The court’s ruling gave the father, who works full time, permanent custody and their stay-at-home mom visitation time,” her lead attorney, Safranek said. “This occurred despite the fact that the father did not have a single family member or friend or even an employee who could testify on his abilities to serve as a custodial parent. However, a veritable blizzard of family and friends testified on behalf of Mrs. MacFarlane.”

Mrs. MacFarlane hopes her husband will be ordered to follow the arbitration process required by his church law before seeking civil divorce. “Courts order people to follow the rules they choose in their own contracts everyday; marriage should be no different,” says Mrs. Macfarlane.

Mrs. MacFarlane has taken her case on a parallel track before the Church Tribunals and she is publicizing all these efforts on her website.
Jay brings up some interesting points in his comments box, namely that marriage law is not and should not be treated like contract law because marriage is more than just a contract. Also, requiring courts to recognize Catholic canon law would be setting up a parellel legal system. Do we really want American courts allowing cases to be settled by Sharia law? This is, in principle the same thing.

It seems to me that the problem with demanding that the court order Mr. Mcfarlane to comply with canon law is that the court has no business insisting that anyone follow the dictates of his own religion, nor should it. It's not the job of the courts to enforce religious observance, and in this country we can thank God for that. As Jay points out: "Clearly, no-fault divorce was and is a full-frontal assault on the institution of marriage, and should, for public policy reasons, be abolished. But that's a legislative argument, not a judicial one." Mrs. Mcfarlane's foundation would be better served in pushing for an end to no-fault divorce through legislative means, or in educating Catholics about canon law issues surrounding divorce and annulments, or in establishing better marriage preparation classes or mediation systems. I'm not against canonical penalties for Catholics refusing to abide by Church teaching, even up to the level of excommunication. But I don't think that civil government should have a hand in enforcing those penalties at all. That's not the role of civil government, nor should it be.

And now a few personal notes:

1. Divorced families attempting to homeschool is a BAD idea, in my book. I've always thought that there needs to be a certain minimum parental unity to maintain a good homeschooling environment, both intellectually and spiritually. It is detrimental both to the child's respect for the parent and to the parent's ability to support him- or herself. Though some conservative Catholic parents would dispute it, homeschooling is not always the best way to educate one's child, and some family situations should preclude it altogether. In this I speak from experience: divorce and homeschooling DON'T mix.

2. I think that Bud Mcfarlane writes lousy fiction. His style is deplorable. But his lack of skill as a writer doesn't say anything about his abilities as a husband or father, and since his wife is the only one going public, we don't know his side of the story. This is not a minor consideration.

3. Divorced families attempting to homeschool is a BAD idea.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Matchmaker, matchmaker, give me a degree

That girls should not be in universities flows from the nature of universities and from the nature of girls: true universities are for ideas, ideas are not for true girls, so true universities are not for true girls. -- SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson

When I was 16 or 17, my family had dinner over at the home of some friends. As I was browsing the bookshelf, I came upon a textbook: Acting Is Believing. My hostess mentioned that she had been a theater major in college.
"Were you an actress?" I asked.
"No, I didn't really want to act," she said. "I was just interested in theater."

Believe it or not, it had never occured to me that you could study a subject at college without intending to pursue a job in that field. I'd always seen college as a glorified vocational school, and I wasn't at all interested in teaching, which is what my acquaintances with English degrees did (English degree (noun): that catch-all program for kids who like to read). But here was a real person who'd studied theater (something I was truly interested in) not because she was an already accomplished actress or planned to do movie work, but just because she liked theater. And though I still didn't know what I wanted to do, I decided that I would study theater, and even chose Franciscan University of Steubenville because of the conservative Catholic colleges I'd heard of, it was the only one with a real drama department. And so I went to college and met Darwin within the first few weeks at one of the ubiquitous freshman mixers.

I knew plenty of girls who went to college to get their MRS degree, and even some who dropped out of school to get married. Once they'd found a mate, college had served its purpose, and since they planned to stay at home with the children, they didn't need any further vocational training. And what better place to meet a good Catholic guy than at an orthodox Catholic college? (Oddly enough, none of these girls were engineering students or Computer Science majors, which would have been the most useful places to be if you wanted to attract the attention of a bunch of future wage-earners.)

Now I'm a stay-at-home mom with a heavy debt load and a firm grasp of intentions and objectives in scoring a script for acting. I'd always intended to stay at home with children when I became a mother, and I figured that one day I'd get married. But for me, going to college was not about finding a husband, although I did that. College was where I learned to think well -- to encounter an idea and examine it on its merits; to express concretely why elements of the faith had always felt right to me; to formulate a logical argument for why I believed that certain things were wrong; to read critically. I don't see a dichotomy between staying at home with a family and having a well-honed, educated mind -- though perhaps the good bishop would disagree, since
to attract a man so as to marry and become a mother, to nurture and rear children and to retain their father, she needs superior gifts of feeling and instinct, e.g. sensitivity, delicacy, tact, perspicacity, tenderness, etc. by which her mind will correspondingly be swayed, which is why no husband can understand how the mind of his wife works! For to do the work of generation, i.e. to ensure nothing less than the survival and continuation of mankind, God designed her mind to run on a complementary and different basis from her man's. His mind is designed not to be swayed by feelings but on the contrary to control them, so that while his feelings may be inferior to hers, his reason is superior. And reason being meant to rule in rational beings, then he is natured to rule over her (Gen. III, 16), as can be seen for example whenever she needs to resort to him for her feelings not to get out of control. (Bishop Williamson, Girls at University, Sept. 1 2001)
In my opinion, the bishop could have taken the opportunity at college to hone his writing and reasoning skills. That's why I went to school, sir.

Summer Drinks

If it wasn't before, it's now definitely summer in Texas. Forget Memorial Day. When you have to turn the cooler on every day, it's summer.

And that, of course, brings up the topic of summer drinks. In civilized times, which I define as times when the high is under 75F, my preferences lean towards Scotch and darker or Belgian varieties of beer. But you can't drink Scotch straight up (the way it deserves to be drunk) when it's ninety degrees outside. And beer that's nearly black in color or over eight percent alcohol suddenly becomes a bit much when it comes to hot weather.

