Thursday, April 4, 2013, 12:33 PM
Feminism of the primitive observance meets Third-wave feminism in this unusual story. Calliope Wong, who self-identifies as neither male nor female, applied to the famously “lifestyle left” and female-only Smith College, only to be turned down on grounds of gender.
The story, written up in The American Prospect, points out that the 1970s feminist attitudes ensconced at Smith are quaint by today’s standards. While an earlier generation of feminists accepted psychological identity as integrated with bodily form, today’s feminists are increasingly strict mind-body dualists, holding that the mind determines gender entirely apart from biology—a ghost in the body’s machine.
The details, as with all such matters, are complicated: Wong may be admitted to Smith if she checks off “female” on her application. But Wong identified as male when applying for federal financial aid, meaning Smith would risk its status as a historical women’s institution by admitting her. And the only recourse the feds will recognize to amend her aid application is gender-reassignment surgery.
The article’s author had this to say of the generation gap amongst feminists, including those who denied Wong’s college application. It would seem the movement has a longstanding crisis of identity-acceptance—one that pales in comparison to the discrimination they attribute to the conservative movement:
But despite their commitment to gender equality, many feminist institutions have long had trouble seeing trans women as part of the movement. Cisgender feminists of the 1970s often viewed their trans sisters with suspicion, as though they were men in dresses trying to invade “real” womanhood. Some women’s centers, rape-support organizations, and lesbian-rights groups have gone as far as expelling trans women from their midst. The legendary Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has always barred trans women from entry (and still does). Second-wave thought leaders like Mary Daly called them “Frankensteins” and in her book, The Transsexual Empire, radical anti-trans feminist Janice Raymond accuses trans women of “appropriating” the female body and many other much less pleasant things. After decades of protest and education, many cis feminists and their organizations have “evolved” on trans rights, but it’s not hard to find Raymond’s heirs active today, even in the younger generations. Wong’s case clearly illuminates how quick some feminists still default to some very conservative, essentialist beliefs about gender when it suits them.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 5:59 AM
During the Supreme Court’s oral arguments yesterday examing Proposition 8, Chief Justice John Roberts entertained an analogy for the move to redefine marriage:
If you tell a child that somebody has to be their friend, I suppose you can force the child to say, “this is my friend,” but it changes the definition of what it means to be a friend. And that’s, it seems to me . . . what supporters of Proposition 8 are saying here. You’re—all you’re interested in is the label and you insist on changing the definition of the label.
One commentator took immediate offense at the analogy, baffling at the comparison of marriage to childhood friendship. He further pointed out that redefining marriage is a matter of permitting, not compelling, as in Roberts’ hypothetical. But this, like so many other cases in public debate, misunderstands the function of analogies—to point out an illustrative common property of two ideas, not to compare the substance of the ideas in their entirety.
If I, for instance, claimed that my friend’s unsuccessful attempts at rock climbing made him look like a “fish out of water,” it would be absurd to conclude my analogy was invidious because it compared my friend to a fish.
Roberts was, of course, comparing an instance of redefining friendship to the redefinition of marriage. If we were to supply the label “friendship” to something which just is not friendship, we would commit a logical offense, reappropriating a meaningful term to an object it does not suit. The relevant point in Roberts’ analogy is its anti-voluntarism: Marriage is not just whatever we say it is, and we cannot furtively repurpose marriage while pretending we are merely expanding the use of a label.
Mistaking analogies has become familiar in the marriage debate. The argument has often been made that if we establish a blanket right to be married in whatever fashion we see fit, there would seem to be no justice in prohibiting group marriage or other plural marital arrangements. Instead of seeing the analogies amongst revisions of marriage that alter its central properties, interlocutors have often claimed that traditionalists simply compare same-sex unions to polygamy and its unique demerits.
Friday, March 22, 2013, 8:22 PM
Carlos Lozada, editor of the Washington Post‘s Outlook section, provides a fantastic list of some of the hackneyed words and phrases his stylebook forbids. It’s striking to see how many of these bits of jargon are recycled in nearly every piece of reporting on offer. When was the last time you read about a “charm offensive” or political “pushback” in a crisis with “shifting dynamics?”
