Digitial warfare: Drones and lethal autonomy…

Friday, September 23, AD 2011

The image that war oftentimes conjures up is a bloody one.  It also is an image that is said to permanently change a person who has witnessed its horrors.

But, the age of digital warfare has arrived and the image of war increasingly is becoming a much more impersonal image as “drones” and “lethal autonomy” become normative.

Drones are undoubtedly changing the face of war.  They lessen the need for “boots on the ground.”  They take war directly to the enemy.  They reduce collateral damage.  And, they also may be legal under international law because they arguably are a form of self-defense.


It sounds good…almost too good.

Almost silent and invisible, predators in the sky offer the promise of ridding the world of the lawless who would like to inject chaos into it.  Intelligence officials in Langely, VA, can pinpoint an enemy and armed services personnel located thousands of miles away from the battlefield can then direct joy sticks and press buttons that obliterate the “target,” filming the sortie for later analysis.

The Washington Post has also reported new robotic technologies that may very well transform the image of war.  For example, “autonomous robotics” may one day allow drones to search for human targets and then make identifications based upon facial-recognition  or other software.  Once a match is confirmed, a drone could launch a missile to kill the target.  It’s called “lethal autonomy.”


Even if international law sanctions lethal autonomy, is its use moral and ethical?

Yes, lethal autonomy takes war directly to the enemy.  Yes, it lessens the need for standing armies and assists in keeping troops out of harm’s way.  Yes, it can be effective in ridding the world of heinous criminals.

According to the Washington Post article:

In the future, micro-drones will reconnoiter tunnels and buildings, robotic mules will haul equipment and mobile systems will retrieve the wounded while under fire. Technology will save lives.

However, the most troubling aspect of lethal autonomy is that it also has the potential to remove human beings and personal responsibility from the decision-making calculus.  Even if the tools of lethal autonomy were directly linked to their human operators, these machines process so much more data than human beings can process at any given moment in time that it may be near to impossible for armed forces personnel to manage more than one drone and autonomous robot at one time.  Then, too, as an enemy become increasingly sophisticated about how to do battle with drones and autonomous robots, there is no doubt that the amount of time available to make decisions will be reduced and the new technologies will have to be allowed to operate on their own.

The author of Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots, Ronald C. Arkin, told the Washington Post that ethical military drones and robots—capable of using deadly force while programmed to adhere to international humanitarian law and the rules of engagement—can be built.   Software would instruct them machines to return fire with proportionality, to minimize collateral damage, to recognize surrender, and, in the case of uncertainty, to maneuver to reassess or wait for humans to assess the situation.  In other words, Arkin believes that the rules of warfare that humans understand can be converted into mathematical algorithms for machines to follow on the battlefield.

Who’s to know with certitude?

What is for sure is that making determinations about the legal, moral, and ethical, and legal implications of digital warfare, in general, and this technology, in particular, require a careful and sober assessment.



To read the Washington Post article, click on the following link:

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15 Responses to Digitial warfare: Drones and lethal autonomy…

  • And, they also may be legal under international law because they arguably are a form of self-defense

    It’s not so much the technology itself that causes me the greatest concern, as it is the initial decision making on the human level as to what constitutes “self-defense” or “national interest”, etc. The danger this technology poses is as you pointed out – it makes war less personal in a sense, a little more than a video game, to the ones inflicting the damage. I fear it will make the decision that “self-defense” or “national interests” are at stake a little too easy. If none (or very few) of our own troops will be at risk, how much easier will it be to pull the trigger? The US’s record with respect to limiting engagements to truly justifiable “national interests” is not a very good one.

  • When I was in ROTC I was advised that the American people cherished human life, and that was why if something dangerous had to be accomplished they preferred to send a machine—–or a ROTC graduate! This trend can be debated ad nauseum, but the technology is here and it will be used, both by us and our adversaries. The American people are not going to tolerate sending troops in harm’s way when it becomes obvious that instead of risking a group of Rangers, for example, or a manned aircraft, on a strike behind enemy lines, we can send a drone. War has been technology driven for centuries, and I see no way to reverse that. As to whether that technology is used responsibly, as always the people determine that at the ballot box. The technology is merely a tool. Whether it is put to good or bad use is up to us. Part of me though agrees with this dialogue from the movie Patton:

    “Correspondent: General, we’re told of wonder weapons the Germans were working on: Long-range rockets, push-button bombing weapons that don’t need soldiers. What’s your take on that?
    Patton: Wonder weapons? My God, I don’t see the wonder in them. Killing without heroics. Nothing is glorified, nothing is reaffirmed. No heroes, no cowards, no troops. No generals. Only those that are left alive and those that are left… dead.”

  • ‘Patton: Wonder weapons? My God, I don’t see the wonder in them. Killing without heroics. Nothing is glorified, nothing is reaffirmed. No heroes, no cowards, no troops. No generals. Only those that are left alive and those that are left… dead.” ‘

    I would love to hear what General Patton would say today, 9/23/2011 about the wonder of a space program which can operate satellites until these are left to become space ‘junk’ and which cannot demonstrate much precision to prevent potential victims on earth when these crash out of orbit. (They venture – odds …?)

