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

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

God's Spirit Was on the Waters

I'm not a great one for inspiration, and I've never been to New Orleans, but I wanted to put something up here in honor of all those suffering from the hurricane's aftermath. This is another of the Don Camillo stories by Giovanni Guareschi:

The Bell
The river embankment did not give way, even where everyone said it was sure to crack, and so the next morning many people went back to the village, which lay below the water-level, in order to fetch more of their belongings. But toward nine o'clock something unexpected happened. The water had risen higher and although it did not penetrate the main embankment, it found a weak spot elsewhere.

About a mile east of the village, the road running along the embankment went over a bridge across the Fossone, a tributary which poured at this point into the Po. The Fossone had solid banks of its own, but because the Po was so high, it had reversed its course and was running away from instead of into the river. Just below the bridge, where the banks of the Fossone joined those of the river, the water tunneled underneath and then came up in a jet, making the hole larger and larger. There was no way of holding it, and the villagers soon returned with wagons and trucks to seek safety.

Don Camillo had worked all alone until three o'clock in the morning, carrying things to the second floor and attic of the rectory. Then he was so tired that he fell into a dead sleep. At half-past nine in the morning he was awakened by the shouts of people running to take refuge on the embankment. Soon the noise died away, and he got up to look out of the window at the deserted church square. He went down to explore further and then climbed up in the bell tower. From this vantage point he could see that the water had already crept up on the lower part of the village and was slowly creeping higher. It had encircled the isolated hut of old Merola, and when it reached the ground-floor windows the whole thing crumbled. Don Camillo sighed. The old man had not wanted to leave, and it was by sheer force that they had taken him away. Now the pace of the advancing water was faster; the rain had left the earth so thoroughly soaked that it could not absorb a drop. It was up to the higher part of the village, which lay stretched out perfectly flat before it. Hearing a crash in the distance, he looked through his field-glasses and saw that a hundred and fifty feet of one bank of the Fossone had given away. Then, going over to another window, he noticed a crowd of people on the main embankment gazing in the direction of the village.

Those who had gone with their trucks and wagons for a second load of their belongings had been forced back. Now they stood with evacuees from other villages, who had brought their livestock and household goods with them, looking down at the newly flooded area, half a mile away. No one spoke, and old women shed silent tears. Their village seemed to be dying there before them, and they began to think of it as already dead.

"There is no God!" said an old man gloomily.

But just as that moment the church bell rang. There was no mistaking the sound, even if the tone was somewhat different from usual. All eyes were fixed on the church tower.

After Don Camillo had seen the crowd on the embankment he went back to the ground. The water had climbed the three steps leading to the church door and was running into the nave.

"Lord, forgive me for forgetting that it is Sunday," said Don Camillo, kneeling in front of the altar.

Before going to prepare himself in the sacristy, Don Camillo stepped into the little room at the base of the bell tower, whose floor was lower than that of the church and already covered with eight or ten inches of water. He tugged at a rope, hoping that it was the right one. It was, and when the crowd on the embankment heard it ring, they said:

"Eleven o'clock Mass!"

The women joined their hands in prayer and the men took off their hats.

Don Camillo lit the candles and began to say Mass. The water was climbing the altar steps and soon it touched his vestments. It was muddy and cold, but Don Camillo paid no attention. His congregation was dry and safe on the embank. ment. And when it was time for the sermon, he did not mind the fact that the church was empty, but preached to his parishioners just as if they were there before him. There were three feet of water in the nave, and pews and confessionals had overturned and were floating at random. The door was wide open, and beyond it he could see the submerged houses on the square and the lowering clouds on the horizon.

"Brethren," he said, "the waters have boiled up from the river bed and now are sweeping everything before them. But one day they will be calmed and return to their rightful place and the sun will shine again. Even if you lose everything you have, you can still be rich in your faith in God. Only those who doubt God's mercy and justice will be impoverished, even if their possessions are intact."

And he went on at considerable length in the flooded church, while from the embankment people continued to stare at the tower. When the bell sounded for the elevation, the women knelt down on the damp ground and the men bowed their heads. Then the bell rang again for the final blessing. The Mass was over, and people moved about freely and talked in a low tone of voice, hoping to hear the bell again. Soon afterward it rang out gaily once more, and the men took out their watches and said:

"Noon! It's time to go for dinner."

They got into whatever vehicles they had with them and went to the improvised canteens and shelters. And looking back over their shoulders at the village, which seemed to be afloat in a sea of mud, they were obviously thinking:

"As long as Don Camillo's there, everything's all right."

Before Don Camillo went back to the rectory he looked up at Christ above the altar.

"Forgive me, Lord, for not kneeling. If I were to kneel, I'd be in water up to the neck."

His head was bent and he could not be sure that Christ had smiled. But he was almost sure that He had, for there was a glow in his heart that made him forget the fact that he was soaked to the waist. He was able to get to the rectory, seizing on the way a floating ladder, with which he managed to climb into a second-storey window. He changed his clothes, had something to eat and went to bed. Toward three in the afternoon there was a knock at the window.

"Come in," said Don Camillo, and there was Peppone.

"If you'll come down, there's a boat rowed by some of my boys waiting for you," Peppone mumbled.
When a man is lying in bed, or even sitting up in it, he is in no position to come out with a phrase that will go down in history. So Don Camillo leaped to his feet and shouted:

"The old guard dies, but it never surrenders!"

Although he was on his feet, he had nothing on but his drawers, and this detracted from the solemnity of the occasion. But Peppone was in no mood to notice.

"Then devil take you," he said angrily. "You may not get another chance to escape so soon!"

The rescue squad rowed on. When the boat passed in front of the open church door, Peppone shouted to the rowers to watch out on the left. While they were looking in the other direction, he had time to take off his cap and put it back on without being observed. For the rest of the way he cudgeled his brain to know what Don Camillo had meant about the old guard that dies but never surrenders. Even if the water stood eight feet high, the flood seemed to him to have abated since he knew that Don Camillo was at his post.

Artificial Wombs and 'Choice'

Amy Welborn linked to an article from the Times (of London) about artificial womb technology:

ARTIFICIAL wombs, to bring a foetus of a human being to full term outside a woman’s body, could become a reality within 20 years, scientists have predicted.

This could present great advantages in the case of very premature babies, which could be nurtured to full pregnancy term in artificial wombs, thereby reducing the risk of long-term developmental problems.

Such technology might also appeal to those who cannot have children naturally, such as women with a damaged uterus or no uterus at all, or to gay couples. The need for surrogate mothers could disappear....

In 2002 Hung-Ching Liu, at Cornell University, in the United States, announced that her team had successfully grown a sample of cells from the lining of a human uterus and had used tissue engineering technologies to shape them like a womb.

When a fertilised human egg was introduced into the womb, it implanted into the uterus wall as it would in a natural pregnancy. The experiment was ceased at six days’ gestation, because of legal limits on human embryo experimentation.

