Why?

Thursday, March 3, AD 2011

Catholics don’t ask why enough.

Seriously.

To some — for instance, those who have the run-of-the-mill dissenter in mind — this might seem to be prima facie false, given that plenty of Catholics seem to question Church teaching. But I’m not talking about questioning Church teaching in the sense of doubting it; yes, dissenters do that aplenty, but what they don’t do is ask “Why?” with sufficient depth, with the goal of truly seeking to understand what the Church teaches on topic X and why she teaches that. In the case of most dissenters I’ve encountered, their “why?” is really “Well, that’s silly, I don’t believe that,” without any substantial engagement with the Church’s teaching, without any grappling with the inner rationale of the doctrine. For the most part, dissenters don’t really ask “why?”.

But they should. And so should the rest of us.

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One Response to Why?

  • This relates very much to the relationship of orthodoxy to orthopraxis. You must have both.

    There is not a day that goes by that I don’t ask why. Why am I Catholic? Why does the Church teach what it does? I think we must approach the teachings of the Church as little children. We must approach the teachings with docility. The Church has much to teach us. Let us set down at the feet of the Bishops who has this authority given to them by Christ through the Apostles. Let us listen and receive what they have to teach us with an open heart and mind.

Shahbaz Bhatti: Martyr For the Faith

Thursday, March 3, AD 2011

Hattip to Ed Morrissey at Hot Air.  Courage and Faith.  Abstractions to many, meaningless phrases to some, to others they are a way of life.  Shahbaz Bhatti was in the last category.  His faith was obvious to all.  As a Roman Catholic in overwhelmingly Islamic Pakistan he was tireless in spreading the Truth of Christ, and in standing up for the rights of Christians in Pakistan.  Appointed Minister of Defense of Minorities in the Pakistan government, he took on the position, knowing full well that he was signing his death warrant.  Death threats against him were constant.  As constant was his speaking out for the rights of Christians and other minorities in Pakistan.  After leaving his government office each day, he would head over to the offices of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, working late into the night to continue aiding Pakistan’s embattled minorities.

He never married, thinking it unfair to put a wife and children in the cross-hairs in which he lived.  On March 2, 2011 he was visiting his mother.  After he left his car was sprayed with bullets and he was killed.  The murderers of Al Qaeda and the Taliban have claimed responsibility.

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14 Responses to Shahbaz Bhatti: Martyr For the Faith

  • It is brave men such as this that make me rethink my agnosticism. Though I retain doubts, I hope that he will have a special place in heaven along with other courageous and dedicated martyrs to the faith.

  • Eternal rest grant unto him!

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  • I agree whole heartedly with what you have posted.
    “No man has ever measured love,
    Or weighed it in his hand.
    But God who knows the inmost heart,
    Gives them the promised land.”

  • I bow my head in honour of this courageous and principled martyr of our Christian faith.

  • Joe Green: I pray that through the example and the intercession of that brave Catholic martyr, Mr. Bhatti, that you will embrace the love and forgiveness and invitation of our Lord Jesus Christ! If Mr. Bhatti’s martyrdom is used by God to bring just one soul–yours!–to Heaven–his death will not be in vain!

    May God bless you, Joe Green, and may our most holy and tender Mother Mary enfold you in Her sacred and loving arms!

  • Thanks, Linda. The Hound of Heaven always pursues me. Some day I hope to take His Hand and walk with Him.

  • Joe,

    The Hound of Heaven continues to pursue me even though I took his hand long ago. He keeps wanting to teach and love me (and you) more and more each day.

    Prayers for you and have a good weekend.

  • “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

  • And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

  • My soul weeps for this just and good man. Oh Pakistan, must you kill those sons who yearned to bring you out of the darkness. How long will you suffered them to be killed. Those who pursue their beliefs through the killing of their brethren will never have peace in their country nor in their lives. How I wish they would spend more time in mediation and the pursue of truth instead of violence. I trust in the Lord’s ability to bring good of this evil. Rest in peace my brother.

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Snyder v. Phelps

Wednesday, March 2, AD 2011

This morning the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Snyder v. Phelps. The case involved the Westboro Church, which is infamous for its protests at military funerals. The media publicizes the anti-homosexuality aspect of their protests, but the Church chose the Snyders also because his family was Catholic and his parents divorced and they view the Church as a monstrosity that encourages idolatry.

The Court’s 8-1 decision with the lone dissent by Alito sided with the Westboro church in a limited opinion. Although the case might have some interesting effects for First Amendment law in general (the protection of the 1st against suits of intentional infliction of emotional distress even when directed at a private figure if the speech is directed at matters of public concern if I read it right), it questionable whether this is the last word. The Court did not have the opportunity to consider whether laws restricting the time, place, and manner of protests surrounding either military funerals particularly or funerals more broadly are constitutional. Legislatures seem keen to pass such laws, and in fact in Maryland such a law was passed after the Snyder funeral.

Discerning where the Court will go is difficult. I suspect such laws will be upheld. The majority seemed particularly concerned that juries would be unable to fairly determine whether conduct was outrageous in tort cases (like infliction of emotional distress), but this concern would not be applicable if there was a truly content-neutral regulations about the manner of protesting around funerals. Of course, the Court would be rightfully concerned whether such regulations were in fact truly content-neutral but I think a legislature could make a strong argument if the statute is written well enough. Moreover, Alito’s well-reasoned dissent provides the strong emotional basis for such laws: namely, families at funerals are innocent parties who are particularly emotional vulnerable, and the protestors are exploiting their grief to get air time in a most callous and unchristian way.

So like many times when the Court hands down a ruling, the verdict is that very little has been settled and more decisions are to be expected.

 

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33 Responses to Snyder v. Phelps

  • Alito was correct in his dissent. The idea that these ghouls have a first amendment right to protest at private funerals is risible, and this decision is an indication of just how bizarre and byzantine our first amendment jurisprudence has become over the years.

    “The real significance of these new laws is not that they obviate the need for IIED (Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress) protection. Rather, their enactment dramatically illustrates the fundamental point that funerals are unique events at which special protection against emotional assaults is in order. At funerals, the emotional well-being of bereaved relatives is particularly vulnerable. See National Archives and Records Admin. v. Favish , 541 U. S. 157, 168 (2004) . Exploitation of a funeral for the purpose of attracting public attention “intrud[es] upon their … grief,” ibid. , and may permanently stain their memories of the final moments before a loved one is laid to rest. Allowing family members to have a few hours of peace without harassment does not undermine public debate. I would therefore hold that, in this setting, the First Amendment permits a private figure to recover for the intentional infliction of emotional distress caused by speech on a matter of private concern.”

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/09-751.ZD.html

  • The idea that these ghouls have a first amendment right to protest at private funerals is risible, and this decision is an indication of just how bizarre and byzantine our first amendment jurisprudence has become over the years.

    I think this may have had a different outcome if they go into the cemetery or if Synder sees the words on the signs. As it was, they were on a public sidewalk more visible to the media than to the family. We’ll have to see how future litigation pans out, but I imagine one good thing coming from this decision is that the reduction of IIED in light of speech of public concern may provide greater protection for Christians who charitably wish to discuss the issue of homosexuality. That is, gay rights groups will have less grounds to file tort suits (if any grounds remain after today) for IIED against Christians simply b/c they are offended by the Christian’s moral teachings.