This is the season for amber and brown ales under 6% alcohol. And it's the season for mixed drinks.

The favorite drink in the Darwin household right now is that basic but reliable stand-by, the gin and tonic. Simple yet eminently drinkable (and definitely refreshing on a summer day) the G&T has the advantage of only requiring one hard liquor ingredient, plus two mixers which are cheap and readily available.

Top shelf gin is not required, in fact I'd tend to feel that Bombay is wasted on a G&T. Something in the range from Gordon's to Beefeater is fine. Drop a couple ice cubes into a 8-10oz tumbler. Add a squirt of lime juice (or squeeze a wedge or two of lime in). Add 1.5 to 2.5 oz of gin. (Less than 1.5 will give you with very little gin taste. 2+ will leave MrsDarwin excessively vulnerable to suggestion.) Fill the rest of the tumbler with tonic water and you're all set.


One of the Lucky Ones

I can't recall where I ran into this last night, so I apologize if I'm failing to hat tip someone... This Telegraph story from the UK tells the story of Harrison Green, a two-year-old with Down's Syndrom who survived against the odds.

Britain's National Health System now provides screening for Down's Syndrom for free to all 'at risk' women, and many doctors put a great deal of pressure on women with prositive diagnoses to abort. 62% of Down's Syndrom cases in the UK are now diagnosed pre-natally, and 92% of those diagnosed abort. Thus, the UK has now reached the point where the majority of infants conceived with Down's Syndrom are aborted.

Lisa Green believes that if she'd been diagnosed earlier, the extreme pressure from her doctor might have landed her in the 92%. But Harrison wasn't diagnosed with Down's Syndrom until he was 35 weeks along. The doctor pressured her to abort anyway, but given that she'd already named him, and knew that he would be fully viable (he was estimated at 7lbs at 35 weeks) she refused.

"We don't know what we'd do without him - he's so adored," says Mrs Green. "The frightening thing is that, had we been told by the same doctor about the Down's syndrome earlier in the pregnancy, there is a chance we might have decided to abort. That decision would have been based on incomplete and biased information."

But by the time of diagnosis, the Greens already knew that their feelings about their son were unconditional. In the end, the couple decided to act on biased information of their own: love.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Hunting and Gathering

Yesterday afternoon while the toddlers were napping, I clothed myself in my metaphorical bearskin, armed myself with Visa and Discover cards, and made my way into the jungle of suburban commerce to get food for my mate and offspring.

There is a certain satisfaction to watching the groceries move down the checkout belt and knowing, "I worked to earn this food," which is disproportionate to the actual difficulty of obtaining food in our modern world of warehouse stores and supermarkets. Roughly speaking, 12-15% of my takehome income goes to paying for groceries and household consumable goods. Compared to the 35% that goes to the mortgage, the food budget just isn't that large a line item.

But you don't stand in line watching your house get rung up each month when you pay the mortgage. In fact, barring financial disaster, you don't really think about the mortgage at all, since the payment is the same every month and so as far as spending money goes, it's as if that income never existed in the first place. I think there may be more to it than that, though. There's a strong innate urge, as a father and provider, to make sure that everyone is fed. Physically seeing the food come in (even if you get it via supermarket rather than mastodon hunt) reassures you that you're doing your job. There it is. The fruit of my labor. This week we eat.

One could look at these as the left-over instincts of overgrown primates who long ago left behind the hunter and gatherer lifestyle, however I think there's actually a very important truth that these instincts touch on. There's a strong tendency in the modern world, because our means of achieving our goals in life are often so distanced from the actuals goals, to confuse proximate and ultimate goals.

At an animal level, our goal in life to to feed ourselves, mate, and raise healthy offspring to propagate the species. At a rational level, our goal is to understand ourselves, others, and the world and to appreciate truth and beauty. At a spiritual level, our goal is to know, love and serve God and be happy with him one day in heaven.

And yet, it's terribly easy to get hung up on proximate goals which may help us reach one of these ultimate goals. Some people think that it's a moral necessity to homeschool. Others that it's a parent's duty to get his or her children into the best schools and colleges. But in fact any school (home or institutional) is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. Some may be better means than others, but they remain means.

One of my female coworkers commented to me recently (on hearing that my wife stayed at home with the kids), "I suppose I could afford to do that for a while, but it seems so important for everyone to have a good career." Now, there are a lot of good reasons to have a 'good career'. Income. Mental stimulation. Creative outlet. Competitive environment. Accomplishing an important service. But having a career in and of itself isn't an important thing. It's what you might accomplish by having a career that's important. If having a career is the best way to achieve one's ultimate goals, then clearly one should do so. But it's those goals, not the career itself, that are important.

Sitting at a dask doing web development or marketing analytics doesn't feel like directly providing for my family the way farming or ranching might. I do the work, I get paid, the pay gets deposited, we go shopping. But its the connection between what goes on at my desk and providing for the family that's actually important. There's not an objective value to climbing the corporate payscale separate from what it allows you to accomplish, either in work done or others provided for. Which is what I realize as I watch the groceries move through the checkout each week.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Other Bishop of Rome?

I'm used to hearing 'Bishop of Rome' used as a way of referring to the pope by denominations which don't want to concede that the pope is the pope. However, I find myself wondering, irrelevently, if there are other bishops of Rome. Is there an Anglican/Episcopal bishop of Rome? An Eastern Orthodox metropolican in Rome? It must be an oddly second string existence, but is seems likely that someone has a bishop of Rome other than the Catholic Church.

LOST and Rifle Trivia

MrsDarwin and I didn't get around to watching the latest episode of LOST till last night, so of course we missed out on the usual discussion thread over on JulieD's blog.

Now, here's what struck me as someone who spends a little too much time reading about military rifles -- and maybe it's just a question of the props deparment not knowing what they're doing or maybe it means something.

