Friday, September 14, 2012

Odds and ends 9/14/2012

Over the last year I’ve collected hundreds of articles. Some I linked to from Facebook, while others I integrated into posts at my old blog. Some articles I never got around to writing about in depth. Here are a few of those articles.

Daniel Foster explains in “Tebow’s Religion, and Ours” why the NFL quarterback’s faith generates so much controversy:

The greater part of it has to do with the curious double standard that seems to be in place when it comes to an athlete’s religiosity. With very few exceptions — Mariano Rivera comes to mind, as well as Curt Schilling, and post-”Prime Time” Deion Sanders — athletes’ professions of faith strike most believers, nonbelievers, and agnostics alike as empty ritual, an extended solipsism in which big men with bigger egos congratulate themselves for having God on their side. How could it be otherwise? We see that in fact so many of them are supremely arrogant — materialists, abusers, and lechers. We’ve become cynical and secular enough as a society that this dissonance doesn’t bother most people. The hypocrisy is actually sort of comforting, a confirmation that that old hokum in the Bible has no bearing on the world as it actually is. It’s the same sort of glee you see from some when Christian politicians and ministers are felled by all-too-human moral — especially sexual — foibles.

Boy genius Michael W. Hannon writes in “Peace If Possible; Truth At All Costs” on the core difference between liberals and conservatives: liberals’ priority is peace, while conservatives’ priority is truth. I find the analysis convincing but simplistic. For example, I don’t see how staving off the execution of murderers preserves peace. That pet cause of liberals probably extends from excess compassion and/or a humanist interpretation of the value of human life.

At any rate, Hannon ends the essay on a note I couldn’t agree with more:

A la C.S. Lewis in his essay “First and Second Things,” we can know that truth trumps peace because when we subordinate truth to peace, we lose not only truth but peace as well. The eugenic plots of so many totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century are a prime example of this. The goal there was essentially to stabilize and thus bring peace to society, but because such important personalistic truths were sacrificed at the altar of utopianism, there was less peace and more instability than ever before. In a less bloody but no less real way, the unrest in America today regarding abortion and “same-sex marriage”, even once both have been deemed legitimate by civil law, also reveals that peace itself is lost when truth takes a backseat to it.

So while the liberal’s desire for peace is good, he errs in putting peace first, making toleration the summum bonum, and embracing moral relativism for the sake of avoiding conflicts. The conservative on the other hand, following in the longstanding tradition that stretches back to Aristotle and beyond, recognizes that our political order ought to follow from the moral order, which itself flows from our human nature.

Where does this battle between conservatives and liberals finally end? If our opponents emerge victorious, nowhere good. For the logical conclusion of liberalism-which liberalism fights against in the name of peace, but which liberals insofar as they are men must be led towards by the natural reason they try to suppress-is Nihilism, the most terrifying worldview imaginable. Eventually, “my truth” and “your truth” are seen for what they really mean: No truth. And a culture without any grasp of truth is a culture without any connection to reality, a culture thus doomed to die.

Hannon resurfaced a year later to pen a review of Nathan Harden’s Sex and God at Yale. Note the current from Hannon’s previous article:

Harden’s diagnosis is that Yale has lost its sense of moral and educational purpose, thereby losing any standard by which to discriminate worthy from unworthy classroom pursuits, and that the resulting relativism has inevitably given rise to the bizarre sexual dystopia one finds there today. Looking to the future, he prophesies,

Nihilism is, ultimately, where Yale is headed. Yale was built in order to nurture ideas that would elevate the soul and advance human understanding, but it now has no governing moral principle. As a result, the knowledge generated there is divorced from any larger human purpose. Apart from a kind of vague appreciation of certain concepts like tolerance and diversity, Yale is a moral vacuum. Therefore, almost anything goes.

Over at First Things Matthew J. Franck writes in a spectacular essay titled “Religion, Reason, and Same-Sex Marriage”:

Christians have a common language for moral argument across their sectarian differences, a language distinct from Scripture though not wholly apart from its purposes, that is also a common language of all mankind, supplying points of reference accessible in principle to anyone. This is the language of natural law, which Thomas Aquinas said is that part of God’s law for us that we can know on our own, by the use of our own reason (which He of course gave us), without any special aid of revelation, prophecy, or Scripture.