  • I have to side with the majority on this, despite my disdain for Westboro gang. I have no trust in the civil authorities to determine accurately what constitutes hateful or emotionally distressing speech. I can unhesitatingly say that the Westboro ghoulishness qualifies, but others, in particular those in power, may unhesitatingly say that public speech expressing Catholic moral teaching also qualifies. At the end of the day, the definition of hateful or emotionally distressing speech is dictated by those in power.

  • As I understand the 1st amendment, it was given so controversial political, social and religious could be discussed without the government breathing down your back, arresting you or censoring you in any way, shape, or form. Phelps and his band of ghouls have that right to make their displeasure about nearly everything known to the public at large. They can post on their blog, they can fax or e-mail, they can put up a video on the net, but what they want to do should have never been a free speach issue. This is simply a band of heartless creeps inflicting pain and misery upon families morning a lost loved one. The government was not trying to dictate what the Westboro Wackos could say about an issue: the families just wanted to be left alone during the funeral and the burial. Why the morons on the bench couldn’t see that is beyond me. can some one please explain this to me?

  • A couple things are little discussed about Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka.

    1. This church founded by Fred Phelps is essentially an extended family. I understand that there are maybe two or three dozen members in all, mostly relatives and shirt-tail relations.

    2. Fred Phelps and his daughter (Maggie?) are both attorneys. Fred is disbarred but not Maggie, to the best of my recollection.

    So while it is true to say that Westboro Baptist Church represents some of the worst to be found among Christians, it is also true that they represent some of the worst to be found among attorneys. Kansans long ago gave up on these folks.

  • Michael I am glad you hit this part of the opinion because I don’t think it is getting the attention deserved.

    This Court no doubt is strong on the 1st amendment. However it appears to me that the Court is already to again get into these “Free Speech areas” and approve them with some gusto. It seems they approve since that is what in part saved the Westboro people in a way. A free Speech Zone that was out of sight and out of mind. Perhaps that is good in this case. But I am seeing these Free Speech zones at such things as political conventions in about the same remote locations.

    What comes up next to mind is the Pro-life movement. Unlike the Phelps, who I suspected has changed no one minds at one of their protest, we have lots of stories of women that decided NOT to abort because of the actions of pro-lifers that were much more present.

    I think the Court got this one right in a close case and the case is SO SO narrow here that it appears they might have punted on some things. But these time and space stuff is interesting.

    Also note there are signs in the opinion that they might be looking at internet issues next

  • Stephen ,

    It is not so much the GOVT the Court is looking at. It is looking at a specific tort or on this case torts. This has been a big area of 1st amendment law because of the concerns that States very well could help control the content of speech through tort law.

    Intentional Infliction of Emotional abuses statutes for instance can often be abused

  • Jh:

    Two cases on point that you mention. There’s a second circuit (I think) case of Bl(A)ck Tea Society v. City of Boston involving a free speech zone created far enough away that people coming to the 2004 Demo. Natl. Convention maybe could see them as they were bussed in. The zone was under train tracks and surrounded by fencing and barbed wire. The zone was upheld due to security concerns.

    The other case is cited in Snyder is Madsen v. Women’s Health Center, 512 us 753 (1994), in which the US Supreme Court upheld a Colorado regulation limiting protests in front of abortion facilities (or all medical facilities; don’t remember how specific the statute was) to being 50 feet from the entrance & not approaching women in order to protect women in a particularly emotionally vulnerable state from being traumatized. So the pro-life movement has already been denied a free speech right via statute, though I don’t know if tort action against pro-lifers has been upheld. My guess is that the principles behind Madsen would justify a statute creating a bubble for families at funerals.

  • There are many who’d say that pro-lifer protesters with their signs depicting aborted fetuses caused them emotional distress. I don’t see how you can ban Westboro at funerals without also banning pro-life protesters at abortion clinics.

  • Are lies protected under the First Amendment?

    Signs saying “God hates dead soldiers” are lies. God is all good and He cannot hate. That is a sin.

    RR: I’m no lawyer. I believe truth is an absolute defense. Pictures of aborted fetuses are factual truth.

    Just as in NYC and Chicago, local constabularies ought to the rats and later drop the charges.

    Examples:
    June 10, 2009: A New York City law that will go into effect in July could make it easier for antiabortion-rights protesters to be arrested for restricting access to abortion clinics or harassing people trying to enter the facilities, the New York Times reports.

    August 2010: The city of Chicago has dropped its case against a man who was charged with disorderly conduct for praying the Rosary outside an abortion clinic. A clerk at the Cook County Court confirmed Wednesday that the case against Joe Holland — a 25-year-old graduate …

  • “I don’t see how you can ban Westboro at funerals without also banning pro-life protesters at abortion clinics.”

    I think the distinction is easy to make: an abortion clinic is a business open to anyone plunking down the blood money for the contract killing. A funeral is a private ceremony for friends and loved ones of the deceased. No one has a “right” to attend a private funeral. The abortion clinic is open to the public.

  • No one has a “right” to attend a private funeral. The abortion clinic is open to the public.

    Yes, but Westboro wasn’t at the funeral. They were on a sidewalk on the way between the church and cemetery. That sidewalk is open to the public. This case is different if they barged into the funeral service, but they smartly stayed in a clear traditional public forum.

  • “This case is different if they barged into the funeral service, but they smartly stayed in a clear traditional public forum.”

    In order to protest a completely private ceremony, to make the whole affair as much of a circus as they could, and to shout vile insults at the deceased and the family of the deceased. This is quite different from an abortion clinic open to the public and where some great issue of public policy is being addressed. In the case of the Westboro ghouls we have fiends so desperate for publicity that they are willing to inflict unimaginable pain on private individuals at a funeral. This would never have been tolerated by the Founding Fathers, and up till the Sixties the idea that this type of vile abusive behavior would be considered speech protected by the First Amendment would have been regarded as laughable by any court considering it. We have lost the common sense in the law to distinguish between vile conduct and speech, and this is merely another example of a culture that has badly lost its way.

  • Donald, I know you’re right, but please give us some examples that make plain that this kind of vile conduct wouldn’t been tolarated by the law.

  • On my way to court Stephen and I’ll reply in more detail later. For now take a look at the line of Fighting Words cases:

    http://www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentid=13718

  • Don, abortions are performed in private too. The clinic is open to the public in the same way that a church is.

  • “Don, abortions are performed in private too.”

    Apples and rock salt to funerals RR. Funerals, unless a cremation is involved, have an open air component at a cemetery. The abortionists, no matter how depraved they are, do not perform the abortions outside of the clinic, and protestors at abortion clinics, unless they wish to be arrested for trespass, do not enter the clinic. The Westboro ghouls rely upon the open air nature of funerals to do maximum harm to the mourners.

