Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tolstoy's War and Peace: A short review

This is the second in a series of book reviews of books I read this past year. The first was my review of Will Durant's Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage.

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy. War and Peace is the quintessential long book. When I was growing up and heard the book referred to as a "great book," I thought of its magnitude rather than its quality. Whenever I heard the book's title, what always came to mind was the 1971 movie "Cold Turkey," in which Rev. Clayton Brooks (played by Dick Van Dyke) leads a campaign in his town to give up smoking. Looking for something to divert his interest, he locks himself in his room for a week--to read War and Peace.

This is how we culturally illiterate Americans come to know great things--secondarily, and through some unremarkable artifact of popular culture. We'll never get it where we should get it--through our public schools, since they have largely given up on passing on the great things of the past.

But as I dug more deeply into Russian literature and the secondary literature about Russian writers, I realized that this is not the way people have always thought of it. This was a book that was considered great not just in the sense of being big.

War and Peace is a book that should be read by every literate Western person.

There are several things that strike me about Tolstoy after now having now read all his major works. The first is the sheer vitality of his stories. They are simply bursting with life. Seemingly without effort, he creates a world and peoples it with real people, people who, if they were any more real, would actually be real.

Only God creates characters more real than Tolstoy's.

Despite the vast canvas on which he paints, Tolstoy is able to draw you intimately into the life and thought of each character. Someone told me that when his wife had finished reading the book, she told him she would miss the characters. This was exactly my feeling.

Here I had just finished reading this thousand-page book and I just wanted it to go on. A part of my life ended when I had to leave Pierre and Natasha in the midst of theirs. I would have been only too happy to continue reading War and Peace for the rest of my life, if it only wouldn't end.

The second thing that strikes me about Tolstoy is his very explicit Christianity. It confirms once again something I have said before: An encounter with great Western literature is an encounter with Christianity. You wonder why our schools are engaged in the greatest cultural memory dump since the fall of Rome and rise of the Dark Ages? This may be one reason: The culture of the West is inextricably intertwined with religion—and one religion in particular.

Read Tolstoy. Read Dostoevsky. Read Flannery O'Connor--or, for that matter, Beowulf, the Canterbury Tales, and Shakespeare. In fact, even the authors who are not themselves Christian are reacting to Christianity and are incomprehensible if you don't understand it.

Teach Western culture and you teach Christianity. There is no way out of it.

The third striking thing about Tolstoy is his ability to create a real world. Sometimes I fall asleep while listening to a book on my mp3 player. But there are some books I can't do this with. I can't do it with a book that doesn't create a real world--one I would want to live in.

And the world I want to live in is this world.

I said this when I introduced Wendell Berry at a conference a couple of years ago: The authors who create a real world are the ones who don't create a different one from our own. They are authors who bring you, not into their own world, but into this one more deeply. Tolstoy is one of only a handful of authors who seem to be able to do this.

And of course one of the essential features of this world--the one Tolstoy recreates--is that it has a metaphysical and moral order: There is an moral "up" and an immoral "down." It is Homer's world; Vergil's world; and, in particular, Dante's world. It is everybody's world up until about the 18th century, when secularism hits high gear and begins to displace Christianity among the literary elite.

But this is the thing about Western secularism: It never can completely rid itself of its Christian origins. It would be like trying to create pure gold: It cannot exist unalloyed from religion--without, that is, turning to dust. It is--to vary the metaphor--like a branch cut off from a tree: it lives for a while and then withers and dies.

In all of Tolstoy's works there is space to morally breathe. And somehow he is able to do this (for the most part) without being preachy.

This is not the case with his his novel Resurrection, which I also read this year. This is Tolstoy's third and last major novel--after Anna Karenina and War and Peace--which he wrote after repudiating narrative fiction for several years while indulging his political and social enthusiasms. Tolstoy was a very heterodox Christian and had basically whittled his Christianity down to a sort of utopian freemasonry. He was perhaps the greatest purveyor of the social gospel in literature. It is certainly present in his other books, but doesn't seem to detrimentally affect them.

Here, it does.

Like all his works, he creates convincing characters and a believable world.  Dmitri Ivanovich Nekhlyudov, a young Russian noble and former soldier is called to jury duty where a young woman is charged with murder. At first he doesn't recognize her. She is a prostitute accused of poisoning a man. But Nekhludov realizes, in the midst of the trial, that the girl was a servant girl in his house as a young man. He had seduced her and, as he finds out, had born his child, which had died. The pregnancy he had helped to bring about had caused her to be cast out of their house, and she was forced into a life of prostitution.

The woman before him as a juror in her trial, was there because of what he himself had done.

It is a compelling and heart-wrenching story. Nekhlyodov is overcome with remorse and devotes the rest of his life to the girl, who is convicted and sent to Siberia, where he follows her. Unfortunately, Tolstoy creates a character in Nekhlyodov who is so idealistic as to be a bit of a boor. As a character, he ends up shouldering much of the pretentiousness latent in the characters of other novels, where they are always more than balanced by a certain concreteness and earthly vibrancy.

The down-to-earth Kitty in Anna Karenina has been replaced by the abstract and idyllic Nekhlyudov.

Unfortunately, this is Tolstoy at his preachiest and most Platonic. But the thing is, Tolstoy at his worst is better than most everyone else at their best. The ending is dissatisfying because of its pretentious high-mindedness, but it's still an engaging and enjoyable read.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Books I Read This Year: Durant's Our Oriental Heritage

This is the first of a series of reviews of books I completed in 2014 (along with a few I never reviewed from 2013).

The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage, by Will Durant. I imagine the professional historians would turn up their noses at a popular work like this, partly because it was written for an intelligent public which they have long ago forsaken, and partly because it is a bit dated, and history, which aspires like every other humanities discipline to be a science, can abide only the newest scholarship. It is a professional irony that historians value everyone else's past but their own. Let them dig up and re-bury their scholarly bones for obscure academic journals: As for me, I'll continue to read Durant for the great overview of history he gives and for the beautiful prose in which he presents it.

Durant was a generalist, writing in the more classical mode of Gibbon and Macauley—scholars of more than history—Durant does not get lost in the arcanae of chronology. He is always looking for (and finding) the significance of events—for their own time and ours. The only contemporary historian I know who writes history this big is Tom Holland.

Our Oriental Heritage is the first in the eleven-volume series Durant began in 1935 and finished (with the help of his wife Ariel) in 1975. A great overview of the history and culture of the East—a civilization we often ignore.

Durant, who received his doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University, apparently wrote these volumes in intentional defiance of professional historians who long ago gave up on the general reading public. Of course, the general reading public in the mid-20th century was far more sophisticated than it is now, but we have not changed so much that we cannot appreciate the lucidity of his prose.

Filled with colorful anecdotes and compelling insights, this book does much more than give us a chronology of events. Instead, it takes us on a tour of the literature, art, music, and politics of China, India, and Japan, helping us to understand the cultures as a whole.

The only shortcoming in Durant is his tendency to downplay the Christianity of the Christian West. As an admitted secularist, Durant views religion as quaint, mostly irrelevant—but the more Eastern is such spirituality, the more relevant he sees it. In this volume, Christianity is always portrayed as inferior to Eastern thought and religion. This is due, in part no doubt, to the fashionability of things Eastern at the time it was written. It is also a tendency you will find throughout his works.