Even those who resist any notion that God gave us our reason, or that He is the source of law for us, will nonetheless admit (most of them, anyway) that we are rational creatures and that by using our reason we can distinguish justice from injustice. On that shared ground, all citizens can meet who have not made a prior commitment to the self-contradiction of relativism. But—and this is important—the religious participants in this shared deliberation on the just and the unjust are not required to stop talking about their faith or about how important it is to them. Many believers, after all, believe that their religious faith makes them better, more moral persons and better able to make useful contributions to the debates we inevitably have over public morality. Therefore our constitutional obligation to respect their freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of conscience means it would be an imposition of a secular orthodoxy on them to require that they “privatize” their faith commitments and keep them out of the public square.

It is this that judges like Joseph Tauro and Vaughn Walker appear not to understand. They suggest that the appearance of religious people making religiously grounded arguments, or even arguments that suspiciously coincide with religious tenets—such as the view that “marriage” means “the conjugal union of a man and a woman”—is grounds for concluding that a covertly “theocratic” agenda is at work. Again a faulty form of logic is employed, taking a form something like this: The public policy being challenged in court holds that marriage can only be between a man and a woman; traditional Christianity holds that marriage can only be between a man and a woman; therefore this public policy is an expression of traditional Christianity.

But (the argument goes on) the expression of traditional Christianity is either a) an imposition of religion on others in violation of the separation of church and state or b) the expression of a “private” moral view that is essentially “irrational,” whereas all valid legislation requires a “rational basis.” (This last step was the view of Judge Walker in the California Prop. 8 case, and substantially the view of the Iowa Supreme Court when it ruled in favor of gay marriage in 2009.) Under the sway of this error, we are in danger of telling many millions of our fellow citizens that they may not act as their conscience guides them in exercising the fundamental right of self-government.

Yet another danger may await us in the event that traditional views of sexual morality are overthrown and same-sex marriage is established. We see a sign of it in the driving of Catholic Charities out of adoption services in Massachusetts. The freedom to participate fully in civic life, to offer oneself to others in civil society, conscientiously on one’s own terms as a religious person professing one’s beliefs, may be jeopardized by this new dispensation.

I remember Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling. It sent me into hysterics. I called my dad and ranted for 20 minutes. Later that night I became a legal scholar and penned this essay, “Perry v. Schwarzenegger.”

Leah Libresco writes in “The Sad Secular Monks”

In the Atlantic, Hanna Rosin recently defended the hookup culture as essential to female success and equality. Given the pressure of a high-powered career, she claims, “an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.” In order to carve out time for work, women need the same option men have long enjoyed: “the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career.”

Rosin may think she’s delivering a paean for the hookup culture, but she’s really giving a eulogy for intimacy. A life that has no room for serious romantic partners can’t have much space for deep friendships either. This should be the one culture war fight where we can all be on the same side: if careers preclude real relationships, something’s gone deeply wrong. Instead of arguing about how much of the void hookups can fill, I’d like to attack the root of the problem: the miscategorization of career as vocation.

That’s not where I’d go with it, but point taken. Rosin’s “Boys on the Side” is a painful expose of modern woman’s estrangement from her nature.

Libresco writes on:

Most careers aren’t vocations, so we need space outside them to grow and love. It’s possible to make a short-term decision to put life and relationships on hold, in order to make a high-intensity commitment to a cause (this is the model for the oft-touted national service draft), but it’s unhealthy to let these crisis-mode jobs give shape to your life.

If we were honest about what these jobs entail, we’d talk less in terms of success and more in terms of sacrifice and seclusion from the world. If we recognized the single-minded focus that drives Rosin’s interviewees to think of intimacy as obstacle, as life-thwarting, we might not hold it up as the ideal, the logical next step for the best and the brightest.

“Survey: Sexual harassment pervasive in grades 7-12”

Sexual harassment or unwanted sexual advances? Or flirting? Wait, isn’t widespread sexual harassment just an extension of the tactless hedonism that’s supposedly an improvement for women? Ah, the fruits of feminism!

