Naomi Schaefer Riley has been bumped from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s group blog for sharing her thoughts on black studies scholarships:
You’ll have to forgive the lateness but I just got around to reading The Chronicle’s recent piece on the young guns of black studies. If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.
That’s what I would say about Ruth Hayes’ dissertation, “‘So I Could Be Easeful’: Black Women’s Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth.” It began because she “noticed that nonwhite women’s experiences were largely absent from natural-birth literature, which led me to look into historical black midwifery.” How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in “natural birth literature,” whatever the heck that is? It’s scandalous and clearly a sign that racism is alive and well in America, not to mention academia.
The Chronicle received innumerable letters protesting the publication of her racially insensitive article. For his part, Rod Dreher can’t help wondering “how she manages to keep up her racist chops, give that she’s been married for some time to a black man.”
From Letters of Note, a letter of C.S. Lewis’ to BBC producer Lance Sieveking about the possibility of adapting his Chronicles of Narnia to the big screen:
18 Dec. 1959
(Why do you ‘Dr.’ me? Had we not dropped the honorifics?) As things worked out, I wasn’t free to hear a single instalment of our serial except the first. What I did hear, I approved. I shd. be glad for the series to be given abroad.
But I am absolutely opposed—adamant isn’t in it!—to a TV version. Anthropomorphic animals, when taken out of narrative into actual visibility, always turn into buffoonery or nightmare. At least, with photography. Cartoons (if only Disney did not combine so much vulgarity with his genius!) wd. be another matter. A human, pantomime, Aslan wd. be to me blasphemy. All the best.
Libby A. Nelson at Inside Higher Ed weighs in on the conflict and compromise that many Catholic universities are increasingly faced with today. The article covers much more, but mentions the controversies involved in institutional recognition of public figures whose moral commitments don’t quite square with Catholic teaching. Timely, since graduations are this week and next for many universities, and Kathleen Sebelius has been invited to speak at Georgetown:
Commencement speaker controversies aren’t uncommon, and the colleges’ choice of speaker can often be fraught. A 2004 directive from the church instructed colleges not to honor those whose views conflict with church doctrine. As well as the uproar at Notre Dame over Obama in 2009, Speaker of the House John Boehner drew protests from Catholic University faculty members when he served as that institution’s commencement speaker. They believed that his political positions did not uphold church teachings on poverty…While controversies over speakers on campus are perennial, bishops and presidents agree more frequently than they used to, said Galligan-Stierle. “When I look at where we were 20 and even 10 years ago, and where we are today, I think there’s substantial agreement,” he said, in part due to better relations between bishops and presidents.
You can read the full article here, or see last year’s most hotly disputed commencement speech here.
The social media website Squidoo has produced an info-graph about the most read books in the past fifty years. Who knows whether it’s better that more copies of Dan Brown were sold than copies of the Twilight Saga, but it’s encouraging to know that the Bible beat out the rest by over 3 billion copies:
Junior Seau, arguably one of the NFL’s greatest linebackers ever to play the game, shot himself in the chest yesterday. This follows on a series of recent suicides of NFL players Dave Duerson, Terry Long, and Andre Waters. To this, Charles Camosy at Catholic Moral Theology asks: “When will we seriously debate the ethics of supporting American football?”
Most throw their hands up and say, “Well, they know what they’re doing, and they’re certainly well-compensated for doing it.” It’s not as though these players don’t realize the potentially dangerous or lethal nature of their profession, and most everyone else just wants a team to support, a Superbowl to win, and another beer. But cases like these do trouble, and the long-term physical and psychological damages of professional success in football are increasingly resulting in social maladjustment, physical handicap, early death, and, in this case, even suicide. Dana Dillon, a professor of theology at Providence College, comments:
I haven’t thought much about this…but I think that some of the things that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about prostitution might be helpful for an analysis of this. (Acknowledging the wrongfulness of the act itself, but also the economic forces that push prostitutes into that line of work.) Actually, I wonder if some of the thinking on pornography might also be a way into the morality of commercializing the watching of bodies being used in ways that are contrary to God’s intended purposes.
Most advocates of a MacIntyrian or Aristotelian virtue-ethics might not immediately agree. But consider: Most of our behavior, according to the virtue-ethicist, is in fact predetermined by previous determinations of the will, which usually result in observable patterns of repeated action, eventually becoming habits. These habits significantly determine, and even allow others to predict, a given individual’s actions. So oddly, virtue-ethics as an explanation of human behavior can hold its own among competing determinist accounts of human behavior.