    Or, what he would say about such planning, as evidenced by today’s watch, for these drones when obsolescence occurs, or controls are usurped by – ?.

    Our education system(s) will have produce more than general disciplines.

    Probably, the same observation. His words are timeless.

  • When I went on Active Duty the Sergeants in my platoon pulled me a side to explained Real Tactics. “Never send a man to do a bullets job, bullets don’t have families”. As Don noted the technology is here, it is no longer an option. But UAV’s and Robots don’t have familes, and unlike bullets they can be programmed to have more discretion that bullets fired fto see if the enmy responds.


    The article seems to miss some key points, which are often missed.

    The Law of Weapons or aka the Just War doctine of proportionality is simple.

    If you hae a military necessity that requires you to engage an otherwise legal target, you use the weapon actually availabel to you that causes the least human suffering.. Except you can’t use weapon that is proscribed by treaty even if it would cause the least human suffering. (note 1 This is a difference between Int Law and the Church teaching on the subject. NOTE 2 The US Armed Forces do not issu prescribe weapns). As often happens when you here some one in the news yelling about propotionalty and they are not comparing at least two other wise leagel things, they don’t know what they talking about, or if the do . . .

    The correct answer to the point you bring up ensuring that everyone involved iets the and education and training know the law, is committed to it, and follows it. Technology is changing to fast to control by maintaining prescribed lists.

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

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  • Yeah! They told me if I voted for McCain, America would assassinate people all over the Muslim world.

    No jury trial. No 30 years of appeals. No last meal. [gently sobbing]

    ROE: Does the subject need to shoot first at the drone? Does he at least need to be armed?

    PS: This entire, ten year $ half-trillion global war on terror could have been won in 2 nanoseconds. Nuke ’em. Then, they will know we are serious.

  • T. Shaw,

    Your post contained perhaps one of the most un-Christian attitudes towards warfare I have ever read.

  • Don’t take TShaw too serious Tommy, he simply likes to vent sometimes. That is why we have him on permanent moderation, right TShaw? You can imagine Tommy the type of sentiments he expresses that do not get through moderation! On the other hand, sometimes TShaw can give valuable contributions as here:


  • There is no means to gently kill or honorably destroy.

    War is “all hell.” Sherman.

    Once they decide for war: win it quickly with least cost in friendly lives (von Clauswitz?).

    Are there other categories besides mortal war and venial war in your just war theology?

    Tommy, are you going to vote for Obama again?

    Such a vote would be another most un-Christian act. And, thanks for helping to ruin the economy.

  • Baseless assumptions, leaps in logic, emotionalistic arguing … where do I start?

    First of all, I don’t support Obama; I did not vote for him in 2008, and I will not do so next year.

    Furthermore, you’re “Nuke ’em” policy is against the doctrine of the Church, who teaches that “(e)very act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.” (Lumen Gentium 80.3, quoted in CCC 2314)

    Furthermore, simply because war demands distateful acts does absolve the soldier or the leader from the moral law. In short, the soldier only has a right to harm his enemy if his enemy can and will harm another; once the enemy cannot harm others (if, say, he is captured or so), the soldier loses the right of violence. It’s why we don’t execute POWs, as well as the other precepts of ius in bellum. It is one thing to shoot an enemy in active combat, it is another to shoot a helpless prisoner.

  • Good for you, Tommy!

    You need to realize that we are defending ourselves against the same aggressors as Christendom has for almost 14 centuries. FYI. The first war that the United States of America had to fight was against these filthy pagans’ ancestors.

    For Pete’s, sake calm down.

    Who said anything about shooting POW’s?

    Jihadis don’t wear uniforms. Jihadis don’t conduct moral combat operations. Jihadis are not enrolled a national army that is signatory to the Geneva Conventions (which one?) and is at war with us. Ergo, jihadis have no recourse to the rules of war.

    Lumen Gentium does not recognize the fact that there are whole cities and vast regions inhabited by aggressive, expansive evil, i.e., muhammadanism.

  • The more automated the better. During hurricane Irene, most people missed the news that we had killed Al Qaeda’s second most important leader by drone within Pakistan. The intelligence that preceded that kill and that followed it was painstaking partly to void unnecessary collateral kills. After it they collected further intelligence and license plates at his funeral by drone camera.
    Frankly it was safer than the possibility of killing innocents in urban human combat wherein a .50 caliber can travel very far past the enemy and hit a child on a distant street. With drone kills, you are shooting down very often at a car on a long desert road. “Down” is key….no continued flight of the missile. That’s safer than you defending your house against home invaders with a .357 magnum that misses the criminal and heads toward your neighbor’s windows….(shotguns with special self defense loads kill better in house and exponentially fade quickly with distance….(killing is necessary to stop their trigger finger). Being under veiled threat by a criminal I fought last year (NY harbor), I sleep near a tactical shotgun with our bedroom very impregnable. It would be chaos if it happens at night. The drone world is much cleaner. God is good….I’m cool during violence. Each cross fits. Drones are good. With Pakistan’s army living side by side the Harqquani network in North Waziristan, drones will increasingly be used there by us. Diplomatic kills.