A few favorites:
Needless to say
Midwife (as a verb that does not involve childbirth)
A rare window (unless we’re talking about a real window that is in fact rare)
Rorschach test (unless it is a real one)
Palpable sense of relief
Remains to be seen
Rose from obscurity (in journalism, all rises are from obscurity)
Dizzying array (in journalism, all arrays make one dizzy)
Withering criticism (in journalism, all criticism is withering)
Predawn raid (in journalism, all raids are predawn)
Dons the mantle of
Growing body of evidence
Tapped (as substitute for “selected” or “appointed”)
Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 10:32 PM
Pope Francis is a pontiff of firsts—the first Jesuit, the first Francis (of Assisi, not the Jesuit Francis Xavier), and the first pope from the New World, and indeed from a nation encircled by the global south. We can in one sense call him the first American pope. While not from a nation of establishment Christianity—Italy, Spain, France, and the like—the new pope’s native Argentina is perhaps just one, not two, steps away from them, the country’s culture possessing by far the most European flavor among South American states.
The Church confounded media narratives by electing him, and the crowd in St. Peter’s Square this evening was electrified to see the fumata was white (it initially looked black) after just a day and a half of conclave deliberations. Pope Francis made an incredible first impression. A dark horse prospect and unknown to many in the crowd, more than a few were struck by his statuesque pose after emerging on the balcony above us. A few waves to the crowd at first, then stillness. One can only imagine Francis spent these first few moments in in prayer.
Unlike the public greetings the past several popes have delivered, Pope Francis conducted his appearance as something close to a liturgy. As much as a new pope can do, he drew himself little attention, wasting not a moment before asking those assembled to pray the Lord’s Prayer, a Hail Mary, and a Gloria for the emeritus pontiff, Benedict XVI. The same sense of conscientious attention accompanied his granting of a papal indulgence.
His extemporaneous Italian impressed Roman natives, at least a few of whom shouted “che bell’Italiano!” at his opening phrases. Those words, one should note, were as serene and tranquil—even easygoing—as might ever be expected of a man just elected pope. The papal office has evidently not caused him to forget he is a pastor.
Then came the entirely unexpected. Still observing a liturgical form of sorts, Francis bowed to the crowd and asked for our prayers for him in silence. The requested silence came immediately—a stunning, astounding silence from the deafening shouts just moments before. Everyone hushed without exception, most certainly taken aback by the gesture. “I came not to be served, but to serve,” as the scripture goes.
Many possibilities await the new pope, from revival of the Jesuit order’s original luster to a bolstering of Christian renewal in its most rapidly expanding regions—the lands south of the equator far removed from western Europe.
Pope Francis’ parting words came quickly, his appearance being surprisingly brief in retrospect. “Brothers and sisters, I will be leaving. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and we will see one another soon. Tomorrow I want to go and pray to the Madonna that she may protect Rome. Good night and rest well.”
Already, then, Pope Francis is following the lead Pope Benedict XVI established as he departed office. Just a few short weeks ago at his last public Mass, then Pope Benedict quieted the applauding crowd to a whisper, saying, “Thank you, now let us return to prayer.” Just as Benedict resolved to spend the rest of his life in a return to prayer and contemplation, Pope Francis has begun his pontificate with an undeniable focus on prayer—for his predecessor, for the guardianship of the Church, and most strikingly, in his acknowledgement of dependence on the Christian faithful’s prayers for him.
Sunday, March 10, 2013, 1:43 PM
For the small percentage they comprise of Catholics worldwide, Italians are disproportionately represented in the Roman Curia and ecclesial governance more broadly, not to mention their long history of native-born popes. And while the last memory of an Italian pope is now three decades old, today’s populus Romanus has not let go of its special concern for the Roman pontiff. If the Corriere della Sera‘s polling can be trusted, a strong current of Italians (it claims nearly forty percent) has expressed admiration for Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley among the field of papabile cardinals. Along with his pastoral and theological strengths are qualities that resonate profoundly with the loyalties and hopes of many Italians. He is a Capuchin Franciscan like the nation’s beloved Padre Pio. He speaks Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese flawlessly, and strikes most as humble and consummately apolitical.
Today O’Malley offered Mass at his titular church, Santa Maria della Vittoria, the Roman landmark famed as the home of Bernini’s masterwork, St. Theresa in Ecstasy. The church has received much attention of late, if perhaps for indecorous reasons, being a stop on the city’s Angels and Demons tour. But at least Dan Brown’s fantasy manages to commit the irony of bringing tourists into churches instead of away from them.
The aged Carmelite friars who serve as the church’s caretakers excitedly said they had never in recent memory witnessed a crowd of today’s size. Perhaps forty print journalists, cameramen, and reporters packed into the transepts of the diminutive space, one of them having to be pulled away to allow O’Malley to process to the altar. A large congregation also attended, most of them natives, judging by their laughter when O’Malley joked in Italian of his desire to take the Bernini statue back to Boston. The press were largely Italian as well, save a number from Boston news outlets.