Durant was like many thinkers even now who cling to the cultural wreckage of the old Christendom more tightly the more they repudiate the whole of which they were once a part. The two largest pieces of Christendom's remnants are materialist rationalism on the one hand and spiritualist mysticism on the other. Durant is a rationalist, but one who (like many), while rejecting the more integrated rationality of Western religion, is attracted to the arational mysticism of the East. There are books that could be written on why it is that materialists tend to become, in the end, so attracted to the misty religion of the East.

I'm thinking of Robert Blatchford and Arthur Conan Doyle here--not to mention the more contemporary Sam Harris.

But the occasional encounter with a bad judgment is a small price to pay for the sheer pleasure of reading Durant's great historic and cultural achievement.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Educational Oblivion and How to Avoid It

About a year ago, Universal Pictures released the movie "Oblivion," starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman. I saw it on television last night.

It was about a man and a woman (Cruise and Andrea Riseborough) on a space station orbiting a post-apocalyptic earth who are charged with the maintenance of drones which protect a number of orbiting installations which are mining precious resources from the earth, primarily water, for the human encampment now situated on one of Jupiter's moons.

The Moon has been blown up, desolating the Earth, which is now almost unlivable. Cruise plays "Jack," who, along with Victoria, his companion, tries to keep the defensive drones operational in the face of constant attacks from roving bands of alien invaders called "scavs" (short for "scavengers").

Jack and Victoria have both had a memory wipe as a security precaution.

But one day Jack is captured by the scavs. He is knocked out in the struggle and wakes up tied to a chair under an intense light on what appears to be a stage. A voice comes from the darkness:
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods.
We hear a match lit, and we see the face of a man, the light of the match reflected off of his goggles. "We've been watching you, Jack," he says.

Far from being aliens, the scavs are really human beings. Led by Beech (played by Freeman), they have been watching Jack and have decided not to kill him because they think there is something different about him. They tell him the real story of what has happened to the earth and allow him to leave their encampment, to find out for himself, risking the safety of their encampment in doing so.

As the story progresses we, along with Jack, find out that he is just one of many Jack's patrolling various parts of the earth, all seemingly identical clones unaware of the others. More importantly, he finds out he is fighting for the wrong side.

Earth was taken over by aliens who are bleeding the earth dry of its resources. There is no human encampment elsewhere in the solar system. The only humans left are the scavs, who are huddled in caves in the earth, protecting what is left of humanity.

But Beech senses that there is something about this Jack that is different from his copies.

In one of his missions, Jack has discovered an old library. As the scavs watch him from the darkness, they see him salvage several books (in apparent violation of policy). One of them is Horatius at the Bridge, by Lord Macaulay. In one scene we see Jack on the space station, huddled in a corner, secretly reading it and trying to commit it to his formerly empty memory.
Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late"
There are other classic books he has found too. And in reading them, he is transformed from a memoryless copy of himself, unquestioningly following the orders of what he now knows to be the very creatures who have destroyed his civilization, to a fully human being. A human being who has, by having recovered his cultural memory, been humanized.

A man who was the servant of machines has become a master of his own soul. In the end, the now fully humanized Jack sacrifices himself in defense of the scavs, uttering Macauley's lines as he does so: "And how can man die better ..."

We are now in the process of producing a whole race of Jacks. We no longer pass on our history and culture to our children. If you doubt the truth of this charge, go look at the recent federal social studies standards which include no historical content whatsoever.

We have been taken over by cultural aliens.

We are well on our way to accomplishing a massive memory wipe. We are quickly accomplishing what the writer George Steiner has called "planned amnesia." We are producing memoryless copies of ourselves.

Lost in the mindless devotion to so-called "critical thinking skills" and "college and career readiness"--not to mention our servitude to machines--are the ancient stories and venerable truths that schools once taught as a matter of course--ideas and and values that made us human, not just just cogs in an economic machine.

Classical education differs from the kind of education that has slowly taken over most of our schools. Its purpose is not to teach job skills or to reform society, although without aiming at these goals it achieves them better than these other methods do.

Classical education is about passing on our culture. If we don't do it, we risk a world as culturally desolate as the physical world Jack sacrifices himself to save.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Is the Pope a Sissy? A response to Doug Wilson

I'm not entirely convinced that a chest hair-counting contest is the best use of one's masculinity, but I could be wrong.

In a recent blog post, titled "Gay as a Pope tweet," Douglas Wilson laments the decline of masculinity and uses Pope Francis as his paradigm case for male effeminacy.

Now I don't disagree with Wilson on the issue of the decline of masculinity; in fact, I've made the same point quite a number of times. Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that I notice the word "sissy" is now commonly spelled in articles with asterisks, as if it were an obscene word: "s***y." Meanwhile, of course, words that really are obscene are used freely and without self-censorship.

I would go so far as to say that men who find it necessary to spell the word "sissy" with asterisks are, well, sissies.

I just remarked to my wife the other day, after having watched John Wayne's performance in True Grit (which I do as an act of masculine hygiene at least once every couple of years), that the kind of character John Wayne portrayed is virtually absent in modern movies in which male roles are made up largely of overgrown adolescent weenies.

Yes, I said "weenies." Without asterisks. And if you're a male who doesn't like it, then you're a sissy.

I officially attribute the modern problem with male effeminacy to the absurd gender ideology that has become so fashionable over the last ten years. The idea of this school of thought is to get beyond gender altogether. Of course there's really no way to do this.

Gender isn't something you can either invent or change. It's a given. It is something settled by nature and you can do little about it.

To think that you can somehow invent new gender categories is like thinking you can invent new primary colors. Problem is, there's blue, yellow, and red. Period. End of story. If you want to come up with another one, good luck. And if you suffer from the delusion that you are actually capable of doing this, then you need to be committed to whatever the colorific equivalent is of a mental hospital.

Similarly, when it comes to gender, there is male and female. And some of us like that just fine (a great benefit in a world in which you can do little about it anyway).

I know there are people who really think that just because Facebook now has 52 "gender identities" that there must really be, in fact, 52 gender identities. But all of these "gender identities" are ideological fictions manufactured by stitching together the pieces of masculinity and femininity they got by cutting up the originals.

There's a whole story to be written about how people ever got the idea that you could really do this in which postmodern thinkers like Jacques Derrida would play the major roles, what with their rejection of "binaries" and all that.

Of course as soon as you reject binaries, you create a new binary; namely, the binary of a world with binaries and a world without them. There are two kinds of people, Richard John Neuhaus once said: people say there are two kinds of people and people who don't say that.

The people who think you can transcend gender or invent new genders can only play off the two poles of male and female. They never get beyond that. They never really invent anything different that is not some knock off of the originals. There's no way to reboot nature. You've got to live with what it gives you.

So, then, I agree with Wilson on the problem. But his choice of examplars leaves something to be desired.

Pope Francis? A sissy? Really?

I have this underlying urge, being a Catholic (and a male), to throw down the gauntlet and demand satisfaction, but that would imply I wear gloves. And you know how that would go down with certain people.

To prove his point, Wilson cites several papal tweets which he thinks exemplify effeminacy. Here are the examples he uses:
“Advent begins a new journey. May Mary, our Mother, be our guide.”
“Advent increases our hope, a hope which does not disappoint. The Lord never lets us down.”
“There is so much noise in the world! May we learn to be silent in our hearts and before God.”
Now I doubt if they chest bump in the Vatican after every tweet, but I'm trying to figure out what is effeminate about these expressions. Is there something less than masculine about the grammatical subjunctive? Is there something hairless about hope? Wilson does not elaborate. Instead, he pines for "days of the badass popes."