Japanese scientists brought goat foetuses to full term using so-called “uterine tanks” after removing them mid-pregancy from their mother’s womb.

In further womb research by Dr Liu’s team, mouse embryos were grown nearly to term in artificial wombs but, as in the Japanese experiments, the newborn animals did not survive....

But Richard Ashcroft, reader in medical ethics at Imperial College London, fears a “foetal rescue act” to force drug or alcohol-addicted mothers to have their foetuses surgically removed. “I couldn’t think of anything worse,” he said.

It is also feared that scientists involved in cloning could continue their experiments without the need for surrogate mothers.

There is a danger too that some women who want babies but cannot face pregnancy or childbirth could take advantage of the artificial wombs — one step beyond being “too posh to push”. If they see their babies growing in a tank, would they bond with their newborns, or view them as commodities? Dr Ashcroft said: “Is creating children with artificial wombs having children at all, or is it a kind of manufacturing of children? It is deeply dangerous.”

The issue will add fresh fuel to the abortion debate.

This brings up some interesting issues. Excuse the egoism of repeating comments I already made on in Amy's combox.

Maybe it's the old SF fan in me, but I've always wondered: If some day artificial womb technology was routine and the government or group of prolife foundations were willing to put up the money to cover all costs, would "pro-choice" groups we willing to turn in the right to abort for a right to have an "unwanted preganancy" removed to an artificial womb and put up for adoption? Essentially all of pro-choice theory is built around the idea that even if the fetus is human the mother's right to control her body trumps the fetus' right to life. However, if the fetus could be removed without killing it, would abortion rights groups be willing to give up their right to kill in return for a right to evict, or would they still demand their pound of flesh?

Don't get me wrong, there are alot of really messy ethical issues that would come up if artificial wombs become common. Nor would "rescuing" babies that would otherwise be aborted be a societally simple thing to do. (Adoption is messy as it is these days, these adoptions would be messier still. The only way towards sanity I could imagine is if legislation were passed that if a child is given up for adoption before birth all records of the parent are permanently erased and the child is treated as the biological offspring of the adopting partents.)

Interesting, if disturbing, stuff...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Politics and the Cardinal Virtues

Over at Bonfire of the Vanities, Fr. Fox has posted a talk he gave on faith and politics, which ties into my earlier post on the the virtue of prudence. Now, while I go read more of "The Four Cardinal Virtues" inspired by Father's talk, here are his thoughts in a nutshell:

Some will say, “abortion’s bad, but don’t change laws,
just change hearts.”

Justice—and, I think, Prudence—says,
No, the Law is a Teacher, and a repository of values.
I submit that argument is really a lack of fortitude,
Masquerading as “prudence.”

Now, of course, we can talk specifics,
But at least take away from tonight, this framework:

What is right, what is each ones due? Justice;

When passion impels us forward,
what bids us hold back?

Our passions draw us back; why go forward? Fortitude;

What is the right means, in light of circumstances,
Experience, human realities, possibilities and limitations? Prudence.

Losing my first love

Mrs. Darwin here, emerging from a fog of visitors to assure all that I'm still alive and kicking (as is, I sometimes think, Smaskig). My energy levels are gradually building to almost normal, and I feel much better. Thanks to all who've enquired...

Here's a funny thing, though. About a year and a half ago, I picked up the violin. I'd played viola for a few years as a teen, so I had some background and was able to jump right in. A young friend of mine had asked if I would be willing to teach her to play and though I'm no virtuoso, I agreed. She's progressed rapidly and I've been honing my own skills through our lessons. Now I even have a rather small pupil who is merrily scratching her way through Book 1 of Suzuki.

I'm no great talent, but I do like to play, and I've picked up an interest in Irish music (courtesy of my brothers and their Irish band up at the seminary). For the past year and a half, I've played almost daily. There are plenty of things I don't know about playing the violin; so far that hasn't stopped me from plunging in and fiddling away.

However, since I've been pregnant my violin has had an adverse effect on me. Frankly, I can't even think about touching it without beginning to feel queasy. It's not as if I bravely struggle through the nausea because I have a strong urge to practice; I don't even desire to play any more. I hope this is just an odd side effect of morning sickness and not a more permanent state, because it seems terrible to just fall out of love with something that used to be so compelling. I know this is the story of so many relationships -- still, we were different! We had something special!

So on the one hand I really don't want to touch the thing, and on the other I miss making music. All affections are cyclical, I think, yet it saddens me to think that maybe I'll always start gagging at the very thought of tuning the violin. On the other hand, lessons start up for the fall in two weeks, so I'm going to have to grin and bear it soon. Or else start charging.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Dying Russia

Deo Gratias cites a news story about Russia that says the country now has more abortions every year than births. It also has one of the highest infant mortality rates and lowest life expectancies of any country in Europe. The Soviet Union made abortion far more routine than it has ever been in the US, and the economic wreckage left behind in its wake has made it more common than ever before.

Creationist Dinosaurs

The LA Times has an kind of charming human interest article about creationists buying up old roadside attractions featuring dinosaurs and creating alternative museums featuring dinosaurs in a creation narrative context:

Adam, Eve and T. Rex
By Ashley Powers, Times Staff Writer
CABAZON, Calif. —
Dinny the roadside dinosaur has found religion.The 45-foot-high concrete apatosaurus has towered over Interstate 10 near Palm Springs for nearly three decades as a kitschy prehistoric pit stop for tourists.Now he is the star of a renovated attraction that disputes the fact that dinosaurs died off millions of years before humans first walked the planet.

Dinny's new owners, pointing to the Book of Genesis, contend that most dinosaurs arrived on Earth the same day as Adam and Eve, some 6,000 years ago, and later marched two by two onto Noah's Ark. The gift shop at the attraction, called the Cabazon Dinosaurs, sells toy dinosaurs whose labels warn, "Don't swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution."

The Cabazon Dinosaurs join at least half a dozen other roadside attractions nationwide that use the giant reptiles' popularity in seeking to win converts to creationism. And more are on the way.

"We're putting evolutionists on notice: We're taking the dinosaurs back," said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a Christian group building a $25-million creationist museum in Petersburg, Ky., that's already overrun with model sauropods and velociraptors.

"They're used to teach people that there's no God, and they're used to brainwash people," he said. "Evolutionists get very upset when we use dinosaurs. That's their star."

There's much more...

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Keeping the Aspidistra Flying

Life continues in Darwin Land, though it's been incredibly busy lately. We now have Benedict XVI's official portrait up on PapalImages, and parishes and schools have kept those flying off the shelves. In keeping with our promise to donate 10% of the proceeds, we just donated 100 Euros to St. Peters Pence via the Vatican website.

The oldest monkey has taken a sudden liking to Phantom of the Opera. Listening to your three-year-old try to sing along with the high notes is... interesting.