As he has indicated repeatedly in interviews, O’Malley bristles at the idea of his cause for Petrine ministry, often averring his desire not to waste his return flight ticket to Boston once the conclave is concluded. Of course, the fervor among Italians amounts to little more than speculation, and speculation can be a very idle pastime. But the excitement may have a dimension one can call proper and holy as well. Far from imposing political categories on the papal election, many admire O’Malley not simply for what he can do, but for who he is, and the sense he emanates of being a Christian disciple.
Of more frivolous note, it is worth noting that Cardinal O’Malley (one Italian priest insisted he take the name Pope Francis I) would be the first bearded pope in three centuries. Pope Innocent XII was the last, sporting a moustache and goatee. Still more tongue-in-cheek, one wonders if this fact might warm Eastern churches to overtures of reconciliation with the West, given that the question of bearded clergy served to sour the cultural divide that accompanied the Great Schism. Perhaps more a propos, one wonders about the great possibilities for an Irish-descended pope to inspire reconciliation and calm in the troubled ecclesial life of Ireland and Scotland.
As ever, the Church will decide.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013, 9:09 AM
It seems a safe bet that First Things’ beloved founder would have been a kindred spirit to Amos Shuchman, a New Yorker whose obituary appeared earlier this month in the local paper of record:
SHUCHMAN–Amos, of New York, on February 1, 2013. Beloved and caring husband of Alice Shuchman for 51 years, father of Daniel (Lori Lesser) and Nina (Brian Roth), grandfather of Jacob, Sarah, Aaron and Ariela. Born in Tel Aviv in 1928, fought bravely in the Haganah. Loved his family, his birth and adopted countries, finance, skiing, opera, ballet and biking in Central Park. Loved everything about NYC, except the New York Times. Services at Beth El Cemetery (Or Zarua section), Paramus, NJ, Sunday at 11am. Memorial contributions to a charity of your choice. His fearless heart still beats within all of us. Shalom, Saba.
Via Nathaniel Botwinick at The Corner
Saturday, January 19, 2013, 5:43 AM
Duncan Stroik writes in Crisis of the need for priests and seminarians to achieve literacy in art and architecture, expected as they are to play the role of curator of artistic beauty as often as they curate beauty in the liturgy. Renaissance priests, as it were, seem especially needed in an age when art and architecture have in many quarters abandoned the contemplation of beauty altogether.
… priests are the caretakers of the Church’s artistic patrimony. Each pastor is ostensibly the curator of a small art gallery as well as the overseer of a physical plant which needs constant maintenance, repair, and additions. Then there are the lucky few, or perhaps not, who have the opportunity to build anew. Building a church is a grand undertaking which includes thousands of decisions from hiring the right architect to raising millions of dollars to critiquing the statue of the Blessed Virgin to deciding whether the door hardware should be bronze or polished brass. And it all has to be done in addition to the full time job of running the parish.
Given that many pastors have to be shepherd, curator, head of the physical plant, chairman of the music and education programs, and chief development officer, does it make sense that they should have some training in art and architecture?
Thursday, January 17, 2013, 11:28 AM
Wall Street recruiters receive their fill of curious applications, with some aspirants inflating GPA figures and test scores, and others presenting overwrought or bluffed accounts of job skills and experience. But one Wall Street hopeful drew praise and intrigue Monday after penning a cover letter with precisely the opposite intent. An interviewer at a boutique investment firm in Manhattan noticed with great surprise the letter’s plain and almost blithe mention of the applicant’s lack of extraordinary qualifications, while emphasizing his inclination to work “. . .for next to nothing.” For those who haven’t founded a business, written a best-selling novel, or solved the hunger crisis by their sophomore year, a little honesty and realism can evidently prove refreshing to potential employers.
After an introduction, the applicant went on to write the following:
I am writing you to inquire about a possible summer internship in your office. I am aware it is highly unusual for undergraduates from average universities like [redacted] to intern at [redacted], but nevertheless I was hoping you might make an exception. I am extremely interested in investment banking and would love nothing more than to learn under your tutelage. I have no qualms about fetching coffee, shining shoes or picking up laundry, and will work for next to nothing. In all honesty, I just want to be around professionals in the industry and gain as much knowledge as I can.
I won’t waste your time inflating my credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles, or feeding you a line . . . about how my past experiences and skill set align perfectly for an investment banking internship. The truth is I have no unbelievably special skills or genius eccentricities, but I do have a near perfect GPA and will work hard for you. I’ve interned for Merrill Lynch in the Wealth Management Division and taken an investment banking class at [redacted], for whatever that is worth.
