Monthly Archives: March 2011
I was really struck by the seriousness and beauty of the earlier post that Christopher Blosser wrote regarding Islam. Coincidentally or providentially it directly related to conversations on this topic that I have been having at the college where I teach.
Too often (here at this website and elsewhere too be sure) we reduce our conversations regarding Islam to that of promoting misunderstanding and fear against Muslims. To promote the standard conservative punditry rhetoric against Muslims is doing a great disservice to our fellow Catholics, to our fellow Americans, and to our fellow man. We can do better. We must do better. As well-formed Catholics we can lead this discussion here in America (and abroad) against those who preach hatred, violence, or misunderstandings against Muslims. The questions we need to ask are these two – How is the current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, showing us the way that we should dialog with Muslims and why he is doing this?
The problem(s) of modernity is not a “clash of civilization” against Muslims. It the struggle against what Henri de Lubac referred to as “Atheistic Humanism”. It is a clash against though who deny the supernatural… Those who deny the existence of God. Muslims are not our enemy is this battle against relativism, secular materialism, consumerism, hedonism, sexual licentiousness, etc.
We do not live in Middle Ages, as much as I would love to be there with many of you. We live in 2011. We need to recognize reality now for what it is and where we find ourselves.
I would encourage folks to engage the thought of Miroslav Volf, Robert Louis Wilken and Peter Kreeft on our topic. Recently Miroslav Volf has been interviewed about his new book on Islam. These interviews are very much worth checking out. Refer to it below.
Also don’t miss out on Robert Louis Wilken’s award winning FT article if you haven’t read it yet.
FIRST THINGS – Christianity Face to Face with Islam by Robert Louis Wilken
In my previous post below (Alliance of Civilizations or Clash of Civilizations?) I linked to Peter Kreeft’s work on this topic.
Something for the weekend. Ah, hardtack! A food that superb has to have a song about it, as indicated by the first of the above videos.
Hardtack, a very hard, thick cracker, was the soldier staff of life North and South during the Civil War. Prior to the War, hardtack had long served as a food staple for explorers, hunters and anyone else who needed a food source that was light and could last forever. Unfortunately, the hardtack often became infested with weevils. Soldiers who didn’t want the extra protein would often put the hardtack into water and skim the weevils off the top.
The hardness of hardtack was legendary and gave rise to many soldier jokes. This one was typical.
Private Jones: I bit into a piece of hardtack and hit something soft.
Private Green: A worm?
Private Jones: No, by glory, a ten-penny nail!
Things like hardtack remind us that it is definitely more amusing to read about the Civil War than it was to actually participate in it! Continue reading
In an address in Ireland for the 2011 report by Aid to the Church in Need on Christian persecution, Archbishop Bashar Warda of northern Iraq did not mince words about the plight of Christians and other non-Muslims in his country. Christians in Iraq face “near genocide” due only to their non-Muslim status as the Iraqi government muddies the waters of jurisprudence.
What we Iraqis are suffering is a crisis in cultural change. We are living in a region which cannot decide if it is for democracy or for Islamic law. It cannot decide if it is for the rights of human beings to live in freedom in all its exciting and challenging forms, or if it is for the control of the spirit and the minds of its people.
Since 2003, roughly a million Iraqi Christians have either fled their native homeland or been massacred. The damage wrought by Islamists has also taken its toll on Christian buildings dedicated to serving and uplifting the downtrodden.
Now I would like to talk to you about the systematic bombing campaign of Iraqi churches. The first Iraqi church was bombed in June, 2004 in Mosul. Following that event, successive campaigns have occurred and a total of 66 churches have been attacked or bombed; 41 in Baghdad, 19 in Mosul, 5 in Kirkuk and 1 in Ramadi. In addition, 2 convents, 1 monastery and a church orphanage was bombed.
While Islamists have insisted on blowing up, killing, or otherwise suppressing everything and everyone identified as Christian in Iraq, the Church there has been seeking to build. In January, it was announced that the Church, with the assistance of Aid to the Church in Need, would minister to the Christian community in northern Iraq, the area Christians are fleeing to, by building a university and a hospital.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil said both schemes would provide jobs, training and other opportunities for thousands of Christians flooding into the relative security of Kurdistan, away from the religious violence, especially in Baghdad and Mosul.