Thomas Joseph White and R. R. Reno write in “A Mandate to Disobey”:

Progressives see the sexual revolution as an important moral achievement, and they want to institutionalize it as a genuine human good, indeed a fundamental human right. This requires more than legalization, for by their way of thinking freedom is not freedom without the ability to exercise it, unrestrained by financial or other limits. Catholics and others must not give in to a view of human health and well-being that sees dignity in terms of liberated personal desires rather than moral reality.

Stanley Kurts writes in “The End of Marriage in Scandinavia”:

A majority of children in Sweden and Norway are born out of wedlock. Sixty percent of first-born children in Denmark have unmarried parents. Not coincidentally, these countries have had something close to full gay marriage for a decade or more. Same-sex marriage has locked in and reinforced an existing Scandinavian trend toward the separation of marriage and parenthood. The Nordic family pattern—including gay marriage—is spreading across Europe. And by looking closely at it we can answer the key empirical question underlying the gay marriage debate. Will same-sex marriage undermine the institution of marriage? It already has.

More precisely, it has further undermined the institution. The separation of marriage from parenthood was increasing; gay marriage has widened the separation. Out-of-wedlock birthrates were rising; gay marriage has added to the factors pushing those rates higher. Instead of encouraging a society-wide return to marriage, Scandinavian gay marriage has driven home the message that marriage itself is outdated, and that virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood, is acceptable.

I found this piece, “Dealing with AU’s anti-sex brigade,” by Alex Knepper, to be hilarious. It’s spirit reminds me of a column yours truly wrote for the Baylor Lariat about Bashful Bladder Syndrome (BBS). Unfortunately the editorial staff deemed the wisdom of said piece to be too raw for college youths.

Public urinals offer little to no guard from others’ inquisitive eyes and ears. It’s like the designers of men’s rooms intentionally remind us of the same brutal honesty and loss of privacy when we get intimate with women. We’re exposed and vulnerable, and we’re expected to perform this physiological miracle on cue.

That we are sometimes unable to perform deals a devastating blow to our distinctly male pride. We measure ourselves by our ability to command our bodies to fulfill these necessary bodily functions. If we can’t perform, then we are not men!

Thomas Burnett writes in “What is Scientism?”:

If science is distinct from scientism, what is it? Science is an activity that seeks to explore the natural world using well-established, clearly-delineated methods. Given the complexity of the universe, from the very big to very small, from inorganic to organic, there is a vast array of scientific disciplines, each with its own specific techniques. The number of different specializations is constantly increasing, leading to more questions and areas of exploration than ever before. Science expands our understanding, rather than limiting it.

Scientism, on the other hand, is a speculative worldview about the ultimate reality of the universe and its meaning. Despite the fact that there are millions of species on our planet, scientism focuses an inordinate amount of its attention on human behavior and beliefs. Rather than working within carefully constructed boundaries and methodologies established by researchers, it broadly generalizes entire fields of academic expertise and dismisses many of them as inferior. With scientism, you will regularly hear explanations that rely on words like “merely”, “only”, “simply”, or “nothing more than”. Scientism restricts human inquiry.

It is one thing to celebrate science for its achievements and remarkable ability to explain a wide variety of phenomena in the natural world. But to claim there is nothing knowable outside the scope of science would be similar to a successful fisherman saying that whatever he can’t catch in his nets does not exist. Once you accept that science is the only source of human knowledge, you have adopted a philosophical position (scientism) that cannot be verified, or falsified, by science itself. It is, in a word, unscientific.

(Via Dennis Prager) Quote of 2012?

We have evolved to need coercion.

Bill Frist interviews his doctor. The takeaway:

Quality care comes from a careful, professional analysis of a clinical situation that leads to a correct diagnosis and treatment for the particular patient at hand. Quality care will never be found by mindlessly marking boxes or following algorithms that are at the heart of what is being called “quality measures and evidence-based medicine.”

Benjamin Wiker shares my apprehension with Paul Ryan’s interest in Ayn Rand. There already exists a moral basis for the free market and an unobtrusive government. It’s Judeo-Christian ethics, and we needn’t fear explaining that.

The Paul Ryan-Ayn Rand Connection: What’s a Catholic to Think?