Maybe he could do a tweet: "There is a crisis of effeminate popes. May they be replaced with more masculine ones."

While I don't get a testosterone rush every time I read a Vatican tweet, maybe there is just something that gets lost for certain people when these expressions are translated from the more manly Latin in which, as I understand it, such things are written at the Vatican. And then, of course, there is the matter of the whole Twitter form of media, which doesn't exactly lend itself to any kind of meaningful expression in the first place.

Maybe if there was a way to adequately transcribe grunts and belches and other common masculine bodily sounds into the 140 character format of a tweet, there would be some hope of whipping the Twitter world into more masculine shape.

But, more to the point, I find it rather ironic that Francis--a man who forswore a car to take the bus to work when he was an Argentine bishop, who has taken on the lethargic bureaucracy of the Vatican, and who has been willing to pick fights where he thought it necessary to get the Church into a more evangelical shape--could be plausibly portrayed as effeminate. But it is probably easy to see it that way from the comfortable confines of a safe little Idaho town.

I'm trying to imagine the results of applying the criteria Wilson wants to apply to Pope Francis to--oh, I don't know--Jesus. Someone who goes around saying things like "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" would make an easy target for ancient Hebrew bloggers on the lookout for the weakly constituted.

I like Doug Wilson. He's one of our few great evangelical wits. Wait, let me check ... He may be the only one.

But he's wrong about the Pope.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Trickle Down Immorality: Why the rich marry and stay that way and the poor don't

Sociologist Charles Murray's analysis continues to be confirmed: The permissivist social morals of the rich don't detrimentally affect the rich, who continue generally just to talk about them but continue to do things like get and staying married; it is the poor who act on the rich's permissivist morality and they are the ones who suffer from following through on them and do things like produce children out of wedlock and get divorced. And this is what helps make and keep the rich rich and the poor poor.

This is a bit of an oversimplification. Murray refers not to the rich, but the "cognitive elite," who lead lives, if not of economic bounty, at least economic comfort. "Belmont," Mitt Romney's hometown is his synecdoche for it. Then there is the "lower class," which he leaves undefined, but refers generally to those who struggle economically. His symbolic stand-in for this group is "Fishtown," a largely White working class neighborhood in Philadelphia.

You can read about it in Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.

Not surprisingly, this analysis is not a popular with the political left, which wants to pose as being concerned about social polarization and its effects on children while spouting ideas that do exactly the opposite.

Here is Belinda Luscombe in Time magazine, limply trying to soften the hard edges of Murray's analysis, but having to give up in the end:
The gap in the family life of the rich and poor yawns wider that it ever has, and the individuals most hurt by this are, you guessed, it, the children of the poor. The working class have experimented with a new type of family formation that’s not based around the equation of one partner who runs the home front plus one partner who brings in the income both of whom throw in their lot together for the long haul. These new formulations tend not to be as stable, and instability is sub-optimal for kids.
This is what the ideas of those who want to redefine the family really do. Read more here.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Britain All Shook Up: Cultural illiteracy of Biblical proportions

If you see a manger scene and the baby Jesus has antennae, you'll know what happened:
Christianity is being banished from school nativity plays as the annual performance of the Christmas story is replaced with bland “winter celebrations”, research among parents suggests. 
Even in schools which retain religious themes, most now opt for a modernised version of the nativity story, often featuring elaborate twists and children dressed as unlikely additions such as punk fairies, aliens, Elvis, lobsters, spacemen and even recycling bins ...
Read more in the Daily Telegraph here.

Friday, December 05, 2014

The "Gender" Follies

As gender ideology invents more and more sexuality fictions, we are all supposed to nod our heads and uncritically accept the newest "sexual identity." Here's Crisis Magazine, bringing some sense to the nonsense:
The sexual buccaneers inform us that “gender” is assigned at birth, usually by the doctor who delivers the baby, and that the doctor often gets it wrong. Gender is something chosen by the person and the choosing can be amazingly fluid, constantly changing, changing even between lunch and late afternoon tea time. 
... Gender Reality holds that human beings are ‘always or for the most part’ women or men, female or male. Gender Ideology holds that human beings fall along a continuum of 3, 5, or even 15 different loose groups of genders. Gender Reality is rooted philosophically in a descriptive metaphysics (Aristotelian and Thomistic grounded) and Gender Ideology is philosophically rooted in a revisionary metaphysics (Neo Platonist or Cartesian founded). Finally, Gender Reality depends upon a hylomorphic (soul/body composite unity) understanding of a human person, woman or man; Gender Ideology leads to a deconstructionist approach to the human person as a loose collection of qualities, attributes, or parts.
Read more here.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Catch me on the "Mike Allen Show" today at 5:00

I will be the guest on the "Mike Allen Show" on Real Life Radio 1380-AM in Lexington at 5:00 p.m. today. We will be discussing my debate with Federal Justice John Heyburn on same-sex marriage, Rabbi Sack's speech on marriage in Rome, and why schools require so much paperwork from teachers.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The public school train that lays its own track

The boiler-plate public school establishment explanation of why public schools don't do a better job of educating students (this is when they are not denying that they are doing a bad job of it) is that they don't have enough money.

Tom Shelton, former Superintendent of Fayette County Schools, is now the director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents. He left the district as it was under a cloud of financial irregularities. He presses the default button once again, saying, "We must advocate at the state level for better funding of our classrooms throughout Kentucky."

Right. I thought of this this morning when I read that the L.A. Unified school district is adopting an online history program from Stanford University. The district is adopting the program, which has an actual curriculum with lesson plans, because most of its students are historically illiterate.

Now I have several thoughts here, the first of which is to wonder why a school district with teachers who are certified as educational professionals can't competently teach history without having to pay a university for outside help.

And the answer, I think, is that education classes that teachers have to take to be certified are generally worthless and should be almost completely eliminated in favor of classes that teach the content and unique principles of whatever discipline the teacher is going to be teaching.

The second thought is something that has occurred to me several times over the last several months as I talk to teachers about Common Core, which is to wonder why teachers don't already have a curriculum they can use to teach history and lesson plans (or at least lesson plans that work). Schools spend billions of dollars every year not only employing curriculum specialists (in some cases whole curriculum departments) and buying expensive, flashy curricula from curriculum companies which you would expect would guide teachers to teach what they need to teach.

Things like history.

What is so bad about the regular educational options available to the L.A. district that they would have to bail out and go straight to a university for help?

If you listen to teachers in the public schools, what they tell you is, first, that in many subjects they don't have a curriculum. There is simply no coherent scope and sequence in many subjects which they are expected to teach. In fact the expression "scope and sequence" is apparently baneful to the certified teacher's ear.

In addition, even when they have a book that covers the subject, they have to write their own lesson plans. Talk to your friendly neighborhood teacher and ask her what she spends most of her time doing outside of actually directing a classroom and she will tell you that she spends most of her time doing lesson plans.

Now I have noticed this before, but Common Core has apparently worsened it because, after all, it is Common Core and it is new so we have to look like we're doing things differently and if we're doing things differently that means we need new lesson plans. But this seemed to be the case even before Common Core came down the road.

Why do teachers in 2014 need to spend so much time doing lesson planning? Why does every teacher have to re-invent the wheel every year in a subject they presumably have taught before--in some cases many times before? What the heck are all those people in the curriculum department doing anyway if they are not finding these teachers a curriculum with lesson plans or writing them themselves so teacher don't have to do them?