Speaking after a committee of faithful and clergy met to advance the schemes, Archbishop Warda said: “The plans we have been developing over the past few months are symbols of hope for the Christian presence in our country.”
Christians defend life, education, employment, and religious freedom while Islamists seek only to destroy them. This is an all too familiar theme that has not been missed by Cardinal O’Brien of Britain.
In the comments to my post last week, Henry V Times Four, which may be viewed here, and which had four versions of the immortal “band of brothers” speech, commenter Centinel posed a very interesting question to me:
I’ve come to respect your knowledge of history and your insights. I just wanted to get your honest opinion on oneissue. As I understand it, Catholic doctrine would say that wars of aggression are not justified (most of the time). Though I enjoy Shakespeare’s plays, it bothers me that Henry V was fighting a war of aggression – hence, an unjust war.
From Henry V’s point of view, the war was about his (legitimate?) claim to the French throne. But from the point of view of the French peasantry, whichever dynasty sat on the French thronedid not really make any difference in their lives. They were merely caught in the middle; the longer the war lasted, the greater the collateral damage to French civilians. Besides, Henry V already had the Kingdom of England. Hence, it was just pure greed driving Henry V to claim the French throne.
I would appreciate your opinion on this.
Centinel thank you for very kind words and for inspiring a forthcoming post! The more I thought about your question the more complicated my answer became and only a post length reply, which I will attempt to do in the next week, will do it justice. The short answer is that Henry V, by the just war analysis of his day, had a defensible claim to be fighting a just war, while under the just war analysis of our day his war would be unjust. However, there is much more to say than that, and I will attempt to do this intriguing question justice in my forthcoming post.
In answering the question we must first examine how the formulation of the Just War doctrine has changed from the time of Henry V to our time. Continue reading
All of the discussion in the Catholic blogosphere, and the wider public square, about unions (and public employee unions in particular) has given me cause to think a bit about my attitude towards organized labor. There are a lot of rational political, economic and moral reasons I can give for why I don’t like labor unions as they exist in the US, but as is so often the case with deeply held opinions, my most basic reaction to unions has a lot to do with my personal experiences relation to work and to unions. As such, it seemed like a good way to address the issue is through the lens of the experiences which have helped shape my opinion of unionization.
1. Most of my exposure to unions was through my father, who held a staff position at a community college for twenty-five years, retiring just a month before losing a multi-year battle with cancer. (In a state college, the major divide is between staff — which includes basically everyone who is neither an instructor nor a manager — and faculty, who are the actual instructors. Since he only had a bachelor’s degree, Dad’s position was classified as staff, and staff positions were represented by a state school employees union which is a member of the AFL-CIO.) The college was not unionized when Dad got his job, but it became a union shop half-way through his time there, via an election which he always wondered about the validity of. (Union members and non-union members were given different colored ballots, so it certainly would have been easy to cheat if someone had wanted to.) Not only were the union’s politics diametrically opposed to my father’s (he always used their “state issues” political mailing to decide how not to vote) but the union supported people for the college board of directors who hired a college president who eventually drove the college into the financial ditch, resulting in constant fear and occasional layoffs. His more daily frustration, however, was the effect of the union’s vigorous protection of people who did not do their jobs well.
???Deacon Keith Fournier (Catholic Online)
???St. Patrck calls us to live in the Heart of the Church for the Sake of the World …The day when the whole world becomes Irish is a time for reflection on what it means to be a Christian.
Rick Santorum Takes on Jihadism, Showing Moral Coherence and Political Courage – Rick Santorum is a man of courage in an age of cowardice…Santorum does not separate social and economic issues. He is comfortable in his skin and has the communications skills and intelligence required of a leader. Any candidate for the Presidency who hopes to win in 2012 must be an effective communicator. He or she will be contending with President Barack Obama, whose oratory in the last election seemed to mesmerize people. His opponent must be articulate, intelligent and unafraid.