    Ultimately I am afraid their despicable behavior will be answered with violence. One of the main reason why we have laws is to uphold the public peace by allowing wrongs to be redressed by the legal system. The Supreme Court has basically neutralized the only thing that could stop Westboro from utilizing private pain for publicity purposes. Sooner or later some mourner at a funeral will answer with violence this verbal spit in the face to his loved one by these maniacs.

  • Don:

    That’s a hostile audience analysis, not a fighting words analysis. That’s a tougher burden to meet. And I don’t think Westboro has free reign to protest; I think Legislatures will rightfully prohibit these kinds of things from happening near funerals (or at least near enough to prevent violence and the type of media coverage that Westboro so dearly lusts for) using content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions regarding protests at funerals.

  • Don, so it all rests on whether there was a cremation involved?

  • The two usually meld into each other Michael. When you scream out that someone’s son who is being buried is burning in Hell you have both fighting words and a hostile audience. In regard to keeping the Ghouls away from the funeral, that does absolutely nothing to address the fact that they have turned a private ceremony to mourn the loss of a loved one into a circus.

    “[I]t is well understood that the right of free speech is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances. There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which has never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or “fighting” words–those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.”

    Justice Murphy in Chaplinsky

    If the Westboro Ghouls had carried through with their threat to protest at the funeral of nine year old Christina Green, I think they would have finally reaped the violence their behavior has been begging for.

    I expect now that these idiots will have copycats following in their footsteps thanks to the Supreme Court decision.

    I think the best commentary on this decision was delivered by the Plainiff in the case:

    “My first thought was that eight justices didn’t have the common sense that God gave a goat.”

    That this behavior is tolerated in our country is ample indication that we can no longer distinguish between liberty and license.

  • It’s important to remember that the protests in question took place several blocks away from the funeral service, where they could neither be seen nor heard by the attendees. Indeed, if you look at the Plaintiff’s complaint, a big part of his claim for emotional distress is based on his reading about the funeral protest after the fact on the Phelps’ website.

    The issue isn’t whether you can disrupt a funeral service.

  • “Don, so it all rests on whether there was a cremation involved?”

    It rests on the fact that open air private funerals are routinely protested by the Westboro Ghouls in order to inflict maximum emotional harm on the mourners in order to reap maximum publicity. Funerals have to be performed outside for a burial at a grave. That is completely different from your examples of abortion protestors where the abortions take place inside the abortuary away from the protestors. No such refuge is available for the mourners at the grave site.

    The Wikipedia article on the Westboro Ghouls is especially good. Apparently violence has already broken out at one of their protests:

    “During a picket in Seaford, Delaware on May 21, 2006, a mob broke through police lines and tried to assault WBC members who fled into a police van. Some of the mob then began banging on the van attempting to get inside. Two windows of the van were shattered before the van could get away. Five people face criminal charges.” I expect more of this to happen. When the law allows this type of completely outrageous behavior to go on, sooner or later there will be a violent reaction to it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westboro_Baptist_Church

  • Here is a link to the complaint filed by Mr. Snyder:

    http://www.matthewsnyder.org/Complaint.pdf

    The actions of the Westboro Ghouls had nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with simple raw hate. They simply picked out a family and dumped raw verbal sewarge on them in order to further their publicity campaign, which did not stop with the protests at the funeral. That private indivuals, not in public life, have no remedy now, courtesy of the Supreme Court, to this type of deranged assault shows how lunatic the world is becoming.

  • “Indeed, if you look at the Plaintiff’s complaint, a big part of his claim for emotional distress is based on his reading about the funeral protest after the fact on the Phelps’ website.”

    Yep, the Westboro Ghouls were so proud of their despicable protest at the funeral of Snyders son, that they made a web video of it and posted it on their website. Oh, and they don’t stop there. The targets of the Westboro protests are often deluged by anonymous hatemail after the funerals.

  • The actions of the Westboro Ghouls had nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with simple raw hate. They simply picked out a family and dumped raw verbal sewarge on them in order to further their publicity campaign, which did not stop with the protests at the funeral.

    Maybe so, but do you trust the government (an ever-changing body) to make the distinction between the two accurately? The difference may be clear to you, but will it always be clear to those empowered to differentiate?

  • I always trust the people and elections Kyle in this country more than I do the courts. I am all too familiar with how cavalierly the US Supreme Court has “amended” the Constitution beyond recognition. In this case the Court in effect found that a private family subject to the most villianous libel and slander of themselves and their dead son imaginable had no rememedy under law for the damage they had suffered. I think such an outcome is not required by the Constitution, is bad as a matter of public policy and morally stinks literally to High Heaven.

    Justice Alito summed it up well at the close of his dissent:

    “Respondents’ outrageous conduct caused petitioner great injury, and the Court now compounds that injury by depriving petitioner of a judgment that acknowledges the wrong he suffered.

    In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner. I therefore respectfully dissent.”

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/09-751.ZD.html

  • Donald,

    I’m not sure I understand your position. You believe that the government should be able to ban criticism of dead solders because why? Because it’s hateful? Don’t you see the problem with that line of thinking?

  • Clearly you do not understand my position BA. I believe it is constitutional for states to allow suits for intentional infliction of emotional distress when private individuals are subject to the type of behavior engaged in by the Westboro ghouls against the Snyder family. The idea that this type of speech in this context is protected by the Constitution I find risible. Do you see the problem for society when this type of behavior, assaults in public upon the character and reputation of private individuals by a deranged hate group, have no legal remedy?

    The fact that we existed as a free society for the vast majority of our history without any hint that this type of behavior could not provoke legal action by the aggrieved parties indicates to me that we are not discussing in this case essential liberty, but rather another example of the seeming inability of many individuals today, on and off courts, to distinguish between liberty and license.

  • Don, thanks for the link to that article. It confirmed what i already knew in my heart about this stuff. BTW, if violence is inflicted on Fred Pukes and his ghouls, let’s hope the inflicters separate the unfortunate children from the adults when it happens. I’d hate to see innocent children be hurt by the enraged counter-protesters like Westboro has hrt them.

  • I believe it is constitutional for states to allow suits for intentional infliction of emotional distress when private individuals are subject to the type of behavior engaged in by the Westboro ghouls against the Snyder family.

    I understand that. What I don’t see is what the principled basis for your conclusion might be. Is the idea that this case should be sui generis?

  • “What I don’t see is what the principled basis for your conclusion might be. Is the idea that this case should be sui generis?”

    No, although certainly their behavior is an extreme case. I think the law should afford a remedy to private individuals who are subject to this type of vile behavior in public. Society is diminished when we tolerate the type of behavior that the Westboro Ghouls engage in. Of course in the broad span of American history my view would not be unusual. The reaction of the Founding Fathers to the Westboro Ghouls would probably be unprintable with the Ghouls being lucky to get off with a weekend in the stocks being pelted with rotten vegetables. We excuse extremely bad behavior in public today on the grounds of personal freedom when, at bottom, it is simply an unwillingess, or perhaps in some cases an inability, to draw elementary distinctions which our ancestors made with ease. The idea that if the Westboro Ghouls have to pay a multi-million dollar verdict for their outrageous conduct that liberty of speech is in anyway in jeopardy I find ludicrous.