We've been rather remiss in blogrolling, but finally got around to some much overdue additions. Do check out Musum Pontificalis to hear the pope's latest musings on important topics like reality TV. Sacramentum Vitae writes very thoughtful pieces on theology and culture. Happy Catholic is always a source of good links and humor. And how can one not love Speculative Catholic, when his interests include SF/Fantasy, homebrewing, Umberto Eco and Catholicism?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Finding God

Michael Liccione has a piece up on Pontifications dealing with the passage from Vatican I's Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Church which says that God's existence can be discerned in nature by the light of human reason:

If anyone says that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, cannot be known with certainty in the natural light of human reason through the things that have been made: let him be anathema (Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chapter 1, Canon 1 [8 December 1869])

This is a favorite quote in certain quadrants of the Catholic Bogsphere, and has been the topic of some debate on Amy Welborn's blog.

Michael puts forward the interesting question of to what extent our ability to do "natural theology" has been destroyed by the fall. In other words, now that man has in him the inborn flaws stemming from mortal sin, and now that the world as a whole is fallen in disordered, has our ability to discern God's existence from nature diminished?

Certainly, it seems that our ability to be convinced of God's existence would seem to be diminished, in that man is now untrusting and proud in a way that we assume he was not before the fall. But is God's hand in creation less clear? Is creation less obviously "wonderfully made"?

Now clearly, humans have since the earliest times discerned God's existence from nature. Indeed, many argue that one of the things that distinguishes humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is that we have an inherent religious sense which (so far as anyone can tell) no other creature has.

Michael doesn't miss that, however. His question is (if I understand it right): When primitive tribes looked on the sky and discerned a god of thunder or a god of stars or when Plato (through the workings of human reason rather than divine revelation) discerned the existence of The Good and Justice and Beauty -- did these men do so because God's existence can be plainly discerned in nature or because the grace won for man by Christ was active in their hearts even before his historical suffering and death.

In a sense, I wonder if it's a question without a difference: whether people discern God's existence from nature by means of pure human reason or by means of reason assisted by the invisible action of God's grace, the result is clearly the same. And yet, it does seem somehow that it is a worthwhile question which it is.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Catholic Population Trends

You may well have already seen links to the Population Reference Bureau's recent piece on Catholic demographic tends. There's some interesting data here, but in other ways the analysis is rather disappointing. To start by summing up their findings:

Diverging regional growth patterns for Catholic populations are mirrored in projections for many of these regions' individual countries, with Latin American and African countries leading the way. Indeed, the list of 25 countries projected to experience the greatest growth in their Catholic populations from 2004 to 2050 is dominated by Latin America/the Caribbean (with 13 countries) and Africa (with eight).
The 10 countries forecast to have the greatest numerical increases in their Catholic populations by 2050 include Congo, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, the United States, Nigeria, Uganda, Colombia, Argentina, and Angola (see Table 2). These 10 countries are expected to account for slightly more than three-fifths of the projected world growth of 495.4 million Catholics between 2004 and 2050. Only one European country (France) appears in the top 25 in terms of growth, at 22nd for the 2004-2025 period.
Conversely, European nations dominate the list of countries projected to experience declines in their Catholic populations between now and 2050. Nearly 70 percent (25 of 34) of the countries projected to sustain losses in their Catholic populations between 2004 and 2050 are in Europe, as are all 10 of the countries expected to have the greatest numerical declines in their Catholic populations (see Table 2). Poland and Italy each are projected to have 5.3 million fewer Catholics in 2050 than in 2004.
However, the methodology for getting there is perhaps problematic:

Due to the absence of historical trend data across countries regarding the prevalence of Catholics in the populace, this analysis must assume that the percentage of the population that is Catholic in each region or country remains constant over the 2004-2050 period. To the extent that changes occur in the degree to which members of the population adhere to Catholicism, the true population figures for the three time periods could vary accordingly from those reported here.

In making these projections, I used population projections from PRB's 2004 World Population Data Sheet and statistics on present national and regional percentages of Catholics from the website The website contains Catholic population statistics down to the jurisdictional level (usually diocesan) from the Annuario Pontificio, the official yearly Vatican directory.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that not everyone is as interested as I am in the demographics of religion, but it seems to me like this leaves all the most interesting questions out: In what parts of the world are Catholics lapsing at the greatest rates? In what parts of the world are people converting to Catholicism at the greatest rates? Are Catholics reproducing at, above or below the rate of the rest of society?

My biggest bone to pick, however, is with the conclusion section:

The Catholic Church has several options in responding to the demographic shift of its flock away from Europe and toward the developing world. One option would be devoting greater energy to issues that affect the lives of Catholics in the developing world's issues including poverty, hunger, AIDS, inequitable access to health care, economic inequality, and war.

The Church might also take more aggressive measures to ensure that priests from the developing world attain positions of ecclesiastical power, including the papacy. In addition, the institution might increasingly have to rely on youth from the developing world to fill the ranks of priests and nuns. Finally, the Church also could adopt a laissez-faire approach about its demographic disjunctures. These potential routes are of course not mutually exclusive. But regardless of its next steps, the Catholic Church will face major challenges in balancing the needs of its growing developing-world population and those of its traditional but declining population from the developed world.

Now, I suppose it's natural for outsiders (which I assume from the tone Prof. Saenz effectively is) to mis-understand religion, but these are questions you would ask about a government or a service organization, not a religion. Indeed, I would posit that one of the reasons Catholicism (and Christianity in general) seems so much more compelling in the developing world is that those in the developing world are much more directly confronted with the reality that our lives on this earth are short and unpredictable. As the old saying goes: "In the face of death, a man remembers his God." The Church does not need to focus more on "poverty, hunger, AIDS, inequitable access to health care" to meet the needs of the developing world. Those tend, rather, to be the pet projects of the developed world. In the developing world, and wherever else reality makes itself once again known to modern man, the Church's message should be what it always has been: That Christ died that for our sins so that we might have eternal life.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Miss Marple and the Case of the Superfluous Lesbians

This is something I've been mulling over for a few weeks, but I was prodded into writing by seeing Steven Riddle address the same issue (hat tip: Happy Catholic).

Mystery, the ever-popular series on PBS, recently ran a set of four new Miss Marple mysteries, all based on books that I'd read years ago. (I went through an Agatha Christie kick in my early teen years and churned through most of her works.) The four mysteries were Murder at the Vicarage, A Murder is Announced, What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw, and The Body in the Library. Murder at the Vicarage (barring the odd flashback sequences) and What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw were substantially the same tales I remembered. A Murder is Announced had some slight differences, and the denoument to The Body in the Library was so drastically unlike anything Dame Christie wrote as to send me out to the library searching for the original.

(I am sorry if I throw out any spoilers discussing the mysteries.)