Interview with C. Bradley Thompson about Leo Strauss and the Neoconservatives
The American Conservative – Everything Old Is Neo Again
Neoconservatism Unmasked by C. Bradley Thompson.
Neoconservative intellectuals often describe themselves as having a particular mode of thinking — maybe even just a “mood.” C. Bradley Thompson argues that neoconservatism is much more than that. Its key philosophical inspiration of comes from Irving Kristol, and particularly from Kristol’s engagement with the philosopher Leo Strauss. Thompson argues that, under Straussean influence, neoconservatives champion the rule of a philosophically cunning elite over a population that will never be able to understand their intellectual masters. Instead, the populace is steered toward self-sacrifice, war, and nationalism — as well as a set of religious and moral beliefs that the elites in no way share. Such a doctrine, Thompson charges, points disturbingly toward fascism.
Neoconservatism, Leo Strauss, and the Foundations for Liberty by Douglas Rasmussen.
Douglas Rasmussen argues that post-Lockean natural rights theory does not entail nihilism, as Strauss seems to have feared. A further error of Straussean neoconservatism, Rasmussen argues, is that it often conflates society with the state. Although the members of a civil society may rightly desire that society’s continuance, it does not follow that the state must coerce people into being good. Statecraft is not soulcraft; governing consists of setting ground rules that leave individuals free to seek the good.
The American Roots of Neoconservatism by Patrick J. Deneen
Patrick Deneen disagrees that neoconservatism is alien to the American political tradition. In particular, founders such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton envisioned politics as a realm where men of extraordinary wisdom and talent would shape the course of the new nation. The idea that commerce may corrode the morals is certainly present at the founding, as are civic virtue, self-sacrifice, and concern for the public good, the latter to be divined by wise statesmen. The neoconservative claim to Americanism is as strong, if not stronger, than Thompson’s preferred libertarian ideology.
Strauss and National Greatness by Damon Linker
Damon Linker argues that, although Thompson’s treatment of neoconservatism has considerable value, he errs in his characterization of Leo Strauss and his followers’ political theory. Strauss was an Aristotelian, Linker argues, and Aristotelian political thought is comparatively benign. Linker also argues that national greatness conservatism—a staple of today’s neoconservatives—is a 1990s addendum to the philosophy with little relation to Strauss, Irving Kristol, or the other early lights of neoconservatism.
A nice idealized version of Ireland for Saint Patrick’s day. Go here to see the fight scene between John Wayne and Victor McLaglen, who was a boxer along with being an actor, for my money the best fight sequence ever filmed, and certainly the funniest. Ironically, both Barry Fitzgerald, the matchmaker in the film, and Victor McLaglen, both of whom became screen archetypes as Irish Catholics, were Protestants, with the tough, burly McLaglen being the son of an Anglican bishop.
Hattip for co-blogger Chris Blosser for pointing out the above video to me. Back in 1979 when I graduated with my BA in the teaching of Social Studies from the University of Illinois, one of the factors motivating my decision to immediate run off to law school was my extreme antipathy to the teachers’ unions. From what I had observed as a student training to be a teacher, the unions tended to focus their efforts on protecting the least competent teachers from being fired and political involvement on behalf of the Democrat party and leftist causes in general.
In three decades nothing has changed. The advocacy of abortion by the largest of the teachers’ unions, the National Education Association, is of course the most objectionable aspect of the political involvment of a union which purports to represent those who help shape the minds of students. In 2008 pro-life teachers wrote to the NEA protesting the NEA support of abortion: Continue reading
There has been much discussion regarding the unsustainability of national entitlement programs – specifically, Social Security and Medicare. These programs are either a) dangerously underfunded; b) out of money; or c) figments of all our imaginations. We can eliminate (c), unfortunately. Which leaves us with varying proportions of (a) and (b), depending on the time of day, wind direction and particular news network reporting the issue.