  • I think the law should afford a remedy to private individuals who are subject to this type of vile behavior in public.

    What type of vile behavior?

    The reaction of the Founding Fathers to the Westboro Ghouls would probably be unprintable

    Given the attitudes towards homosexuality that the Founding Fathers held, their reaction might well be unprintable, though perhaps not for the reasons you suggest.

  • “What type of vile behavior?”

    Protesting at a complete stranger’s funeral and holding up signs saying that he is in Hell, and attacking the religion of the deceased, Catholicism, constitutes as vile behavior in my book.

    Making a video of the demonstration and posting it on your website constitutes as vile behavior in my book.

    Attacking the parents of the deceased on your website constitutes as vile behavior in my book.

    http://www.matthewsnyder.org/Complaint.pdf

    As for your implication that the Founding Fathers would have an ounce of sympathy for the Westboro Ghouls, due to the opposition of the Founding Fathers to “buggery” as they might have bluntly phrased it, or the “crime that dare not speak its name” as they might have more genteely called it, I will put that down as a bizarre attempt at making a joke on your part. The Founding Fathers were able to make elementary distinctions between some group legitimately discussing a public issue, and a hate filled cult that attacks innocent people at their most vulnerable. The Founding Fathers had that cardinal virtue called common sense, something sorely lacking in the modern world.

Vote for the National Catholic Register

Wednesday, March 2, AD 2011

The secular website About.com is running a contest of which is the Best Catholic Newspaper (among many other categories).  I’d like our readers to go visit their website to vote for the National Catholic Register as their choice (if it’s not your choice, move along and read the other articles here on our website).

The National Catholic Register is America’s oldest Catholic newspaper as well as being the most read and well written.  They hold fidelity to the teachings of the Magisterium so you know you’re getting high quality articles.

To vote for the National Catholic Register please click here.

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Another Dissident “Faithful” Catholic Attacks the Church

Wednesday, March 2, AD 2011

The same-sex marriage debate is heating up in Maryland, and our Bishops continue to fight the good fight.  Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore, and Bishop Francis Malooly of Wilmington together wrote a statement condemning the State Assembly’s vote to approve of same-sex marriage, and urged Catholics to continue mounting opposition.  This drew the ire of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of something called New Ways Ministry, which is is described as a “Catholic [sic] ministry of justice and reconciliation for lesbian/gay Catholics and the wider church community.”  He writes:

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4 Responses to Another Dissident “Faithful” Catholic Attacks the Church

  • And until Wuerl, et al., confront FU Catholics with actual ecclesial discipline, we can expect to see legions of DeBernardos happily providing cover for the secular assault on both society and the Church.

    There are no consequences for telling the Church to blow it out her ass and–shocker!–people act accordingly.

  • It is far too late in these “social justice” debates of outright disobedience or political correctness approaches to today’s perversions of human behavior and betrayal of biblical truth for our hierarchy to simply “Urge the Laity” into action. Our actions are of little consequence within the media and for the most part futile if we do not have the weight of “Authoritive Discipline” behind our voices.
    Unless we witness prominent church officials and bishops condemning, defrocking and excommunicating these self styled ruling class individuals who present themselves as equally prominent laymen and/or politicians who openly challenge church law while imposing pain and suffering on the people with ill fated self endowed elitist rhetoric and socially lethal legislation the laity will continue to be recognized and labeled as just our president assumes us to be, uneducated uninformed homophobes clinging to our guns and bibles.
    Is there not one or two among the American Bishops willing to accept intellectual martyrdom in the name of the people of God for the sake of our country???
    Come forth Lazarus!

  • This issue can also be viewed as pastoral. When a Catholic expresses, supports and even agitates for positions contradictory to the Church, to Jesus, to God, then they may have excommunicated themselves and may be in jeopardy of eternal perdition. The pastor of this flock is required to correct his children so they may not lose their souls. It is incumbent on the bishops to make these statements; however, is it incumbent on them to punish? I am not sure. Is it incumbent upon us? Where does fraternal correction end and stern whooping begin? Spare the rod, spoil the child. Are Catholics in America just Protestants or practical atheists in disguise? Political correctness has cowed us into submission, and we are not permitted to do that. We are to be martyrs, witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and persecution is our promise.

    I am not suggesting we act like those poor morons from the Westwhatever ‘baptist’ church, yelling that God hates fags. We need to be stern and true. God, and therefore we, love people afflicted with homosexualist tendencies and out of that love we want them to stop engaging, codifying and celebrating a disordered behavior. It is not only disordered on theological grounds. Rationally it is a very dangerous practice. It is harmful to physical, emotional and mental health.

    That being said, do most Catholics listen to, care, obey or respect their bishop? Do they even know who their bishop is?

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Why Do Popes Bother?

Wednesday, March 2, AD 2011

Last fall, Pope Benedict issued the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini, On the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. With a handful of exceptions, the response of the American Catholic blogosphere (and the Catholic commentariat in general) was crickets.

It seems that unless a papal document somehow touches on an issue of the culture wars, near-silence is the response.

So, why do popes bother?

The question is rhetorical, of course. The fact of the matter is, Catholics ought to be reading these documents, and not just “professional Catholics” or clerics, but all of us. Look at whom Verbum Domini is addressed to, for example: bishops, clergy, the consecrated, and the lay faithful. Virtually every other major magisterial text is similarly addressed (curiously, one of the more technical ones which does get greater attention — JPII’s Veritatis Splendor — is addressed only to bishops), yet all too often, even informed, orthodox Catholics seem to fail to read them.

Why is that?

Look at the documents of Vatican II… both before and after they were elected to the See of Peter, Popes John Paul II and Benedict were emphatic that the renewal of the Church which the Council hoped for would not happen unless the members of the Church actually read the documents and internalized them. Even in his apostolic letter closing the Great Jubilee (Novo Millenio Ineunte), John Paul called for the further implementation of the Council, again, with the actual reading of the texts. Have these calls been heeded?

With Lent nearly upon us, now seems an appropriate time to prayerfully discern which one of these gifts of the Magisterium we might take up and read.

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5 Responses to Why Do Popes Bother?

  • Why do Popes bother?

    Well, because eventually all of their writings will be posted on TAC! 🙂
    With the advent of the internet and Catholic blogs, my guess is that Papal writings are probably reaching more readers than any other time in the history of the Church. This is a very new development and it will take time to see what the impact of this will be.

  • Actually have been reading Verbum Domini for about six weeks now as spiritual reading. Taking so long as might only read a paragraph need to stop and think/meditate. Also like to look up the biblical references. Suspect I might take most of this year to finish it.

  • Phillip – Cardinal Arinze recommends doing exactly that with the CCC.

    Chris – Thank you for reminding us on what is really important. That’s a great idea about implementing some type of Lectio Divina during Lent. Too often I find myself distracted by secular topics, i.e. politics. God help me during the upcoming election cycle.

  • I actually read through the whole CCC. Wasn’t given it as spiritual reading by my spiritual director. Read alot of the footnotes but to my shame didn’t look up many of the biblical references. What can I say, I was young.