The producers of Mystery have decided to spice up the Miss Marple cases by throwing in a few pairs of lesbians -- a move that is definitely unsubstantiated by the originals. In A Murder is Announced, there are a pair of spinsters who feature in the story -- Murgatroyd and Hinchliffe. In the book they are a dowdy old pair of friends, with nary a whiff of sexuality about them. Hinchliffe is indeed a mannish creature (Christie's description) and has nothing to do with men, but Murgatroyd is simply a frazzled, middle-aged bag of kindly fluff. They are housemates, an arrangement which is not commented on in the book. You'd think in a mystery set in the 1950s in which everyone's background is dug up, a lesbian pairing would be remarked upon openly, if it exists.

Not so in the tv series. Murgatroyd (what a name) is a slim and pretty young thing starting a lesbian relationship with the more masculine Hinchliffe (though they're trying to keep it a secret). She's a bit fluffy, but otherwise bears little resemblance to the woman in the book. And by making her Miss Marple's connection in the town, the movie eliminated the character of the vicar's wife, who was far more charming and interesting.

Still, perhaps I'd simply missed these sordid undercurrents as a twelve-year-old. But The Body in the Library made me cough on my iced tea in sheer confusion. You see, the producers had changed the identity of one of the murderers to create a lesbian couple killing in order to finance their escape from it all. Whoa, nelly! Not only was this far removed from anything I remembered of the original, but there were no clues leading up to this bizarre denoument (to guide us amateur sleuths in the viewing audience). Why go to such trouble to alter an already tightly-plotted mystery? It certainly wasn't flattering to the idea of lesbianism. Perhaps, as Dr. Johnson said, the wonder is not that it was done well, but that it was done at all. Maybe some liberal scriptwriter wanted to add more suspense to the tale and put in an "Aha! You're so close-minded you didn't even suspect this!" twist.

I did enjoy Geraldine McEwan's performance as Miss Marple, though. Re-reading the books, she's not exactly like the character Christie drew, but neither were these programs, so it doesn't really matter in the end, now does it?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Post-Christian Europe

Amy Welborn quotes a letter to the editor (not available online) published in America magazine regarding the de-Christianization of countries like Germany:

I am afraid I belong to those who believe that Germany, and most of Western Europe for that matter, is indeed experiencing something like “de-Christianization.” And here are the facts: 11 percent of all Germans and 15 percent of registered Catholics attend church every Sunday, down from 22 percent in 1990 and 50 percent in 1950. Fewer than half of all children are baptized in a Christian denomination; in the urban centers of Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin, only one in 10 children is baptized. The church is scoring only with funerals: 92 percent of Catholics who died in 2003 had a Catholic funeral.
To be sure, Germans are not exactly atheists. According to a poll in April 2005, some 65 percent of Germans believe “in some kind of God,” and 59 percent believe that they can “directly talk to God through prayer.” But most Germans see faith as a private matter that has little or nothing to do with the church. Only 7 percent say that faith needs to be experienced in the community of the church. Sixty-one percent say that they do not believe in the church’s teachings.

Here's what should really make us think: If only 11% of German's go to Church, that means there are probably more active participants in Islam living in Germany than active participants in all Christian denominations combined. Think about that one...

An Organizing Principle

Since we're simultaneously nearing the three month and the 100 post mark with this blog, I wanted to make it a little easier to access posts throughout our history on topics of particular interest (as distinguished from whatever floats into our little heads...) To that end, I've created the first of several "meta-thread" pages (in the right sidebar) listing all the Population & Ideology related posts.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Where Evolution Can't Go

Obviously, I'm not against studying the demographics of religion, I think there's a lot to learn by doing so, but it doesn't do to treat religion as a demographic phenomenon. Although a religion may have demographic implications, and you can find out a lot about a religious body's relative health (though not necessarily its truth) by examining it demographically religious bodies are primarily defined by a set of beliefs.

I ran into this book review of Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society which attempts to use an evolutionary model for evaluating why religions are or are not successful in growing in certain environments. The reviewer, Ronald L. Numbers, pins the tail on this donkey in American Scientist. I first ran into Dr. Numbers some years back when I came across his books on the history of creationism as a movement (he's not a creationist by any stretch but has written some pretty fair books about it).

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Arm the Vatican!

Jonah Goldberg on NRO makes a modest proposal...

I'm there, if only they'll let in those who aren't Swiss.

Coffee and Humanity

Belmont Club links to a post on Hurl's Blog about coffee, Iraq, and humanity:

This morning I walked into the chow hall to fill my travel mug with fresh coffee. There is always a large urn sitting by the door filled with the stuff. One of the Iraqis employed by KBR (that's right, the Halliburton subsidiary employs local Iraqis, giving them jobs and hope) was draining the contents of the urn and preparing to brew a fresh batch. I didn't feel like waiting an hour or so for fresher coffee - what was still in the urn was good enough.
He let me fill my mug, then offered me sugar and milk. He didn't speak English and I don't speak Arabic, but through pointing and hand gestures it was clear what he was saying. I turned them down saying I only like coffee black - no milk or sugar. Of course like him, I didn't just say it, I also used a variety of improvised gestures to augment my communication efforts. It was clear he understood when he suddenly smiled broadly and began expressing to me that he also liked his coffee black with no milk and no sugar.
We stood there momentarily smiling at each other, not saying a word. Then I said goodbye, gave him a brief wave and turned to leave. He nodded and also waved goodbye.
As I walked out of the chow hall, I thought about this exchange for some time. Two complete strangers from radically different cultures thousands of miles apart. Neither of us spoke the same language. Yet we discovered a bit of commonality in our preference for black coffee. Our efforts to communicate about this seemed to draw our two cultures just a little closer. It seems we both became aware of this about the same time - smiling at one another with the realization that an unknown American and an unknown Iraqi liked the same thing.
I wonder how many more shared interests, ideas - even customs - we might have. After all, we're both human beings. I would bet that what causes joy and sadness, satisfaction and disappointment, is probably pretty much the same for both of us. I'm sure he loves his children in very much the same way I love mine.

Hurl's a good writer (I know I've visitted his blog before, though it's been a while) and brings a human side to what we normaly see as a distant set of events on the evening news. That, to my mind, is one of the great things about blogdom. Sure, there are lots of silly blogs written by college students counting their belly button lint, but in a world where there are so many books published its impossible to find anything interesting to read at Borders, blogs provide a loose network you can follow back to interesting stories that never see the light any other way.

Missing Academia

There are definitely a lot of downsides to college (no money, no sleep, racking up massive debt, listening to the rugby team party, etc.) but there are also some things I really miss. One of those is the ability to wander through the stacks of a college library. Curious to learn Egyptian hieroglyphics? No problem. Six books on that. Looking for a twenty volume history of the Church, the complete Loeb Library, four translations of Lucretius? All available for checkout. Wandering through the stacks always seemed to emphasize how much was out there to learn -- not that I followed up on all that opportunity, but at least it was there.

Lately what I have been missing is the ability to get hold of academic journal articles without paying for them. I discovered Google Academic Search and have been browsing abstracts of articles on religion demographics. But then, just as I've found something that looks really interesting (Fertility rates are lower among non-Hispanic white Catholics than among non-Hispanic white Protestants, but only if you count non-practicing members of both sects: non practicing Catholics marry later and have fewer children than non practicing Protestants) I run up against the "Pay USD26.00 to read whole article" notice, and there it all stops.