The Chicago Tribune mourns the loss of what has made discourse, political or otherwise, possible for so long: Facts. The rhetoric of politicians, from Bill Clinton to Mitt Romney, seems to have been the primary cause of death. Allan West’s declaration that as many as eighty-one of his fellow members of the U.S. House of Representatives are communists served as the fatal blow:
“It’s very depressing,” said Mary Poovey, a professor of English at New York University and author of A History of the Modern Fact. Though weakened, Facts managed to persevere through the last two decades, despite historic setbacks that included President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, the justification for President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and the debate over President Barack Obama’s American citizenship. Facts was wounded repeatedly throughout the recent GOP primary campaign, near fatally when Michele Bachmann claimed a vaccine for a sexually transmitted diseasecauses mental retardation. In December, Facts was briefly hospitalized after MSNBC’s erroneous report that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign was using an expression once used by the Ku Klux Klan
Facts was 2,372 years old and is survived by two brothers, Rumor and Innuendo, and a sister, Emphatic Assertion.
Carson Holloway, writing for Public Discourse, urges libertarians and conservatives to work together against what he diagnoses as their common enemy, egalitarian liberalism. Where laws are legislated in favor of progressive interests, but framed in the language of repairing oppressive injustice, there are indeed bigger fish to fry:
Precisely because of their dogmatic egalitarianism, they could not defend the new law as a mere societal improvement, but had to frame it as remedying a basic injustice, a step without which we could not claim to have a decent society. Doubtless if the health care law survives the political and legal challenge it now faces, the next generation of liberals will insist, with indignation, that the government role in health care needs to be expanded even further in order to address the remaining inequalities in this area.
Ed Kilgore, writing for the New Republic, believes that Robert Jeffress’ recent endorsement of Romney ought to serve as a warning to Democrats who expect that “evangelical distaste for Mormonism will cost Mitt Romney a significant number of votes.” He is probably right.
The same principle guided the remarkable rapprochement between conservative evangelicals and “traditionalist” Catholics in recent decades. When the theocon Catholic theoretician Richard John Neuhaus and evangelical celebrity Charles Colson formed Catholics and Evangelicals Together (CET) in 1994, it was perceived as a quasi-revolutionary development. It was particularly controversial among Catholics who felt the group’s efforts to move from tactical political cooperation on issues like abortion to theological accommodation went too far. That controversy now seems quaint. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ recently released “Statement on Religious Liberty” went out of its way to endorse a recent manifesto by CET, published in the late Father Neuhaus’s magazine FirstThings. The Bishops’ statement echoes conservative evangelicals in demanding a high-profile campaign against the Obama administration’s so-called attacks on religious liberty—specifically, the contraception coverage mandate and recent judicial decisions that deny federal funds to religious organizations unwilling to comply with anti-discrimination laws.
R. J. Snell, writing for Public Discourse, tries to answer the question of whether natural law is persuasive to anyone not already convinced:
First, natural lawyers needn’t convince or persuade anyone, for in an important way natural law cannot be proven—law is the condition of intelligible action. Instead, our task is to have our interlocutors pay attention, not to us and our arguments, but to themselves. My failure to persuade someone of the natural law happens only if they (a) will not pay attention to themselves, or (b) if they do not understand themselves. Of course, I have neither power nor responsibility over another’s capacity to know themselves, so I’ll politely decline any such obligations for my ethics. In fact, since natural law is pre-theoretical, depending not on a system of concepts but rather on self-understanding, the more I grant that a theory must be able to persuade, the more that alternative theories such as deontology or utility fall while natural law survives, for they actually must provide a proof whereas I make no such claim, asking only for my interlocutor to advert to his performance.
But those who aren’t yet convinced about natural law do treat it as just another theory among others. So it seems that anyone who isn’t already on board with natural law will probably not be convinced, especially if they’re looking for persuasive reasoning.
Alexander Pruss, a philosophy professor at Baylor, often posts wonderful things like this on his own blog and the more medieval-minded Prosblogion:
The following argument is valid, and is sound if we take the conditional in (2) to be material.
1. (Premise) In despairing, one engages in a vice.
2. (Premise) If there is no afterlife, it is sometimes appropriate to despair.
3. (Premise) It is never appropriate to engage in a vice.
4. So, there is an afterlife.
Let me say a little about (2). Despair is appropriate in situations of objective hopelessness. But if there is no afterlife, then when one has misspent one’s life in wickedness, and is now facing death with no opportunity to make things up to those whom one has mistreated, then despair is appropriate.
If there is an afterlife, then one can hope for mercy or justice.