  • That should read “Was given it as spiritual reading…”

14 Responses to Alternate Oscars

  • Don, good post. But fine films didn’t end in 1939, as Klavan suggests. I just saw David Lean’s “Great Expectations,” made in 1949. Wish you would post the clip near the end between Pip and his benefactor on his deathbed. Moved me to tears.

    Others that would make my top 10 list: “Il Postino,” “Amadeus,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Bridge on the River Kwai,” “The Mayor of Casterbridge” (BBC), “12 Angry Men,” and “The Apartment.” Scarcely a sex scene or profanity in any of them, except for an imagined vulgarity by the Mozart character.

    My wife and I suffered through the execrable Black Swan and nearly walked out. It was disgustingly Hollywood. I haven’t watched the Oscars in full since Johnny Carson hosted. Whatever happened to the Golden Age that included the likes of Spencer Tracy, Bogart, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Vivien Leigh, etc., to be replaced by James Franco in drag and a bunch of talentless, classless poseurs. It was left to old Kirk Douglas, creaky and half-gone, to save tradition, only to have the Oscar-winning supporting actress to drop an f-bomb at the end of his presentation.

    That sums up Hollywood’s middle finger to the better America many of us remember.

    By the way, at your suggestion, I have ordered El Cid from the library and note that Angel on My Shoulder is scheduled to be shown soon on Turner Classics, along with Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1940’s version).

  • Joe, I think fine films are still being made today. I greatly enjoyed The Incredibles for example and I think the latest Star Trek film had its moments. The Lord of the Rings trilogy fascinated me. Kenneth Branaugh’s Henry V is one for the ages. My list could go on with many other films. I watch quite a few films with my family, and not just those from the Golden Era. It is simply that the abysmally poor category has increased dramatically since the Sixties. We have a perfect storm of dropping educational standards, the ability of film directors to conceal poor films with sex, violence and explosions and actors and actresses who specialize in mumbling to produce some mind boggingly bad drek. The biggest problem I think is that so much in the way of films seems to be produced on autopilot with little to no original thought behind them. As T.S. Elliot noted we live in a time of hollow men with hollow chests and hollower heads.

  • K, he won me over by filling half of the screen with Gibbs. (Yes, I’m that easy to manipulate.)

  • Donald-
    looking at your list reminds me of a conversation that’s been going around (here and here for example) about supposedly “adult” fare.

    The Incredibles is probably the best original movie released in my adult life (a category that is a bit more limited than it may seem, living in the Era Of Remakes); Lord of the Rings, even though it (naturally) suffers from not being six movies and the limited imagination of some of the actors, was outstanding.

    I can’t watch the newest star trek, for reasons starting with “even a military as cruddy as Picard’s StarFleet does not work like that” and including a deep disgust for “updates” by and large.

    Thinking of movies I love, they’re almost all “childish” or “geeky”– things that reject the supposedly adult culture. The Last Unicorn, Princess Bride, Willow, the real Star Wars movies, Riki Tiki Tavi… good grief, my daughter’s Magical Meow Meow Taruto anime has more dealings with mature themes, like death, honor, loyalty, bravery, truth and unrequited love than most “adult” movies. (Anyone who can watch episode 3, “Long, Long Ago,” without crying is either heartless or very tough.)

    Hollywood isn’t just limited by their politics– they’re limited by their belief that hope, optimism and joy are childish.

  • heh

    Last time I cared about the BS/oscars was the year “Patton” was nominated.

    Some of you weren’t allowed to be born . . .

    No wait! That was before Roe v. Wade!

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  • We live in odd times Foxfier when the best “adult” films are often kid flicks. In regard to the Trek movie I had similar criticisms which I posted in my review that no military in the world acts the way Star Fleet does in that movie. However, I also pointed out that the original Star Trek was about as silly. (Oh yes, it is a good idea to send the Captain and the ship’s senior officers on an away mission that should be commanded by Ensign Expendable. Then we have the female personnel running around the ship dressed in miniskirts and go-go boots. Kirk has a “flexible” attitude towards orders and yet never seems to suffer any consequences. Paperwork for command officers has apparently vanished in the 23rd Century. The list could go on and on!)

  • Have any of you seen “The King’s Speech?” I highly recommend it (there is a brief scene which contains bad language – the King did not stutter when he cursed. Unfortunately, I hear as bad or worse simply walking down the street behind a bunch of teenagers.)

    No surprise ending, but it nonetheless moved and entertained me. The film celebrates responsibility and duty (the sometimes romanticized Duke of Windsor is portrayed -accurately – as a selfish and nasty bounder) and also the wisdom gained by experience vs. merely having a degree. At a time when our own elites seem allergic to common sense and have boundless scorn for those who did not attend the right schools, that message hits the mark.

  • I am looking forward to seeing that film Donna. I have always had a fondness for George VI. He was a good family man and he and his family showed a fair amount of courage by staying in London during the blitz and sharing the dangers of their people. I also liked the way he talked Churchill out of landing with the British troops on D-Day by telling him that if Churchill was doing this, he as King had to be there also. The English have had far worse kings than the Queen’s father.

    Agreed as to the Duke of Windsor, a selfish grown brat of marginal intelligence, less ability and more than a little sympathetic to the Nazis prior to the War. The British dodged a bullet when he gave up the throne to marry the golddigger he lusted after.

  • And let’s not forget the King’s wife. When I was in England many years ago, I was struck by the affection and respect that the Brits, even young, trying-hard-to-be-hip London males, had for the “Queen Mum.” Everyone, even those not enamored of the institution of the monarchy, seemed to adore her, as though she was the kindly National Grandmother. When I saw “The King’s Speech,” I better understood the reason for their love.

  • I know very little about the Royal Family, other than that my grandmother– who hated the English with a burning passion– liked the current queen; looking at the lady, I’m not surprised to hear folks say her folks were good people.

  • Donna, et al, just returned from seeing The King’s Speech and found it wonderfully crafted and moving and, notwithstanding Christopher Hitchens’ meanspirited (since when is he otherwise?) essays finding fault with the portrayal of Churchill, heartily recommend this film.

  • I’m looking forward to seeing it when it comes out on blueray Joe. I have always been a sucker for English historical films.

  • Don, this is a movie that’s meant to be seen on the big screen. Don’t wait, go see it in a theater. You will be glad you did. Guaranteed.

Of Tiger Moms and Ramen Noodles

Tuesday, March 1, AD 2011

I finally got around to reading Amy Chua’s stirring defense of the “Tiger Mom” approach to parenting.  For those unfamiliar with her parenting techniques, she sums it up for you:

Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

Chua proceeds to justify this approach both in this article and in her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. On the surface this strict approach seems to work.  Her children and a staggeringly high proportion of Chinese-American school children perform remarkably well in school.  Furthermore, her comments about western parents’ obsession with the self esteem of their children are not completely off the mark.

Let’s assume that this strict approach is the best way to ensure that a child achieves academic success (ignoring for the moment that I was permitted to do all of the things that her children were not and I still managed to earn a Ph. D).  Setting aside any reservations one has about this almost totalitarian style form of parenting, my question is: and then what? 