The cache of rifles the castaways found in their hatch has in the past appeared to be a mix of AK-47s and bolt action hunting rifles. Michael ran off with a bolt action when he went to chase down the Others. Jack had an AK when he, Sawyer and Locke were surrounded by Zeke and Co. and force to turn in their guns. Now, the AK-47 has been floating around the international arms market on the cheep since the '60s. The Soviety Union and Eastern Bloc countries made literally millions of them, and shipped them off to revolutionary movements around the world. To this day, you can pick one up for 300-400 dollars. They may not be the most accurate things in the world, but they're cheep, rugged, and spray bullets around.

However, when we saw the Others guarding their hatch in Michael's flashbacks, they were carrying what looked like M-14 style rifles. The M-14 was the primary US battle rifle from the late fifties to the late sixties, and they're actually pretty hard to get hold of. The US make a bit over a million of them, but never released them to the civilian market. Some were sold to allies, many were destroyed. There are some civilian models available, but they start at about $1000 used and go up rapidly from there. It's a very high quality, hard hitting, accurate rifle, but getting hold of them takes some work.

However, the Darma initiative was apparently started back in the early '80s. That was before the US gave away and destroyed most of its M-14s. So if the Others have M-14s floating around, that brings up the question of whether perhaps Darma was government connected -- or there is or was some other kind of government initiative going on on the island. If that were the case the M-14 would be an obvious sort of thing for the government to have issued them.

Of course, it could also just be the props people being sloppy...

Fenced-in Like a Dog

Boulder CO has the reputation of being the Santa Monica of the Rockies. (Or come to that, the Austin TX.) Home to tea company Celestial Seasonings, and hundreds of thousands of almost unbelievably well meaning people, it is so concerned about the least vulnerable members of society that it's building a giant fence to protect them. Who are they keeping out? INS agents? Planned Parenthood 'doctors'?

No, actually this mini-Berlin Wall is designed to protect prairie dogs. The critters are such pests that the Boulder Little League teams have had to abandon five of their playing fields and use school fields (that haven't yet been infested) instead. But nonetheless (as detailed in a charming front page story in the weekend WSJ) Boulder has banned any extermination of prairie dogs in the county.

Neighboring counties aren't so prairie dog-friendly, however. Broomfield County has been exterminating prairie dogs that move into populated areas, and generally for good reason: they breed like rats and they carry disease, as well as digging up any expanse of grass in sight. This is too much for the kind hearts of Boulder County, however. They're constructing fence along the border with Broomfield County in order to keep erstwhile prairie dogs from wandering into the killing zones. It's been tricky, though. The prairie dogs have a keen sense of manifest destiny and have so far managed to evade any attempt to keep them bottled up in Boulder.

And people wonder why animal rights advocates are sometimes accused of being silly...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Back Inside the Box, Please

Bearing Blog has a post up about the architecture of confessionals, which is in turn inspired by a post by Rich Leonardi about the virtues of not having to confess face to face.

If a silver lining of the abuse scandal is that someone gets the 'new' idea of building confessionals with a wall between the priest and penitant and separate doors (so one one can even imagine that impropriety could take place) then that's all to the good.

As Bearing notes, I think that the face-to-face confessional has only accentuated the impression which many Catholics and some priests seem to have that confession is primarily a means of therapy, not salvation.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Wisdom of Fr. Fox

Fr. Martin Fox has had a couple of really good posts up over the last week.

He wrote a very good post about confession, providing a seldom seen priest's perspective on the topic.

He also has a post up about the Tridentine mass.

And another post about discussing both the old and new rites of the mass.

The Graduates

This weekend say three of our young siblings graduating from college: One each at University of Dallas, Thomas More College and the Pontifical College Josephenum.

From now through Wednesday when the baby gets baptised (with two of the new graduates serving as godparents) the population of the Darwin household will be fluctuating between 8 and 12, up from its usual 5. So posting is going to be fairly light -- especially as I'm going to be very, very busy on the days that I'm in at work this week.

In the mean time, if you haven't seen it already, do pay a visit to Jimmy Akin's site where he's received permission to reprint a very good short story titled "Through and Through" by Catholic science fiction and fantasy author Tim Powers. There's discussion of the story here.

Friday, May 12, 2006

School Days

A few days ago a commenter asked if Darwin and I would talk a bit about our experience at Franciscan University of Steubenville. I meant to do so right away, but things got wacky (or wackier), but here I am now, Anonymous -- I didn't forget you, I promise!

I can't offer any "celebrity" stories: I never met Scott Hahn or took any of his classes; I was never stuck in the elevator with Fr. Michael Scanlon; the only theology classes I took were on the Austrian campus (and those, by the way, were very good). However, I can report that it is possible to get a very good education even at a second-tier institution if you put your mind to it. Both Darwin and I were in extremely small majors -- he was one of two majors to graduate in Classics his year, and I was English with a Drama concentration with five other students. (The school has since added a Drama major, but the concentration was intensive enough to effectively be its own department.) Our professors were dedicated and thorough, and communicated a love of their chosen field that was informed by their faith. Overall, I'd rate our classroom experiences very highly.

The thing about going to a strongly Catholic college like Steubenville is that, while you don't have to deal with productions of the Vagina Monologues or dorm staff handing out fruit flavored condoms as party favors, the fact that everyone is Catholic (and most of them pretty faithful Catholics at that) means that all of the campus political struggles are family quarrels. On the other hand, having the quarrels be between basically faithful Catholics (at least most of the time) allows one to relax and think, "At least we're all Catholic." Darwin has been known to say that one of his primary reasons for picking Steubenville over a secular college is that, while he thought he'd successfully retain his faith at a secular college, he was afraid that in such an adverse environment he'd become increasingly bitter and reactionary, and end up condemning more than he actually had to just in an effort to stave off the ravening hordes. And instead of staving off ravening hordes, he met me, and that's ended up much more pleasantly.

One thing that often struck me about Steubenville was that Academia and Student Life were competing with each other for the heart and soul of the school. On the one hand, I believe that there's been a push to make Steubenville more of an academic powerhouse, and most of the professors I dealt with were serious about their subjects and about expecting a level of maturity and committment from students. On the other, Student Life played Spiritual Big Brother, relishing the parent-protector role to excess . Those who attended Steubenville during the same years we did will no doubt remember the flap about placing large windows in the doors of the common rooms, one of the few places on campus where members of the opposite sex could sit together with any degree of privacy. Perhaps someone's virtue was protected by this move; many dating couples found that it put a large amount of stress into their relationships by removing the one sanctuary from the inquisitorial glance of the small religious institution. Or, to give a lesser example, the affair of the kiosks -- brought in to better regulate student postings; removed because they became a standing practical joke and started reappearing in odd locations.