Just imagine if our rail system in this country was composed of trains which (like the train at one 19th century world's fair) laid their own tracks. Not only would very few things ever get where they were supposed to go, but the landscape would be one big mess.

I run an association of classical schools. We offer educational resources, teacher training, and accreditation services. If I went on an accreditation visit and a school had its teachers writing their own lesson plans, not only would the first question I asked be why in the world it doesn't have a curriculum with pre-done lesson plans, but I would recommend against accrediting it.

There is no reason, after educating children for over two millennia, that any school should still be playing a constant guessing game about what it teaches to students every year or for any teacher to have be constantly writing new lesson plans.

This just goes to show that not only do children not benefit from history because they don't know it, but that our education system itself has so disconnected itself from the hundreds of years of teaching and learning that have gone before that it has to constantly reinvent itself.

We teach history so that we can learn from the past. But in order to teach history at all we have to have learned from our educational past—something schools clearly have not done.

Until they do, none of them should be asking for more money.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Posers at the Gate: Why the protesters in Ferguson are not dangerous and why that should concern us

Officer Darren Wilson has been cleared by a grand jury for shooting Michael Brown and the response of the barbarians in the streets who had no relationship with Michael Brown is to curse the police who had no role in the shooting, vandalize the stores whose owners had nothing to do with the grand jury's verdict, and turn over the cars of people who did not shoot, much less ever even see, Michael Brown.

The narrative here is that these people are upset at the verdict and they are acting out their anger. But most of the reports don't seem to show this. With the exception of the family and a handful of other people, the protesters don't seem angry at all. In fact, one news report described the scene where a store was being looted as having a "festival atmosphere."

Al Sharpton isn't mad. Nor are the other out-of-town rabble-rousers. They're perfectly happy to mug for the cameras and generally attract attention to themselves. This is what they do best.

It isn't anger that has characterized the demonstrations. What has characterized the demonstration is opportunism.

It's enough to give nihilism a bad name.

In fact, to call these people nihilists would unduly dignify the actions of people who don't know or care enough about anything, including Michael Brown's death to do anything that would really rise to the level of positive evil.

They're not nihilists, they're Nietzsche's "Last Men," cosmic couch potatoes who react to these kind of things with a lazy ignorance and lack of any real concern that makes you wonder why they even bothered. They are shallow opportunists posing as the aggrieved and oppressed who are there mainly there to get the "I protested in Ferguson" T-shirt that should be hitting the streets any time now.

Race riots—or the very poor imitation of them we saw in Ferguson—have become the underclass equivalent of fashion statements. It's a chance to get on the news and pretend you're part of something meaningful before you go back to your warm home and check to see if there's something worth eating in the fridge.

In fact, if you really think about it, on a grand scale, how much damage to life and property did they really do? Not much. They started a few fires, turned over a few cars, stole a few mobile phones. But, other than a small handful of store owners whose lives they surely made very much more difficult, they really didn't do much. Not as much, at least, as CNN made out.

CNN. Talk about opportunism. They talked about it as if the whole nation was ablaze, which, of course, it was not. The whole nation couldn't have been ablaze because the whole nation was at home in their comfortable living rooms watching CNN talk about how the whole nation was ablaze on their high definition television screens.

I could live with some serious devastation if it was at least about something. I would think a whole lot more of the protesters if there was some real, authentic, righteous anger behind some really big explosions.

But c'mon. These are people who can't even destroy things with any level of competence.

They did little damage and in doing what little damage they did they risked very little. Had there been any serious threat from police, even the paltry fires they lit and the tawdry looting they did would never have happened.

The wussishness of protesters was matched only by the wussishness of the people who were supposed to lead the effort to keep them under control.

(Wait a minute. Maybe the term "wuss" is now Politically Incorrect. If so, maybe I should use it again.)

In fact, the worst aspect of all this was the reaction of the alleged adults who are supposed to be in charge. We have a President who earlier sent two White House officials to the funeral of the guy who tried to kill a cop and who then, in the minutes after the grand jury's decision, did everything but issue an order to hand out gasoline to protesters.

And then there was the absurd Missouri governor who couldn't even find it within himself to order the National Guard out until the next day.

And while we're on the subject, when are the witnesses who lied to the grand jury about Michael Brown's response to Darren Wilson going to be prosecuted for perjury? Good luck waiting for that. The protesters must truly despise these people.

There is good news and bad news in all this.

The bad news is that we live in a time when the people running our government and our law enforcement have lost their will to deal seriously with public safety threats posed by certain politically protected groups because it might look bad on TV.

The good news is that the politically protected groups, some of whose members pose public safety threats, have lost their restraint in expressing their lack of commitment to anything valuable in our culture because it would look good on TV.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rabbi Sacks on marriage as the single most humanising institution in history

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks,  Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, the largest body of synagogues in the United Kingdom, spoke last Monday at the Vatican colloquium on the complementarity of man and woman. His speech was titled, ""The Family is the Single Most Humanising Institution in History." Here is an excerpt:
What made the traditional family remarkable, a work of high religious art, is what it brought together: sexual drive, physical desire, friendship, companionship, emotional kinship and love, the begetting of children and their protection and care, their early education and induction into an identity and a history. Seldom has any institution woven together so many different drives and desires, roles and responsibilities. It made sense of the world and gave it a human face, the face of love.  
For a whole variety of reasons, some to do with medical developments like birth control, in vitro fertilisation and other genetic interventions, some to do with moral change like the idea that we are free to do whatever we like so long as it does not harm others, some to do with a transfer of responsibilities from the individual to the state, and other and more profound changes in the culture of the West, almost everything that marriage once brought together has now been split apart. Sex has been divorced from love, love from commitment, marriage from having children, and having children from responsibility for their care.
Read the rest here. It received a standing ovation at the colloquium.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Same-Sex Marriage 14th Amendment Fail: Why the Constitution does not require us to abandon traditional marriage, Part I

The first in a series on where the arguments against traditional marriage go wrong

Advocates of same-sex marriage use the 14th Amendment as a sort of incantation by which they think they can magically transform marriage from an inherently complementary relationship between a man and a woman into one which assumes that men and women are interchangeable. And instead of calling them on the bad arguments they use to do this, activist judges have not just looked the other way, but have actively cooperated in passing off the faulty arguments in favor of same-sex marriage as legitimate.

The 14th Amendment argument is probably the most common argument used in favor of same-sex marriage. "To deny gays the right to marry violates the 14th Amendment," they will say, and, largely because most people are not attorneys and don't have the expertise to answer it, the normal person who disagrees doesn't know what to say.

Here is what the section (Section 1) of the 14th Amendment which same-sex marriage advocates say requires that we change the definition of marriage: "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

As you can see it clearly states that same-sex marriage is the law of the land ... Oh, uh, wait a second, actually is says nothing about same-sex marriage.

First 14th Amendment Fail:
First, to reasonably assert this in the first place is to assume:
  1. That the plain meaning of the words of the 14th Amendment indicates it established authors of the 14th Amendment meant it to establish a right to same-sex marriage. And, if not, then
  2. That those who ratified it understood it to establish a right to same-sex marriage. And, if not, then
  3. That courts have traditionally interpreted it to apply to same-sex marriage (and even if this last one was true while the first two were false, it would be an judicially-invented right)
In fact, none of these is true. No one ever even conceived the 14th Amendment had anything to do with same-marriage--or with marriage at all--until the past decade when judges started inventing the right in order to comply with the political agenda of gay rights groups.