Evangelical pastor Steve Cornell writes on the worrying dilemma that many Christian counselors and therapists find themselves in when faced with the increasingly reductionist findings of neuroscience:
With this view of human responsibility, it should not be too surprising that evangelicals (particularly in the fields of counseling) have been reticent to accept the findings of medical research that attribute moods and behaviors to neuro-physiological conditions. As neurochemical deficiencies became a widely accepted cause for a host of personal problems ranging from depression and anxiety, to learning deficiencies, suspicion of these findings only increased. Some evangelical leaders felt that the findings of neuroscience conflicted with Biblically based theological conclusions about humanity, sin and perhaps even salvation.
While Cornell is correct that science has no monopoly on the truth, history has shown that religious opposition to the discoveries of science has often been preemptively hostile. Fear and ignorance of evolution, for example, still colors many believers’ ideas about anthropology, and it is still thought by some to be incompatible with a Judeo-Christian understanding of the human person. Alvin Plantinga seems to be devoting his retirement to correcting this well-intended but misinformed impulse.
What can be rejected on principle are the sweeping, reductionist conclusions that some do make, appealing to evolution and, more recently, neuroscience. The purpose of neuroscience is not to show that human beings are only amalgamations of neural states, and those who use it for that end hardly succeed: That a particular mood is associated with a chemical imbalance does not necessarily prove the impossibility of free will, nor does it follow that because observable brain states correspond to physical and psychological experiences, there is nothing transcendent about human existence.
Not much needs to be said about the California Planned Parenthood that is planning on hosting 40 days of prayer for abortion, but one of their prayers is worth quoting: “Today we pray for a cloud of gentleness to surround every abortion facility. May everyone feel calm and loving.”
Following up on reasons for and against having children, reasons that arose from the comparably new distinction between sex and procreation, Business Insider has published a variation on this theme entitled “The Perks of Being in a Relationship Without Kids.” Most of the benefits can be extracted from the acronym that describes these relationships, Double Income No Kids, or DINKS. Four reasons provide the explanation for why it’s better to have no kids when you’re cohabitating or newly married.
First, shared expenses. Regular expenses are cut in half, and if one spouse loses their job, one can simply rely on their partner while they search for a new means of income. Second, both spouses can contribute toward savings and major purchases like a car, vacations, new appliances, etc. The third reason is the simplest and needs no support: It just means more money, a self-evident good. Finally, it also means that one can “have someone to rely on,” their boyfriend or girlfriend: “I would definitely take care of my boyfriend if he needed me to, but I don’t know that I can say that I would have the same commitment for helpless children who constantly need to be watched over and taken care of.”
It seems to me that these four reasons collapse into one: Convenience.
Since sex and procreation no longer have a necessary causal connection, children are reduced to a choice. But this reduction wouldn’t be such a terrible thing if the choice was not described in the way that it usually is: Where children are immediately associated with financial, emotional, and physical burden, and one isn’t committed to any particular moral system in which life is an invaluable good, choosing contraception and abortion seems to be the most sensible option for cohabitors and newlyweds.
For students interested in joining lights such as Michael Novak, Robert Royal, Bill Saunders, Joe Wood, and Fr. Derek Cross in eastern Slovakia to explore the political, economic, and moral-cultural dimensions of free society in the thought of Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II, the Federalist Papers, and Alexis de Tocqueville, we encourage you to apply for the twelfth annual Slovak Seminar on the Free Society.
The seminar began as Michael Novak, Rocco Buttiglione, and Josef Seifert’s response to the publication of the papal encyclical Centesimus Annus and the desirability of forming “an international study group for European and American dialogue on the intellectual questions that lie ahead of modern societies.”
Elizabeth Kolbert has written a piece for the New Yorker that sketches several contemporary ethical analyses of procreation, leading with Charles Knowlton’s 1832 Fruits of Philosophy: The Private Companion of Young Married People, by a Physician, one of the first books to introduce a distinction between sex and procreation. Christine Overall, to begin with, finds that most of our reasons for having children are morally repugnant:
Some people justify the decision to have children on the ground that they are perpetuating a family name or a genetic line. But “is anyone’s biological composition so valuable that it must be perpetuated?” Overall asks. Others say that it’s a citizen’s duty to society to provide for its continuation. Such an obligation, Overall objects, “would make women into procreative serfs.” Still others argue that people ought to have children so there will be someone to care for them in their old age. “Anyone who has children for the sake of the supposed financial support they can provide,” Overall writes, is “probably deluded.”