The prevailing spiritual atmosphere of Steubenville in the 80s and 90s was charismatic. I believe that was beginning to shift by the time we arrived. Many more students were becoming interested more traditional and less demonstrative forms of worship, and most of the professors I knew were actively against the excessive emotionalism bred by the charismatic style. (There's another example of the dichotomy between Steubenville's religious reputation as a Charismatic center and the trend toward a more academic identity.) The once a month Latin Mass was well-attended and the Sunday evening Vespers service was also very popular. Darwin and I, along with many other older students, went to Sunday Mass at St. Peter's, the downtown church attended by many professors and their families.

I don't at all regret attending Steubenville (though at the time Darwin and I often chafed under the more juvenile restrictions of campus life). Those who just want a four-year retreat and less focus on academics can certainly find that experience there. But especially in the smaller departments there's a combination of personal attention, academic rigor, and Catholic formation that makes for an excellent education for those who willing to pursue one.

Addendum: if any FUS grads want to agree, disagree, or offer their own experiences, please do, if only for the sake of our anonymous friend in Ypsilanti who wanted to know. :)

A prayer for Jack

We've been praying for BarbfromCincy's nephew Jack, who is eight years old and suffering from brain cancer. Rick Lugari suggested a novena to Venerable Louis and Zelie Martin (the parents of St. Therese), who need a miracle to advance their canonization process. Louis and Zelie understood suffering and a holy death:

Though beset with the loss of four children in infancy, plus Helene at age five, and Zelie's valiant battle with breast cancer which claimed her life at age 46, the Martins submitted to God's will in all things; to show the Creator's love to their daughters regardless of any trial remained the primary concern.

...In 1888, Louis Martin became a close companion to suffering; he developed amnesia, or what some French doctors of the time regarded as dementia. When Celine and Leonie could no longer provide appropriate care, he humbly accepted entry to the sanitorium at Bon Sauveur in Caen. Louis bore his cross with heroic patience; illness and the stigma of incarceration at the notorious mental asylum plagued him. Bon Sauveur housed some of the most bitterly tormented souls who suffered from mental ailments. Those who stayed there for even a short duration, endured much criticism from their peers. Louis Martin retained enough lucidity to know what a stay at Bon Sauveur would translate in others' opinions. Undaunted, God's will would be done, regardless of the personal cost. Consequently, the townsfolk cynically cackled that any man who would surrender five daughters to the convent in lieu of marriage deserved the fate of a mental malady. They could not comprehend loyalty to Catholicism nor conformity to God's decrees. As death approached, Louis longed to see his daughters once more.

St. Therese's final encounter with her father occurred in May 1892; now released from Bon Sauveur, he courageously advanced toward the Carmelite grille in a wheelchair with Celine and Leonie, paralyzed and barely able to speak. With Marie and Pauline beside her, St. Therese and Louis Martin could do no more than gaze at each other. With difficulty he pointed his index finger upward and was heard to whisper, "Until Heaven!". Not even illness and encroaching death could drown his faith and hope of bliss.

One of Louis's daughters (perhaps Celine?) describes her father here.

So perhaps we should ask for their intercession for Jack's healing.

Venerable Louis and Zelie Martin, Servants of God,
You offered many prayers for your own sick children.
We unite our prayers with yours for Jack's healing.
May God look favorably on your intercession and, in His Mercy, grant us our request.
May His will be done in all things.

Venerable Louis and Zelie, pray for us!

To communicate favors received from the intercession of Louis and Zelie Martin, write to: Postulazione Generale, Carmelitani Scalzi, Corso d'Italia 38-00198 Rome, Italy.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Foreign Made Junk

This morning's Wall Street Journal featured an article about what constitutes an 'American made' car. You see, it seems that the new Ford Mustang is made of of 65% american manufactured parts, while the Toyota Sienna is made of 90% American made parts. So, which is the icon of Americanism?

I get my share of grief for driving a Toyota Camry -- especially given that several of our friends parents and/or grandparents rely for a living on the solvency of the GM pension fund. But as GM and Ford increasingly buy parts from overseas, and even have their cars assembled abroad, the distinction between American and Foreign-made gets increasingly fuzzy. I'm not sure you can even get a Sienna minivan in Japan. Not only are they manufactured in the US, but the whole concept of a 7-8 seat van with more cup-holders than the mind can grasp is very alien to just about any market other than the US. The Sienna is, in its way, as much a product of American driving tastes as the lumbering Ford Excursion.

At the end of the day, I shop pretty strictly by car quality rather than assembly location. I think one of the reasons the Big Three auto makers got so far behind the curve in the 80s is that there were way too many people willing to buy American regardless of design or quality. As more and more Hondas, Toyotas, Nissans and even BMWs (none of those X5 and X3 BMW SUVs have ever seen Bohemia) roll off assembly lines in the American South and Southwest, it seems to me that Ford and GM need to come up with a better explanation of why people should buy their products than that buying a foreign brand will put American workers out of a job.

Growing Up in the Faith

GOB Soccer Mom writes about dealing with the question of "Why we go to a different church than Christians who aren't Catholic, and what the difference is" with her 7 1/2-year-old daughter.

Aside from kids from the parish school, all my friends growing up were the kids of my parents set of friends from college -- in which they were some of the only Catholics. So this brings up fuzzy memories of trying to understand the differences between our Church and their churches at ages four to eight. However, after some early confusion, I think growing up mainly among Protestants (though in my case mostly Episcopalians and Methodists rather than Evangelicals) is actually one of the things that helped me form such a strongly apologetic/doctrinal mindset.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Who Would Have Thought...

... three years ago that the Boston Globe and the National Catholic Register would run two stories about the abuse scandals so similar in tone, and so positive about a priest.

NT John Farrell

Four Years Ago Today...