Sigh... Maybe grad school one of these days...

Da Man in Cologne

Be sure and check out my boy Papa Ratzi as he tries out a "sweet new style" to get the attention of all the homies at World Youth Day:
World Youth Day Address - working copy III

Word to your mother!
The Word came to us through our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary; which was a really rad thing, ya know? Lord Jesus Christ didn’t come in a Beamer all decked in bling bling; no, he came to us in a lowly manger, clothed in humility and poverty. As Our Good Lord’s main-homey right now, I come to you in humility and without bling bling, save my Pescatorio and pectoral cross.
And that's just the beginning... Also, don't forget to read down a few posts to get a first look at his controversial new encyclical, Dignitatis Felidae. And don't miss the comments box either.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Chastity and Contraception

Michael Liccione over at Sacramenum Vitae links to a 1972 article by Gertrude Anscombe about contraception and chastity.

I will first ask you to contemplate a familiar point: the fantastic change that has come about in people's situation in respect of having children because of the invention of efficient contraceptives. You see, what can't be otherwise we accept; and so we accept death and its unhappiness. But possibility destroys mere acceptance. And so it is with the possibility of having intercourse and preventing conception. This power is now placed in a woman's hands; she needn't have children when she doesn't want to and she can still have her man! This can make the former state of things look intolerable, so that one wonders why they were so pleased about weddings in former times and why the wedding day was supposed to be such a fine day for the bride.

I think at this time people underestimate the amount of philosophical change that has been wrought on our culture by the availability of effective birth control. Those who have bought into the "contraceptive mentality" have a profoundly different understanding of what sexuality is what what the human person is than people at any other time in history. In this sense, birth control has changed our culture more than almost any other invention.

It's not just Catholics who have noticed this. In Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, he posits that a race of super-intelligent aliens tried to "enlighten" humanity millennia ago, but things went wrong and they had to go into hiding because all cultures feared them. Their appearance gave rise to demonic imagery. (Red, horns, tail with point, etc.) When they show up again in the "present day" they provide humanity with two inventions, and then wait a few generations before revealing themselves. One of the inventions is a 100% effective means of birth control. I can't remember what the other was. (Any old SF fans out there remember?) The result is that all organized religions disappear within a few generations, and when the demonic looking aliens appear no one is bothered. (Clarke wasn't some RadTrad blasting birth control, he was an agnostic with Buddhist sympathies who thought the disappearance of organized religions would definitely be a positive thing.)

There's a lot of good food for thought in Anscombe's essay. I still haven't had the chance to finish the whole thing. (In case you couldn't tell, I've been pretty busy lately between work and family and such.) I post a few more bits of it over the next few days.

Here's the link:

A Day of Non-Obligation

Isn't it bad enough for the bishops to cancel days of obligation without your parish deciding to hold only one mass, and do it at a time that conflicts with darn near everyone's work schedule?

Seriously, is it really us working stiffs they're worried about, or is it that they don't want to make all their parish priests celebrate three or more masses in a day when they've just dealt with a weekend? It seems like if anything they make it harder than usual to get to mass on days of non-obligation.


Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Canaanite Woman

I was struck by today's mass reading:
21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and
Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon." 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us." 24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." 26 And he answered, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 27 She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." 28 Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.

Our new pastor, drew from it that Jesus must have been teaching his disciples a lesson in racial tolerance: that just because the woman was a Canaanite did not mean that she was beyond God's grace.

Something else was struck me, however, and it's not an angle I hear often, so I thought I'd toss it out for consideration.

For sure, there were racial divisions between the Israelites and the Canaanites, but the even bigger division was religious. The Israelites worshipped God while the Canaanites were pagan. So when this woman approaches Jesus, she's not only asking someone of another ethnic group to help her, but she's asking a prophet of a religion other than her own to help her. Jesus' reputation for holiness and miracles is so great that she seeks his help rather than a priest or healer of her own religion.

Similarly, I think Christ's response "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." more properly refers to his ministry being to believers than to a specific ethnic group. (After all, we several times hear of the Greek or Etheopian Jews in the New Testament, and it doesn't sound like they are treated differently because they are not ethnically Israelite.)

Christ's response is thus that he was sent to tend to the needs of believers in the One God of Israel, not worshipers of pagan idols. Yet the Canaanite woman shows by her persistence that she does believe in the efficacy of Jesus, and through him, God. And so Christ heals her daughter.

It's easy to forget the profoundly different world that first century Jews and Christians experienced because their neighbors were truly pagan. In that we often think of ourselves as a Christian Church surrounded by a pagan world, we lose the distinction between the ancient world and today. Today we are surrounded mostly be lax Christians and post-Christians, along with a few agnostics, atheists, neo-pagans, and members of other religious traditions. But the world as a whole, and it's understanding of reality, eternity and the human person, has been changed by its two millennia long contact with Christianity. Modern pagans and unbelievers are specifically post-Christian pagans and unbelievers. In some ways, this makes the job of evangelicalism more difficult. Non-Christians in our modern world often retain the more attractive elements of the Christian worldview, while dropping it's more difficult beliefs and strictures. Thus, Christianity has, to a certain extent, been robbed of its "newness" in the eyes of the world.

The Little World

For many years, one of my favorite Catholic authors has been Giovanni Guareschi, an Italian author who wrote throughout the 50s and 60s. His most well known stories center around Don Camillo, the two-fisted priest in a small town on the Po river valley, and his friend and adversary Peppone, the communist mayor. Guareschi wrote a number of other stories (both novels and comic pieces about his home life) as well as a great deal of political commentary which has never been translated.

Although his work was very popular in the 50s and 60s (and can still be found in used bookstores in old Catholic Book Club editions) he seems almost entirely forgotten these days, which is say, because beneith their humor his stories often have a real depth of sentiment and character not often found.

Surfing around the other day I found a Tripod site maintained by an Indian Guareschi fan who has made most of his work in English available online. He's even obtained the blessing of Guareschi's two children, a letter from whom appears on his site.

What follows is the first Don Camillo story.