In addition, it is hard to find any supporter of same-sex marriage even willing to argue any one of these points despite the fact that they are necessary to establish their case.

Tomorrow, we will look at the two, not only false, but preposterous things you would have to believe to say that the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment establish a "right" to same-sex marriage.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Federal judge denies taking political sides on same-sex marriage while publicly debating the issue

One of the things to which Justice John Heyburn seemed to take umbrage was the implication (I never actually criticized Judge Heyburn directly) that he was taking political sides on the same-sex marriage issues.

No one but us substantively neutral judges here.

But I'm surprised no one noted the irony that he said this in the very act of debating an advocate of traditional marriage. I don't think he wanted it called a debate (something he said several times privately), but that's, in fact, what it was as soon as someone from the other side was invited.

To be fair to Judge Heyburn, he was the originally-invited speaker but he requested someone from the other side to be there and I got the call, which was a gracious act on his part. But as soon as you have that situation, it does bring up some interesting questions.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Undemocratic Future of the Marriage Issue

I want to start by thanking the Louisville Association of Women’s Attorneys for sponsoring this discussion. I also want to thank Justice Heyburn for allowing me to participate.

The Undemocratic Future of the Marriage Issue 
My connection with the law here in Kentucky is that it was based on language I had written on a little yellow slip of paper and walked into State Sen. Vernie McGaha’s office at the State Capitol in the spring of 2004, language which was drafted, introduced, approved by elected members of both chambers of our state legislature, and placed on the ballot, where it received more “Yes” votes than received “Yes” and “No” votes on any Constitutional amendment before or since.

It is language that is still supported by a majority of Kentuckians even today.

This law has a very democratic past, but it faces a very undemocratic future—a future, of course, that is already upon us.

This law, which simply codified in state law the understanding of everyone, male and female, child and adult, whites and people of color, upper and lower classes, straight and gay, for all of recorded history until about 15 or 20 years ago, will be decided by one unelected judge: United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

So, as we all loiter about the outer courts, awaiting the pronouncement of the Supreme Court Oracles, I hope you will allow me, as a layman, a few impressionistic observations after witnessing the events of the last year and after having reviewed the various court decisions which have been handed down to us.

What is This Debate About? 
First of all, what is this debate about? As Ryan Anderson has observed and as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito remarked in his dissent in the Windsor decision: The debate over same-sex marriage is a contest between two competing definitions of marriage.

The first understanding is the” traditional” or “conjugal” view. It holds that marriage is “the solemnizing of a comprehensive, exclusive, permanent union that is intrinsically ordered to producing new life, even if it does not always do so.” It is, therefore, an “intrinsically opposite-sex institution.”

The second understanding is the “consensual” view, which holds that marriage is the “solemnizing of mutual commitment—marked by strong emotional attachment and sexual attraction between persons.”

The first view has been the view of everyone, male or female, child or adult, in every social class in every culture in every historical period but our own. There was no one—and that includes gays—who did not universally believe this until about 20 years ago.

What has happened in the courts is that the second view has been assumed—without acknowledgment and without argument. It is not a claim to be analyzed, but an axiom to be postulated. And it is for this reason that they have ruled that laws founded upon the first, traditional view are not just incorrect, but wholly impermissible. As conducted by the courts therefore, there is no real debate about this issue. It was settled before any argument was ever made in a courtroom.

And this is why what is really a conflict of values which would more appropriately be resolved in the normal democratic process is cast as a mere matter of legal procedure to be resolved by applying certain ostensibly neutral principles. This manner of hiding substantive moral judgments in procedural clothing produces curious grammatical constructions such as "substantive due process," a formulation which attempts somewhat to square a circle, since something cannot be both substantive and substantively neutral.

Tradition for Me, but Not for Thee
Second, I think the attempt to hide this substantive assumption in a procedural guise produces other irregularities. One of the things that advocates of traditional marriage are told is that the fact that traditional marriage is traditional and therefore due some kind of deference is irrelevant. Tradition doesn’t count as a sufficient reason for a law.

Now it is an interesting thing to be told that mere tradition is an irrelevant consideration by people who spend half their lives in the monastic practice of blowing the dust off of old volumes in order to see what their predecessors have said (or doing a Lexis search, as the case may be). In fact, most reasoning in most legal decisions is based on legal tradition.

It is what we call “precedent.”

There is no more bedrock assumption in the law. So, in the case of marriage, the question becomes: Why are judges not only allowed, but in many cases beholden to follow tradition, but the wider culture, in making its laws, is not only not beholden to follow tradition, but not allowed to?

Why is tradition a valid justification for judges to rule, but not for the rest of us to legislate?

In the law, precedent is controlling—except when it’s not. When the issue is abortion, we are forced to sit in the political pews in order that we may benefit from long, tiresome sermons about its importance. But when it comes to same-sex marriage, the sermon topic suddenly changes from the importance of precedent to the necessity of something called doctrinal development?

Roe v. Wade (pro-abortion precedent) is controlling; Baker v. Nelson (pro-traditional marriage) is not. Abortion decisions must be upheld because of precedent; marriage decisions must be overturned despite it.

In issues that militate in one direction, the rule is stare decisis—standing on prior decisions; on issue that militate the other, the rule is fugare decisis—fleeing from prior decisions.

Now the interesting thing about this “doctrinal development”—and “doctrinal” is a good word for it— is that it only goes in one direction: It always moves in the direction of one political side and against the other.

“Emanations from penumbra” always seem to grow in the leftward direction.

Morality and Religion
This is related to another assumption, hidden as it is under doctrinal developments and rational basis tests, and substantive due processes, that manifests itself in the anathema, not only on tradition as a rationale for legislation, but also any appeal to morality and religion, which, like tradition, have long been seen as legitimate reasons for a law, as Justice Scalia pointed out his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas.

There is no shortage of laws that impose restrictions based on moral approbation. From incest to prostitution to bestiality, to public nudity--law after law derives its justification from moral authority. In fact, every law—every single solitary one of them—is the imposition in statute and regulation of someone’s morality. Every law requires us to do what we should do or prohibits us from doing what we should not do.

Every single one of them.

The courts that today tell us that a law cannot be justified by moral belief did not question the moral rationale behind the Civil Rights Act, and no one questioned the explicitly religious reasons given for it by Martin Luther King, Jr.

And that’s a good thing.

It is interesting that, while motivations grounded in religion and traditional morality are insufficient to support a law, but they are considered sufficient to prove animus--at least according to Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Windsor decision.

Conservatives Go the Back of the Bus
This low esteem in which the Magisterium of the courts now holds custom, traditional morality, and religion has an interesting and culturally mischievous effect. These things, as it turns out, are the reasons conservatives support or oppose things. Conservatives are Burkean in this sense. Just as individual will, social justice, and liberty of sexual preference are reasons for political liberals to support and oppose what they do, since liberals are largely Hobbesian.

In favoring Hobbes over Burke (once again, without acknowledgment or argument), what the courts have done is to rule out conservative reasons for laws, while allowing liberal reasons for them. It is an inequity of outcome that we lament in other areas of the law.

It creates a rather hard row to hoe for those in our society who do not ascribe to the values of the judicial and secular elite, an elite which now proposes to dictate what voter motivations are permissible and impermissible.

The courts have taken it upon themselves to be the arbiters not just of what does or doesn’t comfort to statute case law, but of what counts as rational. It has deemed that the only reasons anyone could believe that traditional marriage to be a good thing warranting the government’s support are not reasons at all. By definition.