...I said to Darwin, "That was the worst thing I've ever done! I'm never doing that again! Why didn't anyone tell me how much it hurt?"

The pain fades, the girl we have with us still. Happy birthday, Eleanor, and enjoy that new red trike!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Prayers requested

BarbfromCincy, one of our faithful commenters, passed along a prayer request for her nephew Jack.
Jack, who is only 8, was diagnosed with brain cancer last May. He had surgery and has been receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment since. Last Wednesday, we found out that there is another spot on his brain in a different spot. He is having surgery again today to do a biopsy and see what, if anything, they can do. If the cancer is back, his prognosis is very poor. He has been really patient through all of this and never complains. We would greatly appreciate any prayers you could send his way.
Please keep Jack and his family (and his aunt Barb!) in your prayers. I'll post any updates as I get them.

UPDATE: Barb posts in the comments below:
It definitely is cancer again, unfortunately...the surgeon could see spots on his brain on the entire area he viewed. Very bad news..His parents are devastated. It is so hard to watch your child suffer and know that, without a miracle, you're going to lose them...
Thanks to all who have prayed for him...we appreciate it greatly.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Why I Keep Talking

On a thread about the Da Vinci Code movie at Happy Catholic, Dr. Thursday posted an extended quote from Chesterton on why it's perfectly defensible to have an opinion on something one has never experienced.
.. choleric correspondent who rebuked me for being too frivolous about the problem of Spiritualism. My correspondent, who is evidently an intelligent man, is very angry with me indeed. He uses the strongest language. ... The main substance of his attack resolves itself into two propositions. First, he asks me what right I have to talk about Spiritualism at all, as I admit I have never been to a seance. This is all very well, but there are a good many things to which I have never been, but I have not the smallest intention of leaving off talking about them. I refuse (for instance) to leave off talking about the Siege of Troy. I decline to be mute in the matter of the French Revolution. I will not be silenced on the late indefensible assassination of Julius Caesar. If nobody has any right to judge of Spiritualism except a man who has been to a seance, the results, logically speaking, are rather serious: it would almost seem as if nobody had any right to judge of Christianity who had not been to the first meeting at Pentecost. Which would be dreadful. I conceive myself capable of forming my opinion of Spiritualism without seeing spirits, just as I form my opinion of the Japanese War without seeing the Japanese, or my opinion of American millionaires without (thank God) seeing an American millionaire. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed: [See John 20:29] a passage which some have considered as a prophecy of modern journalism.
ILN June 9, 1906 CW27:207-8
"Don't judge a man before you've walked a mile in his moccasins" is a useful aphorism inasmuch as it reminds us to be compassionate to those in different circumstances, but as a guide for making moral decisions it leaves much to be desired. I don't have to engage in stupid behavior to be able to declare it stupid -- indeed, it strengthens my reputation for sense to avoid stupidity in the first place. Being able to decide from the description of a book or a movie whether or not I want to spend time and money on it means that I save a lot of time and money. I like to be challenged intellectually, but I expect an intellectual challenge to be intellectual, not a hackneyed rehashing of popular misconceptions.

Tolkien on the Eucharist

On the theme of liturgy not living up to one's expectations, I ran into a quotation from Tolkien's letters which reinforces my admiration for the man:

The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children - from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn - open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. (It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand - after which [our] Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.)

Leaving Islam

Usceae has posted a news story/prayer intention about a Malaysian woman, Lina Joy, who in 1998 converted to Christianity. However, her ethnic group (she is a Malay) is defined as Muslim and subject to Sharia law under the Malaysian constitution, which has a dual court system with Sharia for Muslims and a common law-based system for everyone else.

Lina Joy has pettitioned the Malaysian government to have her religious status legally changed from 'Islam' so that she will no longer be ruled by Sharia and can marry a Christian man. However, to date, the Malaysian courts have insisted that as a matter of jurisdiction she must petition the Sharia court system to recognize her change in religion -- she cannot work through the secular courts until after her religous status has been changed.

Usceae provides significantly more information on the story. Do keep Lina Joy in your prayers.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Dreher Looks East

In a post heard round the world (or at least around the small world of Catholic/Conservative blogdom) Rod Dreher has announced that he is struggling with the question of whether to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy -- in great part because (quoting with approval a friend of his who converted to Orthodoxy):

Over and over again, I have seen the magnificent teaching and witness of John Paul II and the Catholic tradition undermined and even rejected at the parish level. I honestly don't know if I could keep my kids Catholic in the American church -- or even Christian.
Having run into Rod in the comments sections of various Catholic blogs over the last few years, there's a sense in which I simply find myself thinking, "Well, that's not much of a surprise." As a result of covering the sex abuse scandals, Rod has become incredibly (one might almost say insanely) bitter about the institutional Church. And this, he says, has led to his main motivation for considering leaving the Church:

What moved us to consider Orthodoxy? It's a long story, but to cut to the chase, there were two things. The most acute was complete burnout over the Catholic sex-abuse scandal. I have always kept squarely in front of me the crucial point made by Father Andrew Greeley, who said that even if the Catholic church was run by psychopathic tyrants, that has nothing whatever to do with whether or not the Catholic faith is true. He is correct. That insight kept me solidly Catholic despite all the horrible things I was learning about church corruption and abuse of children. Nevertheless, the constant fear and anger I couldn't shake off began to eat away at me. Without my realizing it, my faith had become a cerebral thing.... Is it possible to live an authentic life of faith based only on cerebrality, on intellectual/doctrinal conviction? And if not, what do you do on Sunday morning?
What Rod chooses to do is very much a matter between him, his eternal soul, and God. To loosely paraphrase Man For All Seasons, when you hold your eternal soul in your hands, you should be pretty careful not to let it slip through your fingers. But his description of his dilemma brought to mind several things.

The Road Not Taken
There are a number of real and important differences between Catholicism and Orthodox (petrine supremacy being one of the most important, it seems to me) but there is a certain sense in which modern Eastern Orthodoxy (both in its strengths and weaknesses) shows us something of where Roman Catholicism might have headed without Vatican II. The ancient splendor of the EO liturgy remains virtually unchanged over the last few hundred years. Countries with majority Orthodox populations have seen church attendence and belief plummet, but at the same time a new wave of dynamism have arisen from a tide of converts and cradle Orthodox rediscovering their faiths.