A Confession
Don Camillo had been born with a constitutional preference for calling a spade a spade. Upon a certain when there had been a local scandal involving landowners of ripe age and young girls of his parish, he had, in the course of his mass, embarked upon a seemly and suitably generalized address, when he had suddenly become aware of the fact that one of the chief offenders was present among the foremost ranks of his congregation. Flinging all restraint to the four winds and also flinging a hastily snatched cloth over the head of the Crucified Lord above the high altar in order that the divine ears might not be offended, he had set his arms firmly akimbo and had resumed his sermon. And so stentorian had been the voice that issued from the lips of the big man and so uncompromising had been his language that the very roof of the little church had seemed to tremble.
When the time of the elections drew near Don Camillo had naturally been explicit in his allusions to the local leftists. Thus came a fine evening when, as he was going home at dusk, an individual muffled in a cloak sprang out of a hedge as he passed by and, taking advantage of the fact that Don Camillo was handicapped by his bicycle and by a large parcel containing seventy eggs attached to its handlebars, belaboured him with a heavy stick and promptly vanished as though the earth had swallowed him.
Don Camillo had kept his own counsel. Having arrived at the presbytery and deposited the eggs in safety, he had gone into the church to discuss the matter with the Lord, as was his inevitable habit in moments of perplexity.
'What should I do?' Don Camillo had inquired.
'Anoint your back with a little oil beaten up in water and hold your tongue,' the Lord had replied from above the altar. 'We must forgive those who offend us. That is the rule.'
'Very true, Lord,' agreed Don Comillo, 'but on this occasion we are discussing blows, not offences.'
'And what do you mean by that? Surely you are not trying to tell me that injuries done to the body are more painful than those aimed at the spirit?'
'I see your point, Lord. But You should also bear in mind that in the beating of me, who am Your minister, an injury has been done to Yourself also. I am really more concerned on Your behalf than on my own.'
'And was I not a greater minister of God than you are? And did I not forgive those who nailed me to the Cross?'

'There is never any use in arguing with You!' Don Camillo had exclaimed. 'You are always in the right. Your will be done. We must forgive. All the same, don't forget that if these ruffians, encouraged by my silence, should crack my skull, the responsibility will lie with You. I could cite several passages from the Old Testament. . . .'
'Don Camillo, are you proposing to instruct me in the Old Testament? As for this business, I assume full responsibility. Moreover, strictly between Ourselves, the beating has done you no harm. It may teach you let politics alone in my house.'
Don Camillo had duly forgiven. But nevertheless one thing had stuck in his gullet like a fish bone: curiosity as to the identity of his assailant.
Time passed. Late one evening, while he sat in the confessional, Don Camillo discerned through the grille the countenance of the local leader of the extreme leftists, Peppone.
That Peppone should come to confession at all was a sensational event, and Don Camillo was proportionately gratified.
'God be with you, brother; with you who, more than any man, have need of His holy blessing. It is a long time since you last went to confession?'
'Not since 1918,' replied Peppone.
'You must have committed a great number of sins in the course of those twenty-eight years, with your head so crammed with crazy notions. . . .'
'A good few, undoubtedly,' sighed Peppone.
'For example?'
'For example, two months ago I gave you a hiding.'
'That was serious indeed,' replied Don Camillo, 'since in assaulting a minister of God, you have attacked God Himself.'
'But I have repented,' exclaimed Peppone. 'And moreover, it was not as God's minister that I beat you, but as my political adversary. In any case, I did it in a moment of weakness.'
'Apart from this and from your membership of your accursed Party, have you any other sins on your conscience?'
Peppone spilled all the beans.
Taken as a whole, his offences were not very serious, and Don Camillo let him off with a score of Paters and Aves. Then, while Peppone was kneeling at the altar rails performing his penance, Don Camillo went and knelt before the crucifix.
'Lord,' he said, 'You must forgive me, but I am going to beat him up for You.'
'You are going to do nothing of the kind,' replied the Lord. 'I have forgiven him and you must forgive him also. All things considered, he is not a bad soul.'
'Lord, you can never trust a Red! They live by lies. Only look at him; Barabbas incarnate!'
'It's as good a face as most, Don Camillo; it is your heart that is venomous!'
'Lord, if I have ever served You well, grant me just this one small grace: let me at least break this candle on his shoulders. Dear Lord, what, after all, is a candle?'
'No,' replied the Lord, 'Your hands were made for blessing, not for striking.'
Don Camillo sighed heavily.
He genuflected and left the sanctuary. As he turned to make a final sign of the cross he found himself exactly behind Peppone who, on his knees, was apparently absorbed in prayer.
'Lord,' groaned Don Camillo, clasping his hands and gazing at the crucifix. 'My hands were made for blessing, but not my feet!'
'There is something in that,' replied the Lord from above the altar, 'but all the same, Don Camillo, bear it in mind: only one!'
The kick landed like a thunderbolt and Peppone received it without so much as blinking an eye. Then he got to his feet and sighed with relief.
'I've been waiting for that for the last ten minutes,' he remarked. 'I feel better now.'
'So do I!' exclaimed Don Camillo, whose heart was now as light and serene as a May morning.
The Lord said nothing at all, but it was easy enough to see that He too was pleased.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Chief Brody Slap

Alrighty, you know I don't read the Huffington Post (aka the HBomb), but Greg Gutfield has a delightfully snide little column about the moral outrage of Cindy Sheehan camping outside Bush's Crawford Ranch -- because sitting outside a ranch talking to reporters will make her son come back? Because Bush will suddenly feel bad and say, "Oh, of course I was wrong, and I see how wrong I was because there's a woman camping outside my ranch!"

Protest is the last refuge of those who can't make an articulate argument.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Angel of Death

An emailer sent me this a few days ago, but it's still worthy of attention: Michael Schiavo receives Guardian of the Year Award.

Now I can understand that some people feel that Mr. Schiavo really did fight for what he believed his wife wanted, but Guardian of the Year? A man who cheats on his disabled wife and fathers two children with his mistress? A man who allowed his wife to die a slow death from dehydration over a period of two weeks because he didn't have the guts to smother her with a pillow? Who remembers that she'd wanted to die after he'd received the money from his malpractice lawsuit? Is it possible that there are better examples of guardianship out there who deserve to be rewarded? Just asking.


On an entirely separate note, thank you to all who've enquired after me and Smaskig. We're doing well, and the other day Noogs and I went to the midwife and heard Smaskig's heartbeat loud and strong. In fact, I'd swear I could feel baby moving around already, though it seems way too early for that. We've been away from the computer lately because sitting for too long in front of the screen makes me feel queasy...

Ingmar Bergman's Hazardous Dukes

Ready for a little cinema nouveau? Iowahawk has the dibs on Ingmar Bergman's take on the Dukes of Hazzard. Yee Haw!

For the record, I'm mostly too young to remember the original Dukes, and I haven't seen the movie, but I can recall watching the orange car leaping over ditches. Funny what sticks in your memory. I think I prefer Bergman's "version", though.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Catholic Beer

The Independant, over in the UK, runs a story on how the monks of Saint Sixtus feel overwhelmed by the demand for their world famous Westvleteren Abt 12 beer.

I'm a little curious as to why this is portrayed as a new thing. may have recently chosen Abt 12 as the world's top brew, but Westvleteren beer has been justly famous for several decades now as appreciation for traditional brews has returned with a vengence.

Of the other Trappist breweries (which make their product a little easier for consumers to get) the most widely distributed is Chimay. Their Chimay Grand Reserve is a cousin to Abt 12, strong, aged brown ale with a complex palate of flavors. It's sold in champaign-sized bottles for $8 and up. If you are a beer afficianado, find a bottle and consider all the wonderful things that monasticism has brought to the Western World.