In the ensuing exchanges amongst the bankers charged with vetting the candidate, the mood was decidedly in favor of granting an interview.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012, 4:42 PM
A few years back, First Things published a somewhat incredulous While We’re At It entry noticing the curiously named Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, a service that promised to take care of pets left behind after the rapture. (It was recently confirmed to be satire by the proprietor, who reports he’s gotten New Hampshire’s state insurance regulators concerned. He also says he’s never retained any clients.) Clever, still, even if only for uniting the interests of pretribulationist prepping-types with those of atheist pet-lovers.
But as far as one can tell, pet obituaries have remained unexplored territory—until now. Singapore’s largest newspaper, The Straits Times, will soon publish remembrances of deceased pets (photographs are allowed). And no mention of pet veneration can go without a word about what makes it attractive—pets satisfy the nurturing urge without nearly as much fuss as children:
The decision to market obituaries to pet owners in tiny Singapore, one of the world’s richest countries in terms of per capita income, comes as wealthy Asians have fewer kids and shower more attention on pets.
Research firm Euromonitor, in a recent report on Singapore’s pet care market, said people are spending more on premium pet food as well as accessories such as strollers for dogs and designer pet clothing.
“Many pet owners are increasingly treating their pets as household members and are therefore pampering their pets with luxurious food, products and services, just as they would dote on their family,” it said.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012, 10:11 AM
In their forthcoming book on marriage, Robert George, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan Anderson warn (in context of their broader argument) that it serves no one’s interests to define marriage down to companionship, or to suppose the aim of the marriage license is “all-purpose personal approval.” Reshaping marriage may, in point of fact, further marginalize the unmarried if society reduces the conjugal bond to mere social inclusion.
One might further observe that the more we broaden marriage’s public meaning, the thinner it becomes for individuals, signifying less and less of distinctive value. An article in The Atlantic last week lends one such vision of marriage, with its public meaning lost in a cloud of private objectives. Millie Kerr coyly wonders why we don’t extend marital recognition to single persons:
Back in 2003, Sex and the City identified a cruel reality about single life: There’s no single-person’s equivalent of a wedding—a time when people travel from afar to bring you gifts and toast your life decisions.
Carrie Bradshaw said, “If you are single after graduation, there isn’t one occasion when people celebrate you” besides birthdays, which we all enjoy.
Despite a proliferation of single adults, little has changed since that episode aired nearly a decade ago: trips are not planned when we’re promoted at work, nor crystal glassware gifted when we buy our first homes. It seems that milestone celebrations are still reserved for couples and families.
It shouldn’t be that way, of course. NYU professor Eric Klinenberg wrote Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone to tell “the story of the biggest modern social change that we’ve yet to identify: the extraordinary rise of living alone.” Marriage rates have reached a record low, and adults are generally marrying and having children later in life. As a result, single people can expect later (and fewer) unions. But societal traditions are lagging behind this shift.
When will barometers of celebration reflect the growing number of singletons?
If recent conceptions of marriage have already pitched our ideas about monogamy, permanence, and gender complementarity, there seems to be no independent reason against excising marriage’s essential orientation toward the “other” as well. But if marriage’s contours are flattened such that the institution no longer involves a union, it seems fair to assume it no longer has any real meaning at all.
Perhaps Kerr and others who’ve entertained single-party marriage are tongue-in-cheek. But the reasons she posits for marital recognition in the first place reflect the fundamentally postmodern prerogatives of the marriage revisionist movement. Kerr is far from the only writer whose intuited vision of marriage is, as she says, “a time when people travel from afar to bring you gifts and toast your life decisions.”
This is the sort of thing that makes priests and pastors wince. Many of them, I suspect, would recommend against marriage for a person whose first aim was to be celebrated for reaching a milestone. (Jennifer Roback Morse has elsewhere argued the importance of distinguishing such private reasons for marriage from the more essential public ones.)
There’s a certain sadness to all this, as well. That a generation of singles has been left to wonder whether marriage is primarily about affirmation indicates a vocational insecurity not to be taken for granted.
Thursday, November 1, 2012, 12:18 PM
Patrick Ross, author of The Artist’s Road blog, enjoins English speakers and news producers to stem the tide of “word inflation” when reporting compelling news items, this week’s hurricane reportage being the latest culprit. Few settled to call Sandy an immense storm, instead opting for “superstorm,” and while calling her a composite storm would prove unwieldy, the “Frankenstorm” neologism sounded equally outlandish. Ross recalls other atmostpheric events that have prompted similarly supersized vocabulary: Snowstorms of past years have earned monikers like “Snowpocalypse” and a Los Angeles traffic snarl was nimbly dubbed “Carmaggeddon.”