In some ways, the Roman Catholic bishops saw a similar world approaching when Vatican II convened. Belief and church attendence were already falling in countries like France, Italy and Spain in the 60s, although the 20th century had seen a number of intellectual converts and a theological and liturgical re-awakening that gave many great hope for the future. The fathers of the council hoped that by re-presenting the teachings of the Church to the modern world, they could stem the tide of un-belief.

In this sense, the experience of the Orthodox perhaps suggests that the collapse in belief and practice by Catholics around the world over the last forty years cannot simply be laid on Vatican II's doorstep. Rising prosperity and the triumph of the ideal of a pluralistic society has reduced the incentive for unbelieving Catholics to go through the motions. And the increased material comfort in our lives and the comparative low profile of suffering and death have made it easier to believe that "this is all there is -- and it's pretty good at that."

But given that with or without at Vatican II, the late 20th century was probably doomed to see a massive falling away from the faith, what was the advantage of the council? Or was it an unmitigated ill?

I think the Vatican II documents themselves did indeed achieve their objective of clarifying and representing the ancient faith to the modern world. And yet, the mere fact that there was a reform movement going on within the Church during the late sixties and early seventies opened the door to a torrent of abuses, the results of which we live with today. If there had been no Vatican II, there would have been no convenient hook to hang all the claims that rode under the 'Spirit of Vatican II' banner on -- and so I think it's true that we would have seen less chaos in Catholic liturgy and school rooms.

What would, I think, have happened, is that people would have increasingly seen Catholic belief and practice as a charming and old-fashioned window dressing to apply to major life events such as weddings and funerals, but not something that understood in any sense the modern world. The mass would have remained relatively stable, though perhaps over the last forty years changes would gradually have built up until we ended up with something rather like the 1965 Missal: Readings in the vernacular, but everything else in Latin, a few accretions such as the final gospel stripped away, but otherwise very much the same mass as was in the 1962 Missal which is currently considered 'traditional'.

We certainly wouldn't have seen the mass exodus of priests and nuns from the religious life had there been no Vatican II, but I think we would probably have seen vocations fall off rather steeply. And although we wouldn't have had some of the idiocy that passed for seminary formation in the 70s and 80s, we would probably have seen a continuation and perhaps even a worsening of the excessive mediocrity which plagued some seminaries in the 50s and early 60s, with seminarians reading second and third-hand schoolboy Latin summaries of what the Doctors and Fathers of the Church wrote rather than reading the true depth and breadth of our Catholic heritage. (Raymond Hedin, an ex-Catholic seminary drop-out, describes the pre-Vatican II education he received at the Diocese of Cleveland seminary in Married To The Church, a book which makes it rather easier to understand who the priests ordained before Vatican II could have gone so far wrong, so quickly after the council.)

We would have been spared the excesses of the Sr. Chitisters and Fr. McBrians of the world, but we probably would see today a great deal more strife and uncertainty between those trying to be orthodox. On the topic of religious freedom, there was strong and genuine disagreement between loyal Catholics before Vatican II as to whether the ideas put forth by John Courtney Murray (or, come to that, Karol Wojtyla) in the early 1960s were heretical. There was also real disagreement as to whether Wojtyla's ideas about human sexuality and the language of the body (as expressed in the 1960 Love & Responsibility) were indeed a sound explication of Catholic teaching on sexuality, or instead a dangerously 'modernist' approach -- utilizing as it did elements of phenomenology and personalist philosophy. In a Catholicism without Vatican II, it would be rather less clear whether Ratzinger and Wojtyla or Bishop Williamson represented a truer vision of Catholicism.

The Dangers of Excessive Ecumenism
There's been a great deal of emphasis on the hope of reunion with the various Orthodox churches in recent years, and certainly, we must all as Christians hope for the day in which the Great Schism will be healed. And yet, some of the more excessive statements one hears in connection with the ecumenical effort come far too close to indifferentism. While it is true that the Catholic Church regards the Orthodox churches as possessing valid sacraments and apostolic success, and as being in schism rather than heresy, this does not mean it is a mere matter of preference to leave Catholicism for Orthodoxy. After all, the SSPX has apostolic succession and valid sacraments, yet I would hope any good Catholic parent would be much concerned if his or her child left the Church for the SSPX.

The difficulty is further exacerbated in that while we consider the Orthodox to have valid sacraments and non-heretical (though not as developed) theology, many among the Orthodox do not consider Catholic sacraments to be valid, and consider Catholic doctrine to be heretical. Essentially, Catholics consider the Orthodox not to be heretics for the same reason that we do not consider Aquinas to be a heretic -- one can hardly expect the Angelic Doctor to have affirmed beliefs that were not definatively taught by the Church when he lived. And similarly, the Orthodox can hardly be expected to affirm doctrines that have been defined since the schism.

However, if someone who was previously a professed Roman Catholic leaves Catholicism for Orthodoxy, he is thus clearly rejecting Catholic doctrine, and so he is a heretic, even if someone born into Orthodoxy is not.

There Is No City of God on Earth
By his own description, one of the reasons why Dreher is currently finding it so hard to be Catholic is that initially, after his conversion, he expected so very, very much of it. It's tempting to think that Catholicism, or some little portion of it, is very near to perfect. And seeing as the institution Church is made up of humans, it clearly isn't.

Perhaps it's easier to see this as both a cradle Catholic and a student of history, but it's always seemed to me that the proof of God's divine guidance is not that the Church is so sinless, but rather that she has remained wholly true to the deposit of faith despite being populated and occasionally run by some exceedingly sinful people.

This isn't just something to keep in mind for generalities, however. There's also a danger in investing too much of one's belief in specific individuals and institutions. I always wonder a little when people gush about "I've never known such a holy priest. He really sums up for me the ideal of what the priesthood should be." I've been blessed to know some great priests, and may well even have one in the family eventually, as MrsDarwin's brother is currently in seminary. But people, no matter how good, are people -- not ideals. It's usually not good either for us or the object of our respect to think of someone as an ideal, whether it's the ideal priest, the ideal mother, the ideal business man or the ideal politician.