There are many people who, for various reasons, think that, on the whole, the best place for children in our society to grow up is in a home with their natural mother and father and that it is good for the government to encourage it. But we are now told that, on the basis of a test they have for rationality, that this belief fails. It not only is not rational, it is not even conceivably rational.

I would submit that any test that finds this common sense belief—one adhered to by roughly half of our population and by most people on this planet—to be not even conceivably rational is itself inconceivably irrational.

Four things that must be believed to make the 14th Amendment Argument
Finally, I know that there are some who would say, well, this is all beside the point. Because there is the 14th Amendment “due process clause” (note the absence of the word “substantive”) and the “equal protection” clause.

If we follow current legal doctrine (which will undoubtedly be developing any moment now) and we go through all the steps of the process of applying these two amendments, what we end up with is four assertions which must be accepted in order to justify recent rulings striking down marriage laws.

The first, as Justice Alito pointed out in his dissent in Windsor, is that same-sex marriage is “deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition.” The interesting thing about this is that no judege has seriously tried to argue for this belief even though courts have found that it is a sine qua non for any newly-minted "fundamental right." It is fairly clear that it is historically untenable.

The second is that same-sex marriage is “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” This is another requirement for finding that an unenumerated right is fundamental that same-sex advocates never even attempt to argue for, largely because it is clearly untrue.

The third is that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic. This is believed largely because of the frequency with which it is repeated, rather than by evidence and it is interesting that it is controversial even among gay scholars, most of whom are contructivists who don't believe anything is immutable. But perhaps the best thing to say for the moment is what Stanley Fish has said which is that "feng shui is a rock hard science compared to judges who try to practice psychology.”

The fourth is that gays are “politically powerless.” It is hard to know exactly how to respond to a judge who claims this beyond suggesting that he ought to get out more.

Again, one must believe all of these things in order for the argument that same-sex marriage is derivable from the 14th amendment.

Although I question the reasoning that has been used in these decisions, I don’t question the motives of judges who have made them. We all have our views of what is right and wrong. But to short circuit the process by which we resolve these issues by allowing one small group of elites the right to make these decisions for us is not the answer.

It is nice that we are all here today discussing this issue, but the fact is that nothing we say here today and nothing that has been said even by judges who have ruled on this issue will have as much influence on the outcome of this issue as what Anthony Kennedy has for breakfast on the morning he dons his Supreme Court robes and goes to write his decision (he is the swing vote on the court).

My favorite statement concerning the role of judges in issues like this is found in Alan Paton’s great book about Apartheid in South Africa: Cry, The Beloved Country. There, in a country ravaged by far worse problems than those we think so important in America today, he talks of the respect both Blacks and Whites have for South African judges--judges who do not make law, but only interpret it.

In the great scene in which the judge announces his decision near the end of the book, he says,
[I]t is one of the most monumental achievements of this defective society that it has made a law, and has set judges to administer it, and has freed those judges from any obligation whatsoever but to administer the law. But a judge may not trifle with the Law because the society is defective. If the law is the law of a society that some feel to be unjust, it is the law and the society that must be changed … And the fact that he is left free to administer it must be counted as righteousness in a society that may in other respects not be righteous … I am only pointing out that Judge cannot, must not, dare not allow the existing defects of society to influence to do anything but administer the law.
Thank you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My debate tomorrow with Federal Justice John G. Heyburn in Louisville

Today's Family Foundation press release:


LEXINGTON, KY--Family Foundation senior policy analyst Martin Cothran will participate in a discussion with the federal judge whose two decisions striking down Kentucky's Marriage Protection Amendment were reversed last week by the 6th Circuit Appeals Court.

The program featuring Cothran and Federal Justice John G. Heyburn will be a part of the Woman Lawyer's Association of Louisville Annual Luncheon from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Ice House at 226 East Washington Street in Louisville.


Friday, November 07, 2014

Justice Jeffrey Sutton demolishes arguments against traditional marriage laws

Yesterday's 6th Circuit Appeals Court decision upholding Kentucky's Marriage Amendment was a strongly-worded repudiation not only of the district court decisions it was considering (including Judge Heyburn's two Kentucky rulings), but also of 7th Circuit Court Justice Richard Posner.

Despite its fundamentally question-begging reason, Posner's 7th Circuit opinion was hailed by same-sex marriage advocates as the last word on the subject. It's dramatic rhetoric condemning traditional marriage advocates and all their works was devastating. It's arguments unanswerable.

Well, yesterday, Judge Jeffrey Sutton answered Posner, and in magnificent fashion.

In fact, Sutton's opinion was a point-by-point wrecking ball to each of Posner's arguments--arguments Posner took from plaintiffs in the lower courts and their judicial allies and magnified for his own rhetorical (and political) purposes.

I'm going to be posting various parts of the decision over the next week. Here's the first excerpt, having to do with the general questions of how the issue of same-sex marriage should be resolved:
Of all the ways to resolve this question, one option is not available: a poll of the three judges on this panel, or for that matter all federal judges, about whether gay marriage is a good idea. Our judicial commissions did not come with such a sweeping grant of authority, one that would allow just three of us—just two of us in truth—to make such a vital policy call for the thirty-two million citizens who live within the four States of the Sixth Circuit: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. 
Wow. Judicial humility. Imagine that. 

Place this bit of text against the arrogant sermonizing coming from other federal and state judges who think they are wiser than the rest of us, who apparently are not capable of making our own laws.

More to come.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

6th Circuit Court turns back attempt to overturn Kentucky's marriage law

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the Bourke and Love decisions which had overturned Kentucky's Marriage Amendment. Here is Justice Sutton, getting to the crux of the matter:
Not one of the plaintiffs’ theories, however, makes the case for constitutionalizing the definition of marriage and for removing the issue from the place it has been since the founding: in the hands of state voters.
This is a victory for republican democracy and a defeat for ideologues who want to use the courts as their own private political enforcement agency.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Why some people should NOT vote

I was an editorials editor on my daily college newspaper at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the 1980s, and one of my daily jobs was to write one of the two staff editorials every day and edit the other. Among my least fond memories of that experiences was having, before every election, to write the obligatory editorial on why everyone should vote.

These platitude-laden editorials always had a sort of boilerplate feel. You just sat there, writing, feeling like someone in whatever department it was in Orwell's 1984 that churned out the formula lyrics for songs intended for the proles.

In fact, I have finally decided that, not only were these editorials meaningless, they were wholly mistaken in their advice.

I thought about all of this meaningless "get out the vote" rhetoric that I used to write and that we we now hear every election as I listened to an interview on NPR with a young woman in Colorado who NPR has apparently been checking in with over the last week or so. The young lady in question harbors all of the clichéd political attitudes (I say "attitudes" rather than "beliefs" because they are not substantive enough to count as the latter) popular today.

And because her attitudes are all essentially clichés, she is still deciding--as of this morning--who to vote for. She was voting for the democratic Senate candidate because he will stand up for her reproductive rights. But now she has been talking about relatives of hers from the rural part of the state. And so it goes, back and forth, like a shuttlecock in a bad badminton game.

The girl clearly has no clue what she believes, has no central guiding principles about culture or society, and has trouble articulating herself without the obligatory "likes" and "you knows."

And then I was watching TV last night and they were interviewing people on the street and asking them basic questions about who their senators and representatives are. Of course, most of the respondents were completely at a loss to say who their elected lawmakers were or even the most basic things about the current civic state of the country.