We have been doing this for some time, taking words that already encompass significant scale or impact–like “hurricane”–and modifying or replacing them with no good reason. Take “unique.” The word means “being without a like or equal.” Yet how often do we hear an interesting individual called “pretty unique,” or a rare item called “very unique”? How can you be degrees of unique? Why do we feel the need to insert a modifier in front of an absolute?
But I haven’t mentioned yet the nails-on-a-blackboard abomination that has permeated popular culture and, I fear, could find its way into permanent usage. Tell, me, honestly, why do we need the word “ginormous”? With “gigantic” we “are exceeding the usual or expected,” and with “enormous” we are “marked by extraordinarily great size, number, or degree.” I have yet to hear anything referred to as “ginormous” that could not have been fully described with one of these two words. This word inflation is a gigantic cultural problem, and its implications are enormous.
Just as intriguing as the grammatical unorthodoxy of supersized words, it seems to me, is their expression of our appetite for hyperbole. But as Ross explains, it doesn’t seem quite right to assume that the more baroque a word becomes, the more content it conveys. Lawyers may use ‘legalese’ to package complex ideas into manageable (usually Latin) phrases, and the Germans have poly-conceptual single words like Umweltverschmutzung (“pollution”). But the modern American scrivener’s rationale for lengthy new words seems to have more to do with overstatement than efficiency or precision. It’s a linguistic development we should watch, unlikely as it is to recede. And now that they’re with us, we can at least strive for consistency and call these new words by a proper name—Frankenwords.
Friday, June 24, 2011, 4:43 PM
It’s no secret that one major undercurrent of the same-sex marriage movement is the desire to change the marriage culture—family and childrearing norms, for instance—not simply to realize the practical benefits of marriage. But once a redefined marriage culture is in place, one wonders whether marriage will continue to matter at all to those who at one time touted it as the panacea for same-sex woes.
In yesterday’s Times, Columbia Law School professor Katherine M. Franke opined that, while some gay couples may wish to get on board with marriage, others don’t see the “one-size-fits-all rules of marriage” as the ideal setup for the kinds of arrangements some same-sex relationships demand. She goes on,
Here’s why I’m worried: Winning the right to marry is one thing; being forced to marry is quite another. How’s that? If the rollout of marriage equality in other states, like Massachusetts, is any guide, lesbian and gay people who have obtained health and other benefits for their domestic partners will be required by both public and private employers to marry their partners in order to keep those rights. In other words, “winning” the right to marry may mean “losing” the rights we have now as domestic partners, as we’ll be folded into the all-or-nothing world of marriage.
After “winning the right to marry,” Franke argues, couples uninterested in marriage risk being “forced to marry” in order to keep their domestic partnership rights. She wonders further why couples should have to seek marriage at all if they seek mainly to have their relationships “recognized and valued.”
Wednesday, June 15, 2011, 11:45 AM
Joe Carter’s column this week draws on the autobiographical to illustrate an important point of comparison between workers in the world of labor and their counterparts in the world of ideas: Both idealize the other’s lot; but, as Carter argues, the two life courses are different in kind, and neither benefits from undue idealization:
Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to talk about ideas, even the idea of how manual labor can lead to an intellectually fulfilling life—a theory I fully endorse. But the ideas about work proffered by agrarian academics and garage-dreaming cubicle workers are hardly the same as those of real farmers and trade workers. If we ask manual laborers to speak for themselves, we may find that they view manual work as work and shop class as a place for crafting stuff, not souls.
George Weigel’s column this week makes an argument not about theology or the role of the Church in the world, but baseball. Weigel makes the case for including 61* among baseball’s all-time greatest films:
61* is not flawless. It’s crude at one or two points (but so was the Commerce Comet, Mantle). The computer imaging of old Yankee Stadium (not the redesigned one just torn down but the original House That Ruth Built) is a little shaky, as is the re-creation of Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, site of most of my sacred baseball memories. A few bits of casting are off: Neither Whitey Ford nor Ralph Houk looks quite right. Nonetheless, it’s a terrific film.