Here's Saint Sixtus's website.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Schönborn Clarifies

Though taking the name "DarwinCatholic" for this blog, I'd never really intended to spend much time on Evolution vs. Creationism. Still, it's a topic that interests me, so...

John Allen offers some more insight into Schönborn's NYTimes essay in his Word From Rome this week. One of the really refreshing things about Allen's reporting (I guess I'll have to be a little less uncharitable about the National Catholic Reporter) is that he's not just a controversy chaser. Unlike 90% of reporters, he seems seriously interested in the topics being discussed, and so he'll run detailed follow-ups like this for weeks till he feels like he's got to the bottom of a topic.

I quoted scientists and theologians who argued that in thinking about the church and evolution, it's important to distinguish between scientific language and philosophical/theological language. Properly speaking, when a scientist refers to evolution as "random," it means that empirically, evolution's outcome is unpredictable; for a philosopher, however, "random" may mean "without purpose or design."

The church, many of these experts said, can accept the former but certainly not the latter.

In that regard, some Catholic observers pointed to a 2004 document of the International Theological Commission, the main advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, titled "Communion and Stewardship." Paragraph 69 of the document treats the distinctions among different meanings of words such as "unguided" and "random."

Scientists debate, the paragraph said, whether life's development is best explained by explicit design or random mutation and natural selection. This is not an argument that theology can settle. Following Thomas Aquinas, however, the document says that divine providence is consistent with either hypothesis. God's causation can express itself through both necessity and contingency, so that even if the development of life seems random to empirical observation, it certainly doesn't to God.

I had hoped to speak to Schönborn about all this, but unfortunately he was in Poland as I wrote the piece. This week, however, I was able to reach him. My question was, what does he make of paragraph 69 of the ITC document? In the end, is his problem with evolutionary theory itself, or with its potential philosophical and theological abuse?

This is his response:
"I agree completely with what was formulated in number 69 of 'Stewardship and Communion.' And I feel confirmed in my convictions by this document. In any case I think it is necessary to cite the whole paragraph 69, when it states: 'In the Catholic perspective, neo-Darwinians who adduce random genetic variation and natural selection as evidence that the process of evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science.'

"For Catholic thinking," Schönborn told me, "it was clear from Pius XII's encyclical, Humani generis, that evolutionary theory can be valid to understand certain mechanisms, but it can never be seen or accepted as a holistic model to explain the existence of life."

Schönborn's point thus seems to be that in "absolute" form, meaning as a "holistic model" that would exclude design as a metaphysical matter, "evolutionism" turns into a philosophy that parts company with Christianity.

In that light, observers say, Schönborn's view does not seem to court a new Galileo affair, putting the church at odds with scientific discoveries. He's making a philosophical point, not a scientific one. In the end, he's warning that Christianity cannot accept a universe without God, and it's fairly difficult to argue with that.

HatTip: IdleFellows, which seems to have an interesting blend of science geekdom, SciFi fandom and Catholicism.

Monday, August 08, 2005

I blame Bush!

From The Corner, here's a timewaster that allows you to create your own George Bush conspiracy theory! Why should Michael Moore have all the fun?

The $95 Fortune

If like the Darwin family you have a growing family on a single income, I'm sure this story will sound familiar.

A week ago I did a favor for a client and was given a $95 AmEx gift check as a Thank You. Now, after arguing with myself concerning what the definition of is is, I decided that this wasn't exactly income, so we could treat it as extra money to spend on 'luxury' items. The possibilities seemed endless...

I considered the pump driven espresso machine I've been wanting for lo these many months, but that would have cost more than $95.

I considered the cask strength single malt scotch that a friend had recommended, but when that was discovered to cost $66 per bottle, I couldn't quite justify it.

In the end, I picked up two new pairs of Levis (the old ones were wearing through at the pockets), a bottle of potato vodka (most vodka these days is made from grain alcohol rather than potatoes, but one must do these things right) and some Bombay Dry Gin. I sent Mrs. Darwin out to Kohls with the remaining $30 and instructions to buy something cute, but she came back with a case of glass cups (the monkeys had broken all but one of our previous set), twelve dollars in change, and the news that none of the stuff at Kohls looked good on her.

Once the excitement was over, I started to think how odd it was that $95 seemed like such a fortune. After all, nearly thirty times that amount flows through our family's bank account every month. $95 really isn't that much money in the grand scheme of things. 1.5 weeks groceries. 8% of a morgate payment. Half of a summer electric bill. (Grrrrr, but then, quite a smaller fraction of the cost of replacing our aging air conditioner.)

The trick, I suppose, is that this was $95 that wasn't currently budgeted to be spent on anything else. Still, just for a couple days we were rich, with $95 to spend on whatever we wanted. Maybe some day...

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Passing On The Faith

A conversation with a co-worker the other day reminded me of this article which I ran into on Google some time back. Prof Lynn Okagaki did a study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology on how successful parents are in passing on their beliefs to their children.

Her conclusions are common-sensical, but I'd certainly be interested to see more data on this. What she found is that while parents actions are important in forming their children's moral thinking, spoken witness essential to passing on beliefs. The design of the study was pretty interesting:

"We asked students to tell us what they believed and what they thought their parents believed," says Lynn Okagaki, an associate professor of child development and family studies. "We then asked the parents what their beliefs were and how strongly they felt they had tried to nurture their child in terms of religious beliefs and values. What we found was that the perception does not always match the reality."

Okagaki's study showed that the accuracy of a student's perception was affected by how much his or her parents talked about their beliefs and whether the mother and father shared the same beliefs.

"Many of the students we talked to told us that their parents shaped their environments by making church activities a regular part of their lives, and took on service projects as a family", Okagaki says. "But while 'walking the walk' was certainly important, it was regular, specific conversations about religious beliefs that gave students a more accurate perception of what their parents actually believe. In other words, it's not enough for parents to just model beliefs for their kids."

This seems to be what has driven so many parents in the post Vatican II church to put more time into overt religious education at home. In my grandparents generation, it seems to have been assumed that if you sent your kids to Catholic schools and took them to mass on Sundays that they'd pick up whatever they needed to know. Goodness knows with most parish schools and CCD programs these days you're in no way guaranteed to pick up the fundamentals of the faith by default.

After seeing the drop-out rate in the first couple generations after Vatican II, it seems that those still standing have learned that if you want your children to be active, faithfull Catholics you need to educate them rigorously. (Some of my more liberal/cynical friends tend to put it differently: "You think that if you shelter and indoctrinate your children that they'll all grow up just like you.") There are still, certainly, no guarantees in life or parenthood. Free will has a way of asserting itself. But one thing is clear: if you assume that your children will simply "pick up" your faith without putting in the work to teach it to them clearly, you're far less likely to be successful in passing on your beliefs than if you take the time to educate your children thoroughly in what you believe and why.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

1945 Revisitted

The Weekly Standard runs an article looking at declassified information which helps shed some light on the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan during World War II.