So I finally just said to myself: "There are some people who should not vote."

In fact, all people like this young lady or these people in the street who don't know basic things about our society should be told, as George F. Will said a few years ago, "Keep your ignorance to yourself." There are some people who quite simply should avoid voting altogether.

If you don't have a clue who is on the ballot, if you have listened to all the rhetoric from both sides and still can't make a determination, if you are morally rudderless and intellectually empty, STAY HOME. DO NOT VOTE.

If you are one of these people, then simply spare the rest of us and DO NOT GO TO THE POLLS.

I know this goes against all the hackneyed rhetoric everyone is hearing today, but its something that needs to be said. It's a hard truth, and some people don't want to hear it in our mindlessly egalitarian society, but it's true.

Ignorance is not a civic virtue, nor is lack of basic thinking skills, nor is an impoverishment of moral vision. They are bad things and those who suffer from them should not perpetrate them on the rest of us.

But, of course, none of the people who suffer from these things will follow this advice, precisely because they suffer from these things. It would take a person with these virtues to notice that they did not have them, and so no one who lacks them will know that they do.

This is the sorry condition of our society: those who lack virtue are precisely the people who will never realize that they do.

So we will all watch the results of the polls tonight knowing that many, perhaps most of those who are determining our future are completely unqualified to do it. . But it will be the decision. And so there you are.

Have a happy day.

Results of the election now official

Debbie Wasserman-Schulz
The results of tomorrow's election are now official: Debbie Wasserman-Schulz has given her characterization of the election and as we all know she is congenitally incapable of telling the truth. She has said "the Democrats will hold the Senate," so we therefore know that they won't.

Political prognostication is so easy: Just listen to what Wasserman-Schulz says, and conclude the opposite!

Monday, November 03, 2014

Someone is corrupting science, and it isn't Conservatives

Wait. This can't be. Doesn't everyone know it is the right who politicizes science? What is the normally reliably liberal New Yorker doing publishing this stuff about the left corrupting science? Someone call the Diversity Police. These people must be silenced:
It has to do with a point that the social psychologist Jon Haidt (himself a liberal and an atheist) made a few years back, regarding the overwhelming presence of liberals in his field, and how that lack of diversity potentially harms the field. Haidt got lots of pushback from within the social psychology community, but there have been studies showing that he was right. 
Read more here.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

iGender: Apple needs to come clean about the sexuality of other board members

Apple CEO Tim Cook assuaged  public concerns about his sexuality by assuring Americans in a Business Week op-ed that he is gay and proud of it.

Okay. Now that those fears have been laid to rest, what about other members of Apple's board who have been quiet about their own sexual orientation?

There have been rumors that several of them are closet heterosexuals. Their silence on this not comforting. If there are heterosexuals on Apple's board, their shareholders and the larger public has a right to know about it.

Come clean, Apple!

Monday, October 27, 2014

How the New Intolerance operates

Robert Tracinski, writing at the Federalist fairly pegs the mechanism by which the New Intolerance operates:
The left’s operational concept of freedom is that you are allowed to do and say what you like—so long as you stay within a certain proscribed window of socially acceptable deviation. The purpose of the gay marriage campaign is simply to change the parameters of that window, extending it to include the gay, the queer, the transgendered—and to exclude anyone who thinks that homosexuality is a sin or who wants to preserve the traditional concept of marriage. Those people are declared outside the protection of the law and in fact will have the full weight of the law bear down upon them until they recant their socially unacceptable views.
Read more here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

We interrupt the propagation of anti-religious historical falsehoods for the following important announcement

Even otherwise intelligent atheists commonly can be commonly found portraying the Galileo affair as a confrontation between religion and science. This myth has been refuted repeatedly, but that doesn't stop them from repeating it again, and again, ...
Most people understand the trial of Galileo Galilei as a key example of religious bigotry clashing with the advance of science and the textbook case of "Medieval" ignorance and superstition being superseded by reason and science.  In fact, the whole rather complex affair was not the black-and-white "science vs religion" fable of popular imagination and the positions of both Galileo and of the various churchmen involved were varied and complex. 
... and again.

Read more here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Reason #537 to Study Latin

A record seven out of sixteen Highlands Latin School seniors were just recognized in the National Merit Scholarship Competition (six semifinalists and one commended student). Semifinalists represent the top 1% of college-bound seniors.

For the story in Insider Louisville, go here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Conservatives who think the Church has changed its view on same-sex marriage need to get a grip

Moral ailments, like physical ones, don't respond well to panic. Yet this seems just the cure some conservatives have in mind for what they are told by the liberal media is the new liberal position of the Catholic Church on marriage.

In fact, it was serendipitous that the Ebola scare and the conservative reaction to the release of a preliminary account of discussions at an extraordinary synod in Rome written by a liberal bishop hit on the same week. They were both examples of the same impulse: to lose all perspective in the face of a threat.

The reaction of the good folks at Front Porch Republic—who referenced Rod Dreher who referenced Damon Linker—was representative of the general conservative response.

These are all among my favorite people, of course, but their responses betrayed a disturbing level of what, in his recent book Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff has called "digiphrenia": a disordered condition of mental activity resulting from too much exposure to digital media.

This is a result of what Rushkoff calls "reality on tap," when "everything happens now." We are informed instantaneously about every news event and respond instantaneously so that we begin to think that there is no other reality than the present one. Everything is considered from a short-term perspective and the long-term begins to have no meaning for us.

The upshot is that we think in instantaneous terms and lose any historical perspective.

These are all good people, but its hard being in the same philosophical vehicle with them sometimes because a few of them have a habit of grabbing the dashboard and shouting "We're all going to die!" every time someone pulls out in front of us 1,000 yards ahead. All it took in the present case was a few news reports that a report out of a Catholic Church synod was hedging on the issue of same sex marriage and, without stopping to think how this might be being mis-portrayed and without digging deeper to see what was actually going on, conservatives went into full panic mode.

Folks, get a grip. Put down your smart phones, shut off your 4G, turn off your satellite TV, and think for a moment about what you're dealing with here.

You're talking about a 2,000 year-old institution that issues important documents in a language that hasn't been widely spoken by anybody but a few nerdy classics majors for several hundred years, that indicates who it has elected its leader by what color smoke it sends out of an old stove pipe in Vatican City, and that still worries on a daily basis about the Great Schism of 1054 AD.

This is an institution whose leader tweets. In Latin.

The Catholic Church doesn't think or operate like a modern institution, largely because it isn't one.

When changes are necessary, a committee is formed, which meets the next year. It has meetings and issues memos, which takes about another year. Then it breaks for a couple of years to think about it. Then it reconvenes again the next year to discuss a recommendation. It takes another six months to type the recommendation out on an old manual typewriter on triple-layered carbon paper, which urges that another committee be formed which will take another several years to deliberate on what it will recommend to the Pope. But by then the Pope is dead, so they have to appoint another pope and start the process all over again.

This is why I like the Catholic Church: It's so hard to get anything done that only the most important things actually get done and only the changes that are absolutely necessary ever get made.

The Presbyterian Church, USA or the Northwest Eastern Convention of Southern Independent Evangelical Baptists may decide to allow the ordination of bald lesbian Wiccans over the weekend, but this is just not the way the Catholic Church operates.

In fact, part of the problem here is that conservative protestants are reading their church paradigm, according to which these decisions can be made fairly quickly, onto the Catholic Church, where these paradigms simply don't fit.