Thursday, June 9, 2011, 3:12 PM
The movement advancing same-sex marriage has of late been preoccupied with preeminence more than debate, better thriving in the echo chambers of Ivy League classrooms and judges’ chambers than the dialectic of town halls. But a culture of self-congratulation is hardly the context for honing the art of persuasion. What passes for an argument these days–at least in the mind of newspaper editors–is truly astounding.
Today’s Star Tribune published this letter to the editor from Minneapolis resident Robert Alberti :
The lowest temperature this year was minus 22 in January, while on Tuesday, the high was 103 — a range of 125 degrees. We Minnesotans take that incredible diversity in stride like few other places in the world.
Can’t the state that tolerates these temperature differences also embrace a wide range of marriage types? Passing a constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to heterosexual unions would be like passing an amendment restricting the weather to 68 degrees and sunny.
Both amendments would be futile and would undermine what makes Minnesota one of the most special places on Earth: our diversity in all things.
(Via: Mark Shea)
Wednesday, June 8, 2011, 12:19 PM
Joe Carter’s column today explores the unsettling extent to which Ayn Rand, the ill-chosen hero of some conservatives and libertarians, finds a twin in Anton LaVey, the founder of modern satanism:
Perhaps most are unaware of the connection, though LaVey wasn’t shy about admitting his debt to his inspiration. “I give people Ayn Rand with trappings,” he once told the Washington Post. On another occasion he acknowledged that his brand of Satanism was “just Ayn Rand’s philosophy with ceremony and ritual added.” Indeed, the influence is so apparent that LaVey has been accused of plagiarizing part of his “Nine Satanic Statements” from the John Galt speech in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
George Weigel’s column profiles Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the 40-year-old episcopal leader of the Greek Catholic Church in the Ukraine:
Major-Archbishop Shevchuk is 40, and if he becomes a cardinal shortly after his predecessor, Cardinal Lubomir Husar, turns 80 in 2013, Shevchuk will be the youngest member of the College of Cardinals in over a century.
Since his enthronement, Major-Archbishop Shevchuk has reached out to the Orthodox communities in Ukraine as well as to the leadership of Russian Orthodoxy, making clear his interests in genuine dialogue, real problem-solving, and joint work to repair the vast human damage done to Ukraine by 70-plus years of communism.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011, 10:38 AM
Joe Carter’s column this week argues that opinion polls make us dumb—but not simply because they’re often inaccurate. Instead, it’s that opinion polls themselves can seem to instruct the public on how to form opinions:
If you are told that the president’s approval rating is 95 percent, then you are more likely also to approve of the job he is doing. Likewise, if his rating is low, then your opinion is also likely to be low. If you take a view contrary to the poll’s suggested opinion, then you will be the one put on the defensive—even if your opinion is based on a weighing of relevant facts and evidence.
George Weigel’s On the Square essay this week sets the record straight for a number of Catholic theologians who sent a missive to House Speaker John Boehner, arguing he was out of communion with established Catholic teaching on caring for the poor. It seems that some theological liberals are tired of seeing only liberal politicians chastised for their divided loyalties, but their reaction only created more confusion on the Church’s social teaching:
The Church’s concern for the poor does not imply a “preferential option” for Big Government. The social doctrine teaches that the problem of poverty is best addressed by empowerment: enabling poor people to enter the circle of productivity and exchange in society.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011, 10:53 AM
Joe Carter’s column this week ponders Harold Camping’s most egregious flaw in his prediction of Judgment Day. It wasn’t, mind you, his inaccuracy or even his scandal to non-Christians, but, as Carter argues, his desire to reduce the gospel to a matter of mere calculation, and failing to place faith in Providence’s designs for the day of judgment:
The same could be said about the message of the Christian faith. The gospel should be presented as reasonably as possible, but not so reasonably that it excludes faith. After all, God has not recruited us to be spin-doctors for the church; he calls us to be fools for Christ. As Camping continually proves, we are likely to be fools anyway. We might as well strive to become the right kind of fools.
George Weigel argues today that the Catholic Church in Poland, as it develops its public voice, should honor the vision of John Paul II not by looking to him as the apex of Polish life after which all is in decline. Instead, the Poles should cast their nets still deeper:
Polish Catholicism should adopt this future-oriented stance. Remembering the John Paul II years should now be a remembering in service to the future. The 21st century Church in Poland must take up John Paul’s challenge in the 1991 encyclical Redemptoris Missio and re-imagine itself as a Church that is a mission, not an institution for which mission is one among many activities. Or as John Paul put it in closing the Great Jubilee of 2000, the Church must leave the shallow water of institutional maintenance and put out “into the deep” of the New Evangelization.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011, 1:40 PM
Joe Carter’s column this week coins the term “X-Cons,” the conservative subset of Generation X which takes great pains to distinguish itself from the Baby Boomer mindset. Carter provides a compelling sketch of what to look for in an archetypical X-Con, including, among many other points, the religious worldview of the group:
X-Cons tend to be extremely religious in a “mere Christianity” sort of way. Although our political views are often shaped by our theology, we are willing to cross theological lines to forge political alliances. We’re the children of the Moral Majority; we tend to be either Catholic-friendly evangelicals or evangelical-influenced Catholics. We can’t understand why conservative Protestants and Catholics fought each other rather than with the true enemy: godless liberalism.