It Takes a Family -- Not a Parish
I grew up in Los Angeles Archdiocese, in two rather mediocre parishes. My wife went to CCD in the Diocese of Richmond, before moving to somewhat safer ground in Cincinnati. In both our cases, we have our families to thank for the fact that we were given a good education in the Catholic faith, not our parishes, schools or diocese. But even if we'd grown up in one of the conservative Catholic meccas like the Diocese of Lincoln, it's still our families that we'd primarily have to thank. Having a great, solid parish can certainly help, but children are formed in the home, not the parish. (Goodness knows, if the sudden collapse of our apparently solid catechesis after Vatican II taught us anything, it's that you cannot simply assume that exposing children to good liturgy and good nuns will automatically make them knowledgable and fervent Catholics.)

Nor need living in a run-of-the-mill suburban parish in the United States necessarily be a life of constant war and suffering for a good Catholic family. To be sure, it's harder than it ought to be. You may need to examine several different local churches to find a 'don't add anything' priest. But one must also decide what's worth hating and fighting over, and what's not. I wish we had a Novus Ordo (or indult) Latin mass at our parish. I wish we had a real organ. I wish we didn't occasionally sing Amazing Grace or southern spirituals. But at the same time, I know I need to keep in mind that the parish we found and settled in is in most essentials a good parish, and getting better rather than worse.

There's a temptation for many of us who love the Church dearly and want to see her historic wonders better reflected in daily parish life to become so critical as to be unsatisfied with anything. Somewhere out there is a person who watched John Paul II's funeral mass and fumed over a couple perceived (or real) liturgical abuses. Or how about the people who complain that the pastor of every parish near them is disgustingly effeminate? Now, I'm sure things are far worse in some parts of the country than the dioceses of Los Angeles, Steubenville and Austin where I've lived. But honestly, if you insist every single priest you meet is effeminate, is it the priests or is it you?

To provide a good Catholic formation for your children, it's necessary, I think, to provide two things. First of all, a solid grounding in Catholic doctrine and practice. Know the bible; know the catechism; read the lives of the saints; pray the rosary or the divine office; make sure your children are exposed to real Catholic art and architecture (even if you have to travel to do so); give your children a good grounding in the history of the Church and the writings of the saints and Fathers. But also, make sure that you don't become so uptight in your search for the right expression of Catholicism that your children's experience of Catholicism becomes poisoned with your bitterness. This may mean 'shopping' for a parish or even moving to a better diocese. But it also means being prepared to sweat the small stuff and appreciate the good as well as the bad. (I always admired the pastor of my parents' old parish for fighting and winning a knock-down-drag-out battled with the diocese to keep the tabernacle in the center of the church when it was renovated after the Northridge earthquake. And yet he drove us nuts by saying 'and became flesh' instead of 'and became man' in the creed.)

I have a very strong tendency to get political and factional about everything, yet I know I don't want my kids to think of Catholicism as 'one of those political things Daddy fights about', so I try to remain outside of parish politics and look on the bright side whenever possible. (And head for another parish if the bad side becomes too big to ignore.)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Wisdom from Teddy Kennedy

This one's for Jay: It Is Finally Time to Exit the Oldsmobile.

Iowahawk Guest Commentary by Senator Edward M. Kennedy

Like all Americans, I had high hopes for the future of the Oldsmobile and its passengers, as we struggle against the onrushing water and its poorly-designed shoulder belts. But as claustrophobia sets in we must begin to sober up and face the truth: hope is no longer an option.

It is time for us to recognize that our continued presence in this volatile region is a hinderance to the Oldsmobile and its people. Rather than helping the situation we are further weighing down the Oldsmobile, causing it to sink faster and faster into the quagmire of Chappaquidick Bay, creating a dangerous situation for both ourselves as well as its passengers who are desperately seeking an air pocket in which to start a better life.

That is why I believe we have reached the point where we must take a deep breath and immediately depart the Oldsmobile. We must seek through the watery darkness and release the belt latch of madness that has kept us here, and reach out for a sane and honorable window crank.

Yes, it's Iowahawk, but no language alert this time. Take the whole family!

A small world after all

Amy Welborn posts a report (via Mark Shea) of the recent health crises afflicting Ave Maria Radio staffers:
As of late Tuesday afternoon, Nick Thomm of Ave Maria Radio has been moved to a regular semi-private room following a stay in the ICU while initially recovering from brain surgery. His color is coming back and he is already eating and feeling better. He has a bit of tingling in his arm but no paralysis or other adverse effects. They may have him up and walking around later this evening. Later in the week, he's looking forward to visitors.

One change from the previous update is that a MRI from Tuesday morning indicates that at least 30-50% of the tumor was removed. Please continue your prayers for Nick and Jen and leave a message for the Thomms here. You can find the Litany for the Sick in the first two comments.
Darwin and I were at Steubenville with Nick and Jen, and Jen was in our Honors class (she and I were both sporting nifty engagement rings at the same time). Please remember them, and all of the Ave Maria Radio crew, in your prayers.

Catholicism & Fertility in Europe

It's been a while since we're visited the Religion and Demographics angle here at DarwinCatholic, despite that being one of my original reasons for starting a blog. But I chanced to come across a very interesting paper recently. From Empty Pews to Empty Cradles: Fertility Decline Among European Catholics is a recent (latest revision I'm finding is April 2006) paper on the relationship between the practice of Catholicism and family size in Europe.

As you've no doubt read, the number of children per woman born in the majority Catholic southern European countries (Italy, Spain, Portugal) has plummeted in the last 35 years, going from being higher than the average TFR (total fertility ratio) in Europe to being significantly lower. (see graph)

Previous researchers have noted that there is a correlation between fertility decline and church attendance decline in strongly Catholic countries (though the fertility decline seems to lag behind religiosity decline by roughly fifteen years -- something which makes intuitive sense: it takes a while to get Catholicism out of your system of thought). The two European counties with declines in church attendance over 30% in the last fifty years (Spain and Italy) have fallen much farther in fertility than Ireland, where church attendance is still comparatively high. Nor, the authors say, can the fall in fertility be strictly a result of higher workforce participation by women, because although Spain and Italy have two of the lowest fertility rates in Europe, they also have two of the lowest female workforce participation rates.