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9 Responses to Of Tiger Moms and Ramen Noodles

  • I just saw Chua on Charlie Rose tonight. She says there isn’t just one right way to raise a successful child. Rose probes her on the place of morals in her parenting. She doesn’t seem to be religious. Her husband is Jewish and she says he takes care of that. Actually, she said her husband is a Constitutional law professor so he takes care of that. Typical of American secularists, I guess her morals are derived from the Constitution.

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  • And if we have to share some Ramen Noodles along the way, so be it. It’s actually pretty tasty.

    Pack of ramen made with half-again extra water, a stick of celery chopped translucent-thin and added just before the noodles are done (or a handful of frozen veggie mix added when you add the noodles), crack an egg into it when the noodles are just about right, stir and serve– great dinner for two, costing less than a soda. If there’s any leftover meat you can flake into it, great!

  • After you’re done, add rice and you have another meal. You can even cook the rice using the left over ramen soup.

  • And yet there are scientists saying that if developing countries earn higher incomes over the next 40 years and eat higher on the food chain, they’ll use up the earth’s resources…so we should use more tax dollars to fund abortion now. They want to cull the population regardless of what they might eat.

    Thank you for the article.

  • I have heard from Asians themselves:

    They do very well in sciences/math because they are very hard working and will drill until they drop. But, when it comes to creative thinking, well, not so much. In other words, they make great technicians, but not necessarily great innovators. Anyway, that comes from some within the Asian culture, fwiw. Seems this tiger mom approach is right on track with that (and, after it’s said and done, good technicians are always in demand).

  • As is often the case with many controversies, the problem is lack of balance. Chua is probably right in thinking that children are more resilient than most American parents give them credit for, and will not necessarily wither or collapse when confronted with a serious demand or challenge. However, to insist on nothing less than total perfection assumes that every child is capable of reaching perfection — and as the mother of an autistic child, I know that is not the case.

    Not having read the book (only the media reports and responses) I don’t know if Chua addresses the fact that youth from high-achievement-oriented Asian cultures also have a very high suicide rate because they have been taught never to tolerate failure. Chua also has acknowledged that she backed off from the high pressure approach when her daughters reached adolescence and began to rebel.

    Finally, I believe a lot of the initial explosive response to this book was triggered by the headline the Wall Street Journal placed on it: “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” As anyone who has ever written for a newspaper or other publication knows, the author of an article normally has NO control over the headline and a copy editor with a slightly devious sense of humor or desire to attract attention, can slap a misleading headline or title on an article such as this. Chua herself never said that Chinese mothers were “superior” but millions of people assumed she did.

  • Amy Chua has a sister with Down Syndrome. She knows not everyone is capable of everything. I think parents know very well their children’s limits. I think the difference in attitude is between “good enough” and “I know you can do better.”

    I think depression is more commonly caused by social issues than academic failure. There is some causation. If you’re studying you aren’t socializing. You may even become a social outcast. Remember all the geeks with no friends? It’s tough to balance.

    As for Eastern education being more suitable for technical skills than Western education which develops more creative skills, there is something to that. Amy Chua’s defense is that you need to learn the basics first. You can’t learn basic math but through repetition. You need both rote learning and room for the mind to roam.

    It’d be nice if psychologists could tell us the exact ratios of what kind of activities children need.

  • I was one of those geeks with “no friends.” (at school)

    I had much less depression that most of the popular girls exactly because I had enough confidence in myself to be myself more fully than they would ever dare– this, in spite of depression running in my family.

    It’s not social issues, it’s stress beyond what someone can deal with. Age-group social stress is probably one of the more common sources of stress because that is what most teens focus on, since we box them in with folks whose main connection is being born the same year and limit the number of alternative options for socializing. (thank God for the internet)
    I would imagine in a more family oriented culture, family based stress– such as shame from failure– would result in depression.
    (Different views of suicide are probably a factor as well– IIRC, many Asian cultures view suicide as a way to remove dishonor, not as an escape tactic.)

The Academy Awards and Deception

Tuesday, March 1, AD 2011

I had hoped to be able to write a post discussing the merits of most of the movies up for “Best Picture” before this Sunday, but my 3 month old made going to a movie in theaters most difficult. While I saw Inception, Toy Story 3, The Social Network, and even Winter’s Bone, I didn’t think I could write something without seeing King’s Speech or True Grit, both of which I am very eager to see.

Nevertheless, I was amused to see that after Colin Firth won the award for Best Actor that facebook lit up with a few statuses from female friends that were very pleased that “Mr. Darcy” won. If you don’t know, Firth played Mr. Darcy in the epic BBC adaption of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. This ignorance would also require that you are a) male and b) have never been in a relationship with a female.

I thought this was interesting that people immediately associate Firth with his fictional character. I’ve one the same thing myself. For example, when in Saving Private Ryan the (spoiler alert I suppose) fake Saving Private Ryan is revealed, I exclaimed “oh wow! That’s Capt. Reynolds!” referring to Nathan Fillion’s role as Capt. Mal Reynolds in “Firefly.”

I bring this up because while all of us if pressed would acknowledge that Firth is not really Mr. Darcy and that Fillion is not really Capt. Reynolds, I think there is a level at which we truly believe that these people are the characters they play. This is a remarkable accomplishment. Even though we know that they’re not, even though we know the actors are trying to deceive us, we are in some sense deceived. We don’t act out against it; instead we celebrate the accomplishments. Those who fail to deceive us either through unconvincing performances or trite dialogue are regarded as terrible actors.

This is important because when acting was used as a counter-example in the Lila Rose undercover debate, I thought it was mischaracterized. Before you leave, don’t fear-this is not another Lila Rose debate post.

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20 Responses to The Academy Awards and Deception

  • I don’t buy it. Deception requires, at a minimum, deception, i.e., expressing a falsehood with the intent that it be understood as truth. Fictional stories aren’t intended to be understood as factually true. Lila Rose’s statements to PP were intended to be understood as factually true. It doesn’t help to say that it reveals an underlying truth. We aren’t consequentialists.

  • BTW, I think the best movie of the year was Inception but it’s not the kind of movie that wins best picture. King’s Speech was okay. I really think it won because Hollywood is a sucker for British accents. Seriously, how does the King’s Speech beat Inception for best original screenplay? True Grit was my second favorite movie of the year. Hailee Steinfeld should’ve won best supporting actress. I think the Academy just thought she was too young. I hear the book is even more full of religious dialog. It’s on my reading list. Social Network and Winter’s Bone were okay. I don’t understand the hype. The Fighter was mediocre but Christian Bale’s jaw-dropping performance makes it worth watching. Most of the nominees for best documentary were left-leaning trash as usual. Waiting for Superman didn’t even get nominated.

  • My point was not that fiction (or movies) are examples of deception but that in great literature (and opera and movies) the use of an effective disguise (a kind of deception) is often portrayed as virtuous and treated as virtuous by everyone who reflects on the work at hand, whether their name be Kreeft, Shea or Eden. If using an effective duisguise to ferret out the truth is “intrinsically evil” there would not be such a universally positive response to it when it is portrayed fictionally. It is the universality of that response that I find informative. It reveals a bit of what we know in our human hearts to be true (natural law).