George Weigel’s column points convincingly to the danger of viewing Osama bin Laden’s death as a mere practical victory in the battle against jihadism. But there are many problems bin Laden’s death will not solve, making it all the more important to view it primarily as a freestanding act of justice.
As usual, Rutgers University’s James Turner Johnson got it exactly right: bin Laden’s death was “an execution of justice, plain and simple, carried out under the authority of the one who can properly use bellum (war) in the service of good.” And why is it important to grasp this? Because if soft-minded and ill-informed religious leaders and intellectuals succeed in gutting the just war tradition and loosening our public culture’s grasp on it, the only alternative will be a raw pragmatism that justifies any end and any means.
Monday, May 16, 2011, 4:18 PM
Back in 2006, at the height of Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion much ado, Terry Eagleton wrote a singeing review of Dawkins’ work in the London Review of Books, the first line of which gives some indication of his general impression of it:
Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.
Stephen Hawking is no Richard Dawkins, and by that I mainly mean Richard Dawkins is no Stephen Hawking. And I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Hawking has indeed read the Book of British Birds. But that doesn’t mean Hawking sounds good when we read him on theology. In a decidedly Dawkinsian moment, yesterday’s Guardian published an interview in which Hawking compared heaven to a “fairy story” for “people afraid of the dark.”
You had a health scare and spent time in hospital in 2009. What, if anything, do you fear about death?
I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.
It’s the usual critique of religion-as-wish-fulfillment, coupled with Hawking’s philosophical materialism. But, as usual, the usual arguments are well and ready for a response. Those acquainted with Ivan Karamazov will recall his apparent belief that if there is no God, anything is permitted. One can hardly imagine a scheme for wish-fulfillment as comprehensive as that made possible by atheism. And second, if heaven is merely a fairy story peddled to believers to console them from fears and earthly suffering, why, we should ask, does the Christian tradition place so much emphasis on the possibility of hell?
Wednesday, May 11, 2011, 10:43 AM
Joe Carter’s column today explores an example of modern culture’s fascination with conspiracy theories. A more easygoing form of logic, the thrill and intrigue of drawing connections, and the ability to elevate proponents of such theories to the status of expert among other conspiracy theorists—all these make conspiracy theories irresistable for some. Or perhaps that’s just what they want us to think, such as in the case of the “Guantanamo Murders“:
…When you’re building a conspiracy theory you don’t want to obtain information that might discredit or undermine your belief. But while it is necessary not to ask too many questions when you are developing propaganda, it is no way to conduct award-winning investigative reporting.
George Weigel’s weekly column details a trip—or perhaps more of an outing—he made to Wyoming Catholic College, where scholarship and the great outdoors are both taught as much as they are lived:
…Wyoming Catholic College, where students read Thomas Aquinas in the original Latin, take a mandatory freshman course in horsemanship, and go on a three-week, survival-skills trek through the Rockies before they crack a book. Oh yes: At Wyoming Catholic, students are not allowed to have cell phones, but the college provides a gun room for their rifles. A visitor from the Ivy League found this combination disconcerting. I found it charming.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011, 10:36 AM
Joe Carter’s column today brings to light an example of one of the odder phenotypes in the conservative political spectrum–conservatives who put, as Carter says, “preference for procedure ahead of principle.” When dealing with the right to life, there is hardly room for political procedure not oriented toward the state’s most fundamental aim: protecting the lives of its citizens.
If any level of government fails to do its duty in defending and protecting the lives of its innocent citizens, it is the obligation of the other branches to compensate for the failure in governance. [Ron] Paul disagrees, preferring, when the two conflict, to defend federalism rather than the lives of the unborn.