Another is David Benatar, and his new book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence, appropriately dedicated to his parents. His case turns on the doubtful notion that life’s suffering can be quantified, and concludes that pleasure missed out on because of nonexistence does not count as harm, while suffering avoided for the same reason counts as a good:
“One of the implications of my argument is that a life filled with good and containing only the most minute quantity of bad—a life of utter bliss adulterated only by the pain of a single pin-prick—is worse than no life at all,” Benatar writes. He acknowledges that many readers will have difficulty accepting such a “deeply unsettling claim.”
Finally, Caplan draws on economics to make his case in Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. He concludes that the golden number for progeny is three. While provoking, these books prove that utilitarian ethics and economics may not be the only tools necessary for deciding how many children to have. And what’s missing from all three accounts is any reason to believe that there is something objectively good about procreation: When did perpetuating the genetic line become a serious concern for the modern family?
Frank Bruni, the New York Times’ first openly homosexual columnist, has written a surprising piece entitled “The Bleaker Sex,” in which he laments the emotional and physical damages many women experience as a result of embracing the “awkward emotional fit” of so-called sexual empowerment:
You watch these scenes and other examples of the zeitgeist-y, early-20s heroines of “Girls” engaging in, recoiling from, mulling and mourning sex, and you think: Gloria Steinem went to the barricades for this? Salaries may be better than in decades past and the cabinet and Congress less choked with testosterone. But in the bedroom? What’s happening there remains something of a muddle, if not something of a mess…Are young women who think that they should be more like men willing themselves into a casual attitude toward sex that’s an awkward emotional fit?
Charles Camosy at Catholic Moral Theology finds Bruni’s analysis uniquely important, considering his moral commitments:
Happily (and somewhat shockingly) the secular media continue to provide Bruni with huge, friendly platforms for his message about the hook up culture and women…Until recently, those who would draw attention to the kind of harm this attitude brings our culture (and particularly to women and girls), have been thought to be conservative fuddy-duddies; people who just need to find something to do besides being a bedroom cop.
This Spring, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has before it an unprecedented number of court cases relating directly to abortion. And because the principles established by the ECHR obtain for 47 member states, Europe will see cases settled that are uniquely decisive for human dignity and respect for life:
Among the cases that the European Court must now judge on, there is the case of a Polish mother who complained of difficulties in obtaining permission for her minor daughter to have an abortion, there is also the case of a woman who died during pregnancy, (allegedly) due to conscientious objection exercised by doctors. In another case, a woman who became sterile following an abortion complained of not having been properly informed of the risks. In two other cases before the Court, the women who gave birth to children with disabilities complain of not being able to have abortions. Finally, on a related topic, the Court also has before it a case involving a ban by the Italian legislature of pre-implantation diagnosis.
These cases turn on the simple, scary question of whether or not eugenics is a human right. While religion’s standing as an important voice in the public square has suffered in Europe, it still isn’t a safe bet that the ECHR will vote in favor of eugenics. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 1829 which outlines in detail the negative repercussions abortions often have for society, and made the unexpected conclusion that abortion must not be available without restriction. Let’s hope to be surprised this month.
Writing for the Weekly Standard, Wesley Smith speculates about the imminent legal recognition of nonhuman personhood:
For years, animal rights activists have been preparing the intellectual ground to overcome the “animals aren’t persons” legal impediment to their goal of allowing animals to sue their owners—a concept known as “animal standing”—by which they plan to destroy animal industries and eventually end all domestication of animals. They know that no legislature will pass laws elevating even the most intelligent animals to the status of persons. So they plan to file multitudinous lawsuits, hoping judges will bootstrap animals into the moral community.
Smith is worried that considering non-human animals to be persons may undermine the exceptionalism of human animals. He is correct to worry about this. But Christians know that human beings are not exceptional. Thomas Aquinas and many other Christian thinkers, for instance, argued that human beings had a rather modest place in the hierarchy of creation–especially when compared to angels. A “person” is a “substance of a rational and relational nature” and refers to a metaphysical category, not a biological one. Both angels and humans fit into this category, and it may very well be the case that non-human animals also count as persons.
Whether animals eventually acquire legal status as persons or not, or whether their doing so will do much against human exceptionalism, one wonders what Peter Singer might say about all this.
Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, answers what GetReligion finds to be a revealing litmus test: “Would the powers that be in mass media have dared to approve x, y, or z if this particular advertisement, comedy routine, cartoon, Broadway show, movie, music video or whatever had focused its attack on Muslims?”
Thompson begins his answer: “Without question, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms,’ is different from, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms and I am loading my AK47 as I write.’” But Thompson also attributes much of the media’s hesitation to the simple fact that faiths other than Christianity have a “very close identity with ethnic minorities,” and that their beliefs deserve to be treated with special care. The upshot is that Christianity is a “broad-shouldered,” established religion that can bear the blows, and its members shouldn’t be surprised or too offended when its beliefs and institutions are satirized.