    I do not offer this as my main proof, but as supporting evidence for the virtue of Lila Rose’s stings.

  • Yeah, the case for deception here is pretty weak. People might refer to Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy because they know that he played that role, but they don’t actually think that he *is* Mr. Darcy.

  • As an aside, if you want a coherent argument for why what Live Action did was sinful, it isn’t really hard to come by. The Catechism says that lying by its nature is to be condemned. It further defines a lie as speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving. What Live Action did meets this definition. Therefore it was sinful.

    I can understand how someone could find this argument unpersuasive. But incoherent? I don’t think so.

  • BA:

    The argument becomes incoherent when they try to distinguish what Liveaction did from what police do. Mark Shea argues that “it’s ok b/c it’s the government and they have that authority” which makes no sense at all.

    As far as Mr. Darcy, on a subconscious level I think they do. Furthermore, the historical inaccuracies are believed on a conscious level. So I think there is deception here.

    RR:

    You’ve assumed the conclusion. Liveaction arguably did not intend their statements to be factually true, as they planned to reveal their true identity at the conclusion of the sting. This to me is part of what distinguishes Liveaction, undercover videos, practical jokes (like Candid Camera), and acting: at the end, the truth is revealed and reality set forth. Why that matters is something I can’t philosophically elaborate on other than it would to me affect the intention. That is, the intention ultimately is not to mislead but to truthfully inform (this is also why I think the hiding the Nazis example is a different animal, b/c the intention there really is to lie and mislead the Nazis permanently).

  • The argument becomes incoherent when they try to distinguish what Liveaction did from what police do. Mark Shea argues that “it’s ok b/c it’s the government and they have that authority” which makes no sense at all.

    I haven’t followed what Shea has said on the subject, but it sounds like your problem is not with his argument that what Live Action did is sinful, but with an argument that what the police do isn’t.

    As far as Mr. Darcy, on a subconscious level I think they do.

    Not sure if I disagree with this, as I don’t entirely understand the claim. I’m pretty sure, though, that the Live Action folks were trying to deceive people on more than just a subconscious level.

    Furthermore, the historical inaccuracies are believed on a conscious level. So I think there is deception here.

    If a person were to intentionally make a work of fiction with the purpose of misleading viewers about various historical facts, then that would count as lying. You could make the case, for example, that some of the stuff in the Da Vinci Code falls into this category. To do that, though, there would have to be some specific claim made that the statements in the film were historically accurate. Otherwise, the general presumption is that statements made in a work of fiction are, well, fiction.

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  • My gut is that Tolkien’s approach is wiser in that actors, writers, and such who use “deception” are not truly deceiving, as their goal is not to mislead but to reveal to people a truth. Thus the intent of lying is not there (which is why I think Lila Rose is ok; her intent I think was to reveal to PP the truth of their actions, not to mislead people about her identity as an underage girl. I pass no judgment on whether it was a prudent approach).

    If there is “deception” in fiction, it is deception that the audience is in on, so it doesn’t really work as an analogy for understanding the deception of Live Action. As for intent, the Live Action actors did intend to mislead the employees of Planned Parenthood. That their misleading was a means to an end (revealing the ills of PP) doesn’t make the misleading any less intentional.

  • Kyle:

    Does consent to a evil make the evil not an evil? If the audience agrees to be deceived, they’re still being deceived. As I state in my post, the audience is still at some level being deceived, either subconsciously (believer the actor is actually the character) or consciously (believing that some things depicted actually occurred).

    As for applying this to Lilarose, is a temporary misleading the same as a regular misleading? I mean, when someone plays a prank like Candid Camera on a person, they do in fact intend to mislead someone-but only temporarily. At the end, the truth is revealed. That to me makes a difference, but I’d like some thoughts on it.

  • to Kyle

    It isn’t fiction per se in which we find the parallel. It is our reaction to a fictional character using a disguise that I am driving at. We accept it. we condone it, we even admire it. Any normal reader does.

    To Michael: it isn’t the reader who is deceived, it is the other characters in the story. And yes, I to have come to the conclusion that the intent to lead into error is what differentiates a lie from virtuous deception which has the intent to lead into truth (as in a sting operation).

  • Consent to an evil doesn’t make an evil not an evil, but I fail to see how the performances of actors (not including Keanu Reeves) in a movie could be called evil. They’re pretending to be someone they are not, but the audience knows that they are pretending (or at least should know). There’s no false knowledge being given because it’s understood that the performers are acting. Such audience understanding doesn’t exist in a sting operation, so the acting here is different.

    As for harmless deceptions such as pranks (some) or surprise parties, it is precisely the lack of harm that saves these deceptions from being considered evil. We begin to question a prank when it actually causes harm. If it’s harmless, then no one really worries about it. The question, then, is whether the deceptions of Live Action caused harm. Were they of the harmless sort, like a good prank, or did they bring about harmful consequences?

  • As for harmless deceptions such as pranks (some) or surprise parties, it is precisely the lack of harm that saves these deceptions from being considered evil.

    My understanding was that the Liveaction videos did harm b/c they made people more suspicious i.e. that people were less trusting after having been duped. That harm is just as present in pranks, as people are being duped as well. So any prank based on a deception is, as I understand the argument, harmful. But perhaps there is another harm you see?

  • To Michael

    In this instance you are no longer talking about “intrinsically evil.”

    Yours is a completely consequentialist approach, you ask not about the wrongness of the action itself but only try to weigh the effects, counting up the pros and cons.

    tom in ohio

  • Yours is a completely consequentialist approach, you ask not about the wrongness of the action itself but only try to weigh the effects, counting up the pros and cons.

    No. The Catechism is clear. Lying as a sin requires intent to mislead. I am questioning whether one has the intent to mislead if that intent is only to mislead for a period of time and if that intent is affected by the ultimate intent (ie either to have humor and fun in a practical joke or to reveal a greater truth as is used by Liveaction, undercover stings, and artists). This is why I am purposely not using the “hiding Jews” example as I think that is more clearly an example of lying than what I wish to discuss. I am open to being shown to be wrong, but i am trying to comprehend exactly how stringent this requirement is and what affects that should have on Catholic life.

  • Michael,
    I agree with you in that a temporary deception is not the same as a permanent deception. At the very least, the object of the act is not the same as the object of a lie. Hence, it is a mistake to simply assume that temporary deceptions are intrinsically evil “lies”.

  • One can distinguish pranks from Lila-Rose-type deception. A prank really intends no harm. Lila Rose intends to harm (PP and the employee being taped) in order to help the pro-life cause. It’d be different if Lila Rose worked for PP and was taping employees in order to educate them on what not to do.

  • Argh. I shouldn’t have mentioned LilaRose at all. The point of my post (i.e the necessary deceptions in art) has been lost. Alas.

    A prank really intends no harm.