Ryan went on to affirm the need for a moral basis of free enterprise and to express his great appreciation of other conservative economic thinkers who were much more acceptable to Catholic moral and economic principles (such as Friedrich von Hayek). Several times, Ryan emphasized that our current economic maladies are the result of moral failures on our part and that there will be no economic recovery until there is a moral recovery. He also confirmed his deep appreciation of the Catholic economic principle of subsidiarity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1883-1885).

What’s my take on Ryan, for whatever that’s worth? I would say that he is not an advocate of an economic system based upon pure selfishness. He certainly doesn’t accept Rand’s atheism. He is not out to wage a “war on the weak.” His affirmation of Rand is qualified. The question is regarding how: How is it qualified?

What exactly Ryan accepts and rejects will need to be articulated much more clearly in the coming weeks. I didn’t have time to get to the bottom of it in the interview. But it isn’t enough for Ryan to say that, on the one hand, he rejects her objectivism, but on the other, that he affirms her moral case for capitalism — because her moral case for capitalism is rooted in her objectivism. That root is, again, pure selfishness.

Katie Roiphe reviews Christopher Hitchens’ Mortality. She confirms what I heard around the time of Hitchens’ death from esophageal cancer, that he was turning inward and thoughtfully examining human frailty.

What is powerful about this book is that Hitchens is doing a close reading of death; he is examining its language, critiquing its clichés. One of the ones he takes on most bitingly and effectively is the idea that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” He elaborately describes his disillusion with the axiom, usually attributed to Nietzsche, with relish: “In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.” He describes instead a world in which “each debilitation builds on its predecessor and becomes one cumulative misery with only one possible outcome.” What he undertakes here is a Sontagian task, but he does it with a journalist’s plainness, a disarming candor and immediacy.

John Clayton tells the story of how he embraced Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I had a similar bout of self-disgust recently, and it too brought me towards Christ.

Supper time came and I was sitting there. My roommate came in and said, “Are you ready to eat?” I said, “No, I’m not hungry.” He said, “Are you sick?” I said, “Yes, I’m sick of me!!! I’m sick of being selfish, I’m sick of using people, I’m sick of being dishonest, I’m sick....” I was still telling him what I was sick about as he left for supper. At the time, I did not understand what was happening, but I do now! That is what repentance is all about—to get sick of a selfish, egotistical, destructive life and turn to God’s way—to turn to a life that has value, meaning, and direction. My roommate went on to eat and I just sat there determined that I had to do something. I could no longer sit back and be dishonest and continue to refuse to accept the obvious evidence that was available to me.

California Higher Education’s Hollow Core

Whereas nationwide tuition and fees at public universities over the last five years have risen on average by 28 percent, the average increase at UC campuses is an astounding 73.1 percent and, at Cal State campuses a still more astounding 83.8 percent. While turning away students and seeking billions for new buildings, California institutions are significantly under-using classroom and laboratory space. And, absent drastic reform, in little more than a decade the Cal State and UC systems are unlikely to be able to meet their obligations to faculty retirement programs.

More menacing to higher education in California is educators’ adoption of curricula, classroom pedagogy, and limitations on free speech that fly in the face of liberal education’s fundamental requirements. These practices also fly in the face of public opinion.

Thomas Sowell’s columns are a weekly sanity check. He writes in “Risky Business”:

Politicians love to mandate things that insurance must cover, including in some states treatment for baldness, contraceptives and whatever else politicians can think of. Playing Santa Claus costs a politician nothing, but it can cost the policy-holder a bundle – all of which the politician will blame on the “greed” of the insurance company.

Sowell’s “God and Jerusalem” is a refreshing change of pace from his usual. It is also his second column in praise of Dinesh D’Souza, author of The Roots of Obama’s Rage and director/star of 2016.

From the beginning, Barack Obama has tried to downplay the threat of a nuclear Iran. At one time he said dismissively that Iran was just “a small country.”

In fact, Iran is physically larger than Japan, and its current population is slightly larger than what the population of Japan was when the Japanese dealt a devastating blow to the United States with its attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

A nuclear Iran can do a lot more damage to Israel than the Japanese did to the United States. Moreover, it is well on its way to being able to produce more than the two bombs that were enough to force Japan to surrender in 1945.

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