Susan Torres gives birth

Susan Torres has given birth to a baby girl. The Northern Virginia woman has been brain-dead for months, but has been on life-support for the sake of her baby.
A cancer-ravaged woman robbed of consciousness by a stroke has given birth after being kept on life support for three months to give her fetus extra time to develop.

Susan Torres, whose plight has attracted support from around the world, gave birth to a daughter Tuesday by Caesarean section. The delivery went smoothly and the baby "is doing well," her brother-in-law, Justin Torres, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. Susan Anne Catherine Torres weighs 1 pound, 13 ounces and is 13 1/2 inches long, he said.
Pray for the baby and the family, especially since now Susan will probably be taken off life support and allowed to die.

Murdered in Iraq

Freelance Journalist Steven Vincent (one of whose interviews with ordinary Iraqis I linked to a couple months back) was murdered yesterday by an al-Sadrist death squad. A war supporter, Vincent put his money where his mouth was and spent the last several years wandering Iraq and interviewing ordinary Iraqis. Here's an interview he did a while back with FrontpageMagazine. Vincent's essays always brought home the plight of ordinary Iraqi men and women, striving for peace and freedom in the new Iraq.

His book, In the Red Zone, is available from Amazon.

God rest his soul.

UPDATE: NRO has an obit up with links to all of Vincent's NRO articles over the last year and a few more details about his death.

Straying from the Path

I was reading a little bit last night about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement.

I always feel myself at a bit of a disadvantage dealing with some of the more edgy proponents of Church social teaching, in that in many cases I think their political and economic (though not their spiritual) ideas are faulty. So while I think that the Catholic Worker movement has done a lot of good in promoting the kind of radical support for the poor that saints like Saint Francis also performed, I also think that their pacifism and many of their economic ideas are incorrect, and perhaps misguided.

What I came around to is that there are many activities which can lead to great holiness, which, if made the center of one's spirituality can lead one astray. The perfect example is the way in which (within a generation of St. Francis' death) his poverty-centered spirituality gave birth not only to the thriving Franciscan orders which have helped the Church down to this current day, but also the various heretical groups known as the Fraticelli. Francis himself, and countless followers, did great things for God through their vows of poverty. But for those followers who came to believe that total poverty was the only means of holiness, the same spirituality became the path to heresy.

Similarly, someone who is a sworn non-combatant (even in an eminently just war) can do great things for God. But it seems that many people easily move from their own self sacrifice in assuming a life of poverty, or non combatant status to asserting that property ownership or just war are in fact wrong, taking their own spirituality and making it an overarching norm for all Christian salvation.

The temptation exists on the 'traditionalist' side as well, where those who rightly love the Tridentine Rite set that good up as the only good and condemn all other forms of worship as corrupt.

The key, I suppose, is to remember at all times through careful reflection and submission to the Church the difference between ones own spirituality (however acceptable to the Church) and elements of the magisterium to which all the faithful much in good conscience hold. No easy task, but Christ did not only call us to do the easy things.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Testing Roberts

Ramesh Ponnuru remains on of the best reasons for reading National Review and The Corner on NRO.

I was going to criticize Cathy Young and E. J. Dionne for their columns on the subject, but Christopher Hitchens has made that pointless. Hitchens argues that Roberts's faith is fair game because the Catholic church is especially sinister. Anti-Catholicism isn't bigotry because it's justified.
Hitchens's piece is only seven paragraphs long, yet somehow feels padded. And padded with the most mindless dreck I've ever read from Hitchens, whose coverage of religious issues has been getting lazier by the month. The Ten Commandments, he informs us, do not condemn genocide. (I guess Hitchens is a very strict constructionist.) We're supposed to worry about a pope-obeying Catholic bloc on the Court including Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, and prospectively Roberts. "Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas are strong in the faith." Has anybody told Hitchens that Kennedy disagrees with Scalia and Thomas about the constitutional status of abortion? Hitchens dismisses Justice Scalia's comment that "the principle of laws being ordained by God is . . . the foundation of our legal system" as "gibberish" that "is in flat contradiction to the Declaration of Independence." Has Hitchens ever read the Declaration?
Hitchens affects a smug superiority over Scalia, but the ground that Hitchens has chosen is unfavorable to him. All he has demonstrated is his own invincible ignorance about the law, Catholicism, and American politics.

Hitchens is an especially sad case. While supposedly trumpetting the importance of western culture, he is blinded by hate of what the core of western culture actually is.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Making Babies for France

The International Herald Tribune features this piece of commentary about the number of women in France having three or more children.

It began in the 1970s, in a typical French government technocratic concern for developing the service sector, for which women seemed a prime labor source. Therefore free, full-time municipal creches, or nurseries for the very young, were expanded. Free public pre kindergartens and canteens were vastly increased in number, as well as subsidized vacation camps during school holidays. Competition for places in these institutions remains high, and is increasingly subject to means tests, but this has simply pushed the development of cooperative creches organized by better-off families.
This had an important psychological as well as practical effect, legitimating the decision of young mothers to go back to work. There are also state financial incentives - family allowances, support for the volunteer creches formed by groups of mothers, and family tax benefits, many of which increase significantly with a third child.
The result is that more than in any other European country, French families now have three or more children. Germany and Switzerland also give generous family benefits, and in Sweden 77 percent of the children under 6 are in creches, but birth rates stay well under that in France.

There are to my mind a couple key pieces of information missing here. The big things I'd be curious to know are:
  • What percentages of French women have 0, 1, 2, 3, 4+ childen?
  • What percentage of women with three or more children work, vs. the overall percentage.
  • What are the relative total fertility rates for Moslem vs. non-Moslem women?
If it's taken as a given that 80+% of women will be working full time, it makes sense that a massive effort to provide 'free' (compare French tax rates to US taxes) childcare would help keep fertility fplummetingting. However, the more children you have the more difficult the school/daycare model becomesmaintaintian, so it makes sense that the majority of women taking advantage of the creche system would have only 1-2 children, with a small percentage (I'd guess under 20%) having three or more.

Unfortunately, there are no good statistics on how the immigrant Moslem population ties in to all this, because French law bans the collection of religious or ethnic information by their census. For some best guess figures, see the following:

The overall French TFR is 1.85; however, the TFR of French Muslims is approximately 3 to 4 (the French government does not collect official statistics on religion) while the non-Muslim TFR is only 1.4. Thus, while Muslims make up only 7% of the French population, they constitute 25-30% of the population under 25. Clearly, unless major changes occur (if it is not already too late), France is facing major cultural changes in the next 50 years, especially because the mainstream French culture has generally left its Muslim immigrants underrepresented and unassimilated. (The above figures are drawn from the CIA 2003 World Fact Book and from this article originally printed in the New York Sun: )