    Not if you take the position that all deception leads to mistrust and therefore damages relationships, which is precisely the position taken by Shea & Co. Otherwise, what is the harm Lila Rose is doing to PP? Encouraging people to not fund PP’s support of sexual abuse of minors is not a harm, even if PP doesn’t like it.

    Furthermore, to an extent Lila Rose is trying to educate them on what not do, though from a different vantage than one who worked for PP. In that sense what Lila Rose is precisely the tactic undertaken by the prophet on 2 Samuel 12:1-12 in order to mislead David into realizing his sinful nature.

  • A prank that damages relationships has crossed the line, no?

  • Of course if one of the parties in the relationship is engaged in killing relationships, does it matter? I throw this out just to be ornery.

Tolstoy’s Theory of History

Tuesday, March 1, AD 2011

I’ve been really enjoying listening to the unabridged War and Peace (I’m listening to a reading by Neville Jason) as a commuting book. It’s episodic enough to be good when listened to in half hour increments, and it’s good enough to be a pleasure to hear while not so stylistic in its prose as to be make one feel as if one ought to be reading it rather than listening. However, this morning I hit one of Tolstoy’s chapter long theory-of-history sections, and was startled at how little sense it made. This is a chunk of Book 9, Chapter 1:

From the close of the year 1811 intensified arming and concentrating of the forces of Western Europe began, and in 1812 these forces—millions of men, reckoning those transporting and feeding the army—moved from the west eastwards to the Russian frontier, toward which since 1811 Russian forces had been similarly drawn. On the twelfth of June, 1812, the forces of Western Europe crossed the Russian frontier and war began, that is, an event took place opposed to human reason and to human nature. Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries, thefts, forgeries, issues of false money, burglaries, incendiarisms, and murders as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them did not at the time regard as being crimes.

What produced this extraordinary occurrence? What were its causes? The historians tell us with naive assurance that its causes were the wrongs inflicted on the Duke of Oldenburg, the nonobservance of the Continental System, the ambition of Napoleon, the firmness of Alexander, the mistakes of the diplomatists, and so on.

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11 Responses to Tolstoy’s Theory of History

  • I concur, DC… wait until you get to the second epilogue… he elaborates at length on his theory of history, and it’s similarly curious.

  • Heh. I mostly remember the “diaper epilogue” as we called it when we speed read it in college. I don’t remember the other as much, possibly because I skimmed it pretty shamelessly in order to hit a deadline. At this rate, I should be there in another month or so.

  • Tolstoy proves he’s a novelist.

    Here’s one historian’s “take”: “History . . . little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.” Gibbon.

    Tragically, no “great leader” has learned its (history’s) lessons.

    Hard experience is a merciless teacher, but the fool will have no other.

  • What bothers me is that while Napoleon certainly had greater moral culpability, everyone who goes along with an unjust war while knowing its an unjust war is, in my understanding of Catholic teaching, also morally culpable. So while Tolstoy might be wrong in equating the two, the soldiers who followed the unjust orders are also wrong. So the decision by the bulk of his army to go along with Napoleon is relevant and is a cause of the war, even if not the main cause.

  • “The actions of Napoleon and Alexander, on whose words the event seemed to hang, were as little voluntary as the actions of any soldier who was drawn into the campaign by lot or by conscription.”

    To paraphrase Orwell, only an intellectual could write something that silly. Tolstoy was a great novelist, but one of the problems with reading him is that one constantly encounters his crack brained nostrums about every topic under the sun. In fact, Napoleon was basically a free agent in regard to foreign policy and the disastrous invasion of Russia was his baby from start to finish. Alexander, imagine a Russian Prince Charles, was autocrat of all the Russias in deed as well as in theory, and he had a free hand in foreign policy likewise.

  • I actually agree with Tolstoy here, really, I do. 😉

    Tolstoy’s position, I take it, is that history–and especially history on a grand scale, princes and potentates, etc.–gives us a picture of the essential irrationality, absurdity, and incomprehensibility of human activity. There can be no “explanation” for this history because, essentially, it’s all bad–much as there can be no “explanation” for evil. This is a particularly dark account of history (and of politics), and it’s not one that Christians have to agree with, of course. But it’s not essentially different from that found in Augustine’s in De Civitate Dei in his account of the history of the earthly city; and in Tolstoy’s “fatalism” we can detect a quasi-secularized version of Augustine’s Divine Will. For Augustine, it is quite certain that history is incomprehensible from any point within history itself; it only becomes intelligible once we have escaped it.

    There are problems with this account, I grant. But I don’t think it’s as foolish or simple a position as a cursory reading might suggest.

  • “only becomes intelligible once we have escaped it.”

    That is God’s prerogative not ours, which was rather the point of Saint Augustine, always bearing in mind that he was a mere mortal, albeit a brilliant one and illumined by faith, attempting to ferret out what God intends in human history. I rather doubt that it is ours to discern His plan, although Saint Augustine’s City of God deserves an A for effort, if not historical accuracy, which of course was not a concern of Saint Augustine.

  • “That is God’s prerogative”–Well, of course that’s true, but it’s also the prerogative of the elect, who after Christ’s Second Coming will no longer exist *in* history and so will be able to understand it for the first time.

    “historical accuracy, which of course was not a concern of Saint Augustine”. This begs the question in favor of one understanding of what constitutes “accuracy.” Suppose that historical accuracy depends upon one’s seeing all human events in light of the Incarnation and Second Coming. Then Augustine’s accuracy is perhaps unparalleled. I suspect that your notion of “historical accuracy” is informed by an inchoate commitment to some kind of positivism.

  • I’ll admit, it’s been a decade since I read City of God, and when I did it was on a college course deadline so I was reading way too fast, but my recollection is that St. Augustine is talking about it being unclear to us what the direction of history is in the sense of it’s purpose, why it’s happening in a final cause sense. We don’t know if the Roman Empire will last another three hundred years because we don’t know what purpose the Roman Empire has in the drama of salvation.

    What Tolstoy seems to be saying, by comparison, is that at the level of actual occurrence, history is without clear cause, and that someone like Napoleon had no choice as to whether or not to invade Russia, was not really the maker of that decision, because he was being swept along by a tide of history — no more or less the author of the invasion than a single sergeant who chose to enlist for another term in the Grande Armee rather than retiring.

  • “I suspect that your notion of “historical accuracy” is informed by an inchoate commitment to some kind of positivism.”

    Only if positivism is defined in regard to history as fidelity as close as possible to a rendition of what actually occurred in history as opposed to what we wish had occurred. Saint Augustine was writing a work of theology and was using the history of the Roman Empire for polemical purposes. Some of his positions from a historical standpoint are simply risible, including his contention that the military defeats suffered by the Republic were greater than the defeats suffered by the dying Empire he was living in, part of his response to pagans claiming that Christianity was causing the decline of the Empire. As I have said however, fidelity to the actual historical record was not a concern of Saint Augustine.

    It is of course impossible for humans to step outside of history this side of the grave. The fact that we know that at the end of time awaits the Final Judgment tells us quite a bit about how we should live our lives, but tells us next to nothing as to how to seek an accurate record of the events that took place before us.

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