The process the Catholic Church uses is admittedly long—and undeniably messy. But that's part of its tradition. And it's a long  tradition which is also a tradition of longness. But Peter Daniel Haworth at Front Porch Republic assures us:
Belief that the Holy Spirit invariably leads the Roman Catholic Church to what is true requires one to suspend reasonable skepticism about the typical dysfunction and fallibility of humans and human institutions.
It's a little hard to tell exactly what this sentence is saying, but I think what he means is that we're all supposed to doubt whether God works through processes of doctrinal change and formulation that involve a lot of disagreement, infighting and various other kinds of messiness, one of the things a few Catholics have advised outside observers to consider. Fr. Robert Barron, for example, warned his readers in a recent post about the "saugage-making" aspect of Church gathering like the one this last week.

"Those who love the barque of Peter," he quotes Cardinal John Henry Newman as saying, "ought to stay out of the engine room!”

Modern institutions are all supposed to operate like the George Pompidou Centre in Paris is built: with all the structure on the outside for everyone to see. So now we see the sausage-making aspect of the Church from the inside and think there must be something wrong. It would be interesting if Haworth were to apply his doubt about God working through human imperfections to other historical events in Church history. If he is a Christian, then he adheres to a creed (or the substance of it, even if he is "non-creedal") that was fashioned at the Council of Nicea, where ecclesiastical delegates not only engaged in prolific beard-pulling, but where St. Nicholas (yes, that one) allegedly slugged Arius right in the kisser.

Somebody had to do it. It might as well be Santa Claus.

The only difference between now and then is that there weren't reports on internal discussions being issued and then broadcast worldwide instantly.

And then maybe he could exercise his "reasonable skepticism" on Jesus' genealogy, which includes murderers, prostitutes, adulterers, and one person who was the product of incest. Now there's some serious dysfunction and fallibility.

And then there is this paragraph, again fashioned by Haworth:
... one can question whether mere theoretical searching for contradictions in RCC dogma is a sufficient test for the soundness of the First Vatican Council’s strong claims about papal authority–i.e., the Pope being infallible when speaking ex cathedra on faith and morals. One should be wary (if not dismissive) of a papal authority that appears to be on the brink of effectively undermining its church’s long-held doctrinal tradition (possibly through new pastoral directives), albeit without explicitly changing its parchment doctrine so as to hide the reality that such a de facto change is actually occurring. And, when an individual Christian (even one who is within the RCC) comes to this point, it is reasonable for him or her to also evaluate what to do (or where to go) next.    
Now I have applied various methods of interpretation to this paragraph--as well as to trying to figure out everything set off with an em-dash (and the parts in parentheses), and have tried to determine why he uses so, many, commas, and have concluded that Haworth would probably make more sense if, rather than simply using occasional Latin expressions, he had simply said the whole thing in Latin.

But what Haworth seems to be saying is that the doctrine of Papal infallibility makes it easier for the Pope to change Church doctrine, something I have read numerous other places.

Well, you can use all the relative clauses you want (although quite frankly, I think Haworth has exceeded the limit), but the problem is this: The doctrine of papal infallibility does not make it easier for one pope to change the doctrines of his predecessors: It makes it harder. This was one of the reasons that Pope John XXII opposed the doctrine in the 14th century and actually condemned it in a bull. The Franciscans thought he was trying to change what they believed a long-held teaching to which the Pope was in disagreement, and they appealed to the doctrine of papal infallibility to demonstrate that the pope could not change the doctrine of his predecessors.

If pope's are infallible (in regard to the limited kinds of things that that doctrine applies to), then later popes, far from having greater ability to change the doctrines of their predecessors, have far less.

Admittedly it is not easy for a Catholic like myself to suffer the indignity of a New York Times editorial praising the Church, but all we know from last week's Extraordinary Synod is this: that, a) if the Obama administration hasn't used up all the available czars, the Vatican could use one to manage its communications office; b) that there are liberals trying to influence Church doctrine; c) that they're very vocal; d) that they've got cheerleaders in the media; e) that some conservatives place too much credence in the liberal media's portrayal of Church events; and f) that using this many semicolons in one place could give Haworth ideas.

All of which is to say that the Catholic Church has not caved on the same-sex marriage issue and that conservatives—particularly conservative protestants—who are now performing last rites over the Church need not only to put reports from the liberal media in better perspective, but need to better understand how the Church operates before they jump to conclusions.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Since when does it take a subpoena to get a copy of a pastor's sermon?

Not content to merely wag their crooked fingers at innocent people who don't buy in to their brand of "tolerance," the Politically Correct schoolmarms running Houston city government have issued subpoenas demanding copies of sermons from local churches who oppose an unpopular gay rights ordinance.

I'm trying to ponder the extent of the utter silliness of this absurd move.

For one thing, in doing it, Houston municipal government automatically makes itself the poster child for Orwellian left-wing intolerance. Not to mention hypocrisy. The lengths to which the champions of Tolerance and Diversity will go to impose their views on other people continues to amaze me--as does the bullying performed by the very people who are always talking about how bad bullying is.

What's next? Red and black armbands for city officials? Free lessons in goose-stepping?

But the truly funny thing here is why city officials thought they needed subpoenas to obtain the sermons of the city's pastors.

I can't think of a pastor I have met whose day you wouldn't make by asking him for a copy of his sermons. These are people many of whom have a complex about the fact that people don't pay enough attention to what they have to say. These are people who spend money, sometimes out of their own pockets, to get their sermons aired on the local radio or television station.

They're trying to reach as many people and they can and the Houston Diversity Enforcement officials issue subpoenas? Seriously.

Which is probably why one Houston pastor said, when asked whether he would comply with a subpoena, "I'll be glad to send them my sermons as long as they promise to read them."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sorry liberals, the Catholic Church has NOT changed its position on same-sex marriage

If the secular media's coverage of preliminary deliberations in Rome on marriage weren't so tragic, they would simply be comic. In fact, maybe they're both.

It's not as if we didn't know how badly the media customarily get it wrong. Just on the basis of stories about the Catholic Church I've read over the last five years, it would seem that they are more likely to get it wrong than to get it right.

The biggest problem is obviously just journalistic sloppiness, but the chief aggravating factor is the lack of understanding by secular journalists about how the Church works. To even think that the whole teaching of the Church can be changed by one set of meetings over the course of a week and the issuing of a document by bureaucratic underlings is preposterous on its face to anyone who has even the remotest idea of how the Church works.

But the ADHD, quick news-cycle, go-on-to-the-next-story mode of the modern instant media doesn't have time for important distinctions, nor do liberals feel any restraint in doing end zone dances when no one has even started a play yet if it looks like they will benefit from appearing to have won.

And it doesn't help that the Vatican's communication bureaucracy is not taking this into account when it issues documents. When you're talking to people who have an attention span of about five seconds and are lacking a shred of historical knowledge, you've got to craft your message to take that into account and the Vatican needs to start doing this.

So now we have this meme going around that the Church has changed its position on the same-sex marriage issue, which is absolutely, positively, 100 percent, no-question-about-it wrong.

Robert P. George today said it best:
The relatio, then, is raw material for this week’s discussion, which will prepare for next year’s discussion, which may provide fodder for a document by the Pope. 
So it’s conducive to something preparatory to something (possibly) advisory. 
It has no teaching authority whatsoever.
What’s more, it proposed no changes—none—in the doctrine or moral teaching of the Church.
Sheez. Read the rest here.