Thompson may have thought he was giving Christians a compliment: Here is a long-standing, majority religion that has withstood far worse than blasphemous satire. But Islam is hardly a minority religion, if its adherents represent an ethnic minority in particular countries. And diversifying the ethnic representation of Islam would probably not result in the the media blaspheming Muhammad more often.
For those traveling this weekend or otherwise disposed to listening, the Library of Law and Liberty makes available nearly all of its audio content. To give you an idea, below is an excerpt introducing a podcast featuring Russell Hittinger on Jacques Maritain’s Scholasticsm and Politics:
Maritain’s political philosophy is in the Aristotelian-Thomistic natural law tradition. Maritain, however, pushed further and held that Aristotelian ethics was inadequate for a sufficient defense of human flourishing. Maritain’s political philosophy limns the conditions necessary to make the individual more fully human in all respects. His integral humanism is twofold: The person’s private good is subordinate to the (temporal) common good of the community; however, as a person with a supernatural end, one’s ‘spiritual good’ is superior to society — and this is something that all political communities should recognize.
George Walden, writing for Standpoint, has written a probing critique of the precocious widening influence of neuroscience. Who knew advances made with the fMRI, technology only twenty-two years old, could affect literary criticism?
Marilynne Robinson warns against the reductionism all this can involve, the “stripping away” of culture and consciousness and the “crusade” to debunk religion. For me the word “stripping” has a particular resonance. For many years my wife has restored Old Masters, often struggling to repair damage wreaked by past scientistic theories of restoration, when “objectivity” was all, subjectivity a dirty word, and the past something to be adjusted to meet the demands of the present. Again the effect was simplifying and reductive (removal of complex glazes, flattening of perspective, louder colours, synthetic varnishes). God knows what new injuries restorers bursting with neuroaesthetic conceits could inflict on a Renaissance canvas. Ironically, a few decades ago it was the postmodernist fashion, laid down by Michel Foucault, Richard Rorty and others, to question the truth of science itself. Now neuroscience is said, sometimes by the same folk, to reveal the raw facts about humanity and its works. In literary criticism, forget the jargon of semiotics and prepare yourself to discover how axons and neurons help in the reading of a text.
Reflecting on the current state of affairs after several months of the new translation of the Mass, it’s interesting remembering the divergent expectations. Some looked forward to it for various reasons, many were probably indifferent. But some were rather suspicious:
In the weeks and months ahead, we’re going to be writing about, complaining about, thinking about, arguing about, and praying about the re-translated Mass. I fear it will have the effect of showing a whole new generation the door, as younger Catholics search for relevant worship that connects them rather than distances them from experiencing God, for liturgy that speaks to them…I had read about the changes that were coming, of course, but when you actually have to say them, man, what a mouthful! ‘Consubstantial’, ‘incarnate of’, and the odd image of God entering ‘under my roof’.
Many fans of a more lenient interpretation of the “spirit of Vatican II” seemed to fear that the new translation would be a platform for radical traditionalists to censure their creative liturgical violations.
But if there’s one thing the new translation of the Mass didn’t do, it didn’t oust ad lib liturgy. It seemed as though those of more traditional liturgical commitments were convinced that the new translation signaled a traditional liturgical springtime, whose birds would sing Gregorian chant. This doesn’t seem to be happening, at least not yet. But still, for those who find “consubstantial” a stumbling block, it’s important to remember that the new translation is simply the translation: The rest of the world has been using it since 1965.
Via Front Porch Republic, R.J. Snell writes about those young progressives in the spotlight who, “holding fast to their prejudice of superiority, consider wisdom of the past…worth less than a new technique schemed in an afternoon and marketed as the next new thing.” I tend to think of educational reform as the flagship movement for progressives with blinders to the past (sex education, religion as historical movement, an iPad for each kindergartener, etc.). Snell detects it elsewhere:
Nowhere is this more painfully apparent than in contemporary religious expression. As a catholic Christian, I view as a high accomplishment worship rooted deeply and humbly in the tradition, and doctrine which navigates disputes by attempting to grant voice to all that has belonged to the one ancient faith. Catholicity means at least this: a hesitation to idly scuttle that which our ancestors gave to us. Rationalism detests catholicity, hates its patterns and rhythms, loathes its embarrassed insistence on a long obedience and formation over a complete life. How much better is enthusiasm (!) coupled with a new technique (!!) so as to make something relevant (!!!).