George Weigel’s column also broaches matters political, noting that Catholics seem to have forgotten the true meaning of subsidiarity in recent political debates, construing it as statism:
Because this statist misreading of Catholic social thought often flies under the flag of “Justice for the Poor,” it’s important to underscore one crucial point as the 2012 debate unfolds, this year and next: Catholic social thought is about the empowerment of the poor. It is not about failed polices of social assistance that treat poor people as problems to be solved rather than as people with potential to be unleashed.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011, 11:03 AM
Joe Carter’s column today explores the impulse among some Christians to try to outdo Christ at his own game. Though a good number of Christian groups mandate teetotaling, Carter takes the Southern Baptist Convention to task for its disappointing effort to answer the question, “What Would Jesus Drink?“:
…While my fellow Southern Baptists consider Christ to be the Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos, we would not consider him fit to serve as a trustee for the Southern Baptist Convention. Not only was Jesus a “user of alcoholic beverages” (Luke 7:33-34), but he had the audacity to turn perfectly good water into wine.
George Weigel’s column is a reminder that, as the beatification of John Paul II nears, we ought not to forget he was an everyday Christian disciple as much as an extraordinarily saint:
When the Church puts the title “Blessed” or “Saint” on someone, the person so honored often drifts away into a realm of the unapproachably good. We lose the sense that the saints are people just like us, who, by the grace of God, lived lives of heroic virtue: a truth of the faith of which John Paul II never ceased to remind us.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011, 10:49 AM
Growing up attending the “First Church of Hellfire and Damnation,” Joe Carter recounts that it wasn’t easy to warm up to Catholics, but the example of John Paul II quickly changed that. In today’s column he points to areas in which Evangelicals can learn something from Catholics–Marian theology, the sanctity of life, and ecclesiology.
I’m often amazed when I consider how much of my thinking is shaped by papist scholars’ writing about such issues as bioethics, social thought, natural law theory, and the Just War tradition. Although I do not always find myself in complete agreement with it, the Catholic perspective has caused me to rethink my views on such matters as contraception, in-vitro fertilization, just wages, and the death penalty.
And George Weigel offers reflections as he makes his way through Rome’s “station churches” this Lent, on the venerable custom, his forthcoming book on it, and on Pope Benedict’s newest Jesus of Nazareth title:
From at least the early fourth century, the Pope celebrated Mass during Lent with his clergy and the Roman Christian community at a designated “station” church. As Christianity became a more public faith, these “stations” were often basilicas built to honor Roman martyrs, constructed atop or around a former house church.
On Benedict XVI’s newest book, Weigel has few reservations about the sheer gravity of the pope’s scholarship:
Father Raymond de Souza has written that this second volume of the Pope’s projected three-volume masterwork on Jesus firmly establishes Joseph Ratzinger as the most learned man in the world. It’s a title the Holy Father would doubtless dismiss with his usual shy smile. A close reading of the book suggests that Father de Souza was not exaggerating.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011, 10:53 AM
In “Abortion and the Negation of Love,” Joe Carter sheds light on a side of the abortion debate not often given attention: the arguments against it coming–sometimes unintentionally–from the very women who procure and provide abortions.
“We in the movement, those of us in the clinics at the beginning, were so caught up in the early euphoria about winning a right to an abortion, we weren’t listening to what the patients were saying. They weren’t talking about abortion in the same way we were. They weren’t talking about the constitution or women’s rights. And many of them weren’t talking about a bunch of cells, either. They might call it ‘my baby,’ even though they were firm about going through with the procedure. Many of them expressed relief, but many also talked about sadness and loss. And we weren’t paying attention.”
George Weigel’s column this week, “Christians in the Middle East,” details the work of Dr. Habib Malik in exposing how Middle Eastern Christians both suffer from and benefit life in the Islamic world.
Middle East Christians today have had two distinct historical experiences. One is an experience of freedom. The other is an experience of being a dhimmi, a second-class citizen existing on the sufferance of the Muslim majority in an Islamic state.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011, 4:34 PM
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Yesterday at Public Discourse, Archbishop Charles Chaput argued that we must keep in perspective the onslaught of offenses to traditional Christian life–threats to religion from the secular world, science unrestrained by ethics, and corrupted power–in relation to the most fundamental offense of them all. Being consistent, he suggests, means we cannot afford to treat abortion as a mere social woe, but should instead regard it as we would any other concrete evil in the world:
The moral and political struggle we face today in defending human dignity is becoming more complex. I believe that abortion is the foundational human rights issue of our lifetime. We can’t simultaneously serve the poor and accept the legal killing of unborn children. We can’t build a just society, and at the same time, legally sanctify the destruction of generations of unborn human life. The rights of the poor and the rights of the unborn child flow from exactly the same human dignity guaranteed by the God who created us.