Two reasons for the correlation between fertility and Catholic religiosity are cited by the paper:
  1. Catholic church attendance represents affirmation of a set of values that encourages child bearing.
  2. Active Catholic communities provide a number of child-rearing resources (in the form of schools, parish activities, parish friends, etc.) which reduce the difficulty of rearing large families.

The paper seeks to draw on both of these factors to explain the varying declines in fertility in different majority Catholic countries:

Our argument so far can be summarized as a series of conjectures:
i) The Second Vatican Council caused a sharp decline in clergy per Catholic, though the timing
differed across countries;
ii) That decline reduced social services, spiritual and tangible, provided to Catholic communities;
iii) The reduction in services raised the shadow cost of raising children, reducing fertility;
iv) The reduction in services also caused a drop in religiosity, as measured by church attendance.
To measure cultural and social services as represented by the Catholic Church, the authors studied the correlation of the nuns per 10,000 Catholics metric to declining fertility, and found that there was a strong and direct correlation between the number of nuns available to staff Catholic social and cultural institutions and the number of children that Catholics had.

Conclusion of the paper is that it was the collapse of visible Catholic social institutions and ways of life (as priests and nuns streamed out of the Church and new vocations radically slowed), even more than decline in actively held beliefs, which caused the sudden drop in Catholic fertility after Vatican II.

It's an interesting line of reasoning, with some good data to support it. Those of us who have remained active in the faith since Vatican II have in many ways had to increase our emphasis on the learned faith (the doctrines and history of the Church) in addition to, or even instead of, the active Catholic lifestyle/culture which was so strong in the pre-Vatican II Church. From that perspective, it seems strange and rather silly to me when people talk about changes such as vernacular liturgy and the option of choosing a different Friday penance (rather than abstaining from meat) as major crises in faith. But it is perhaps impossible for me, as a post-Vatican II Catholic (even a very conservative one) to understand how directly many people identified things like Latin and meatless Fridays with the essence of being Catholic.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Dagger John

Via Rich Leonardi, the cinematic life of Archbishop John Hughes of New York:
We are not the first generation of New Yorkers puzzled by what to do about the underclass. A hundred years ago and more, Manhattan’s tens of thousands of Irish seemed a lost community, mired in poverty and ignorance, destroying themselves through drink, idleness, violence, criminality, and illegitimacy. What made the Irish such miscreants? Their neighbors weren’t sure: perhaps because they were an inferior race, many suggested; you could see it in the shape of their heads, writers and cartoonists often emphasized. In any event, they were surely incorrigible.

But within a generation, New York’s Irish flooded into the American mainstream. The sons of criminals were now the policemen; the daughters of illiterates had become the city’s schoolteachers; those who’d been the outcasts of society now ran its political machinery. No job training program or welfare system brought about so sweeping a change. What accomplished it, instead, was a moral transformation, a revolution in values. And just as John Wesley, the founder of Methodism in the late eighteenth century, had sparked a change in the culture of the English working class that made it unusually industrious and virtuous, so too a clergyman was the catalyst for the cultural change that liberated New York’s Irish from their underclass behavior. He was John Joseph Hughes, an Irish immigrant gardener who became the first Catholic archbishop of New York. How he accomplished his task can teach us volumes about the solution to our own end-of-the-millennium social problems.

A fascinating account of a powerful man who rehabilitated family life, morality, education, spirituality, and social image among the Irish of the mid-to-late 19th century.

The Conscript and the Crisis

Dr. Thursday has posted an essay of Chesterton's entitled The Conscript and the Crisis, as an example of Chesterton's view of Catholic liturgy.
In the course of a certain morning I came into one of the quiet squares of a small French town and found its cathedral. It was one of those grey and rainy days which rather suit the Gothic. The clouds were leaden, like the solid blue-grey lead of the spires and the jewelled windows; the sloping roofs and high-shouldered arches looked like cloaks drooping with damp; and the stiff gargoyles that stood out round the walls were scoured with old rains and new. I went into the round, deep porch with many doors and found two grubby children playing there out of the rain. I also found a notice of services, etc., and among these I found the announcement that at 11.30 (that is about half an hour later) there would be a special service for the Conscripts, that is to say, the draft of young men who were being taken from their homes in that little town and sent to serve in the French Army; sent (as it happened) at an awful moment, when the French Army was encamped at a parting of the ways. There were already a great many people there when I entered, not only of all kinds, but in all attitudes, kneeling, sitting, or standing about. And there was that general sense that strikes every man from a Protestant country, whether he dislikes the Catholic atmosphere or likes it; I mean, the general sense that the thing was "going on all the time"; that it was not an occasion, but a perpetual process, as if it were a sort of mystical inn.
At a good liturgy (and occasionally at a bad one, too) there is a sense of timelessness: not that Catholics through the ages are repeating the actions of the Mass, but that at any point in history we're all attending the same Mass and only the accident of time keeps us from being immediately present to one another.

When Darwin and I were travelling in Europe during our student days, we enjoyed attending masses in Latin because even in a country where we understood none of the language, we could understand and participate at church. This sense of companionship, of all being fellow travelers at the "mystical inn" is not only limited to those Catholics separated by distance, but also by time. Chesterton says it better than I can: "the general sense that the thing was "going on all the time"; that it was not an occasion, but a perpetual process".

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Money and Politics

Fr. Martin Fox, who prior to entering the priesthood worked in political lobbying/advocacy, has an interesting post (and comment threat) up about money in the political process. His basic thesis is: It's not so much the case the politicians change their beliefs in order to get money from donors (though that happens at times) but rather that candidates with certain types of beliefs are more likely to get money from one source or another or no source at all, depending on who is interested in supporting those beliefs.

Thus, one candidate may raise a great deal of money from big labor as a result of voicing his beliefs in favor of protectionism and high wages, while another candidate raises lots of money from large businesses as a result of supporting open boarders and 'right to work'. However, it is the beliefs that come first and the money that follows after.