Current political circumstances dictate that these programs remain untouched by the scalpel-wielding budget writers. Suggesting cuts in disbursements from any of these tax-payer supplied ATM’s would be political suicide, and the last thing any elected official is prepared to do, is to take the knife intended for an opponent’s back, turn it on themselves and slide it neatly between their third and fourth ribs. Additionally, newly elected conservatives, who ran on promises of curbing spending and reducing the size of our bloatocracy, are trying to maintain their footing in the quagmire of political compromise, with a nervous eye on their calendars, recognizing that the summer of 2012 will be soon be upon them. Thus, few, if any, politicians will recommend increasing tax-payer contribution levels to these programs.
Instead, our legislators have done what they do best – they have rolled up their sleeves, sat down to serious business and played “trim the fat off the fat side of the fat” with the budget, which affords them the luxury of appearing engaged without angering any particular large financial donor group. Since each political party controls one house of Congress, it’s not surprising that stalemates and gridlock clog up Capitol Hill. Normally, I applaud such a condition. The less legislation that gets enacted, generally speaking, the better off the populace remains. However, our present circumstances require swift action. There is no time to waste.
Which brings me to my modest proposal. It will require no reduction in Social Security payments, or Medicare coverage; nor will it demand an increase in taxes of any sort, to anyone. Furthermore, my proposal will help propel the “green power” agenda forward, for what it’s worth, as well as ease the burden on middle class America. The final result will be a return to solvency of the aforementioned entitlement programs, and place our great nation back on the road to prosperity and security for all its inhabitants. Continue reading
This is a time with many crisis. A President has to chose where to put his efforts carefully. He could focus on the civil war in Libya. He could look towards Bahrain and the battles there. He could drum up relief for Japan in the wake of the tsunami. He could look to help Japan fix its nuclear reactor and ensure that such danger cannot be repeated here. He could work to reduce gas prices. He could create jobs. He could negotiate to ensure the government doesn’t shutdown due to a lack of a budget.
With all of these options, what is our fearless leader doing? He’s clowning around with ESPN discussing his “barack-etology” and why he thinks Kansas will win it all.
How insensitive and ridiculous is this? Even if you were in the throes of the Obamessiah movement in 2008, how is this justifiable? Look, I’m a huge sports fan. I understand the need for Obama to not spend every second on the presidency and take some time for sports. I don’t even mind that he spends time to fill out a bracket if he did it privately.
But to do this so publicly just sends all the wrong messages, both to those at home and abroad.
The smell of freshly cut grass. The thermometer registering above 50. Birds chirping to signal the dawn of each new day. Yes, if you live in the southern states, some of you might actually be enjoying these signs of Spring. As for me, it’s perpetual rain and moderately cool temperatures, which means that Spring is just around the corner in DC. And those are the two best weeks of the year by far.
It also means it’s baseball time. Yes, our long national nightmare – meaning the seven weeks between the Super Bowl and opening day for Major League Baseball – is almost over. We can stop having to pretend to care about basketball and hockey and get back to some real sports.
So with baseball mercifully just around the corner, it’s time to look ahead to the upcoming season. And I will begin with the best division in baseball, the American League East, or as it is otherwise know, “Four awesome teams and the Baltimore Orioles.” Continue reading
There’s been a fair amount of worry the last couple days about the situation with several nuclear reactors which were hit by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The difficulty is, of course, that most reporters know nothing about nuclear energy or physics, and there is a tendency (in TV news in particular) to focus on whichever “experts” are most exciting. Combine that with the fact that when most people near the word “nuclear” they picture a mushroom cloud and it’s easy to produce hysteria.
While the events at the Fukushima plant reactors are serious, they also underline how many layers of redundancy and safety measures are built into modern nuclear power plants. There’s a good blog post by an MIT engineer (expanded and corrected by the Nuclear Science and Engineering department as MIT) which covers the basics of how this type of reactor works, what happened to the reactors at this plant which are having problems, and what the relevant dangers are. I’d strongly recommend this post over most mainstream media coverage. Members of the Nuclear Science and Engineering department has continued posting additional updates on the topic at this blog.