  • >Lumen Gentium does not recognize the fact that there are whole cities and vast regions
    >inhabited by aggressive, expansive evil, i.e., muhammadanism.
    Um, no. Not every single inhabitant of a Muslim city is an active combatant. Can babies be considered active participants in jihadism? What about the mentally ill? Not to metnion the non-Muslims who might be living in those cities (such as the Christians in Arab cities, to cite one example.)

    Also, the Church has recognized the expansion of Islam and, while Islam wasn’t on the forefront of the public mind in the 1960s the way it is today, the bishops of Vatican II still recognized an “aggressive expansive evil” – Communism. And yet they still condemned the intentional destruction of entire centers of population. Do you think the Holy Spirit let them go astray? Matthew 16:18 says otherwise.

    Remember, God was willing to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if he could find but 10 righteous people in them. Given that your average city – even a majority-Mulim one – can count having more than that number of non-jihadists – you’re being less merciful than Him.

  • ThomasAquinas,
    Very good piece. One tiny correction: God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and there probably were children somewhere in those two cities…..if Lot were the only heterosexual in a whole city, I think he would have moved just from estrangement. We are thus not to follow even His example because as in the case of the dooms of the tribes of Canaan, He can include children and we cannot intentionally do so. He can include children because in Ezekiel He says,
    ” All souls are mine” and prior to sanctifying grace and prior even to the Law, God was inclined to take the children of bad adults with them perhaps so that they would avoid growing up evil and influencing Israel to do the same. Thus when God kills Dathan and Abiram who rebelled against Moses, God kills the children also…perhaps to save them for heaven:

    Num 16:27 So they got away from about the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abi’ram; and Dathan and Abi’ram came out and stood at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones.

    Num 16:33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.

    Keep in mind that prior to grace also, God had to use great demonstrations of Power just to get Israel to pay attention to Him…and still they recurringly kept betraying Him. His power then especially as used prior to the Law and during it’s beginning which included the killing of children…..is not to be imitated by man though one group at that time…the Jews…were supposed to do it as His arm. In fact Saul is removed from the kingship because he did not kill all the Amalekites nor their king who then was killed by the prophet Samuel who “hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.”

  • From Fox news…45 minutes ago…drone success against terrorism:

    “Senior Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki and another America-born militant were killed in Yemen early Friday morning by a CIA-led U.S. drone strike, marking the highest-profile takedown of terror leaders since the raid on Usama bin Laden’s compound.”

Catholics in the American Revolution

Friday, September 23, AD 2011

Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.

Pope Leo XIII

American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented.  Among the Catholics who assumed leadership roles in the fight for our liberty were:

General Stephen Moylan  a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster Master-General of the Continental Army.

Captains Joshua Barney and John Barry,  two of the most successful naval commanders in the American Revolution.

Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.

Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of Illinois, whose aid was instrumental in the conquest of the Northwest for America by George Rogers Clark.

Thomas Fitzsimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign.  Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy.  After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787

Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.

Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War.

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7 Responses to Catholics in the American Revolution

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  • Thanks for this report. Any thoughts on the Catholic contribution to the British side? I imagine many Irish soldiers, some Scots, etc. Please share your insights.

  • There were of course quite a few Irish Catholics among the British regulars, probably about 25%, Ireland being a chief recruiting ground for the Royal Army. The French Canadians were almost all on the side of the British Crown during the War, the Quebec Act having granted them a measure of self-government, to the ire of many anti-Catholic Americans. Some Catholic Americans did fight for the crown, but their numbers were quite small, probably in the hundreds. One group was organized in New York calling themselves the Roman Catholic Volunteers. They were eventually disbanded by the British, proving themselves only proficient in plundering and militarily useless. On the other hand the Irish Volunteers, mostly Catholics, were a very good unit that after the War was taken into the Royal Army as a regular unit, the 105th Regiment of Foot.

  • You mentioned Pulaski but not Kosciuszko, who engineering skill ensured the American victory at Saratoga, which led to official French recognition. Pulaski was arguably the father of American cavalry, despite lukewarm support from Washington. As far as Moylan is concerned, he butted heads with Pulaski on several occasions and conspired to undermine Pulaski’s authority, which led to Pulaski resigning to organize his Legion…there is no evidence that Moylan had any battlefield skill…and much to suggest was felt more comfortable with his flask.

  • Pulaski was a brave and talented cavalry commander who had a quarrelsome disposition which undercut his effectiveness. You libel Moylan who was an effective cavalry commander getting valuable information to Washington about the British forces prior to the Battle of Monmouth. Kosciuszko was a good engineer, as he proved throughout the War, but I think you overstate his role in the Saratoga campaign. Morgan and Arnold, along with hordes of enraged American militia were much more important in that victory. I would have mentioned him if I had intended the list to be a comprehensive one, which was not my intent.

  • If anti-Catholicism had not been so prevalent in the Colonies, I suspect Quebec may have entered the war on the American side. When approached by the Americans, Quebec flatly rejected them – not because of love for Great Britain, but because of the Americans’ attitude towards the Catholic Church….yet another episode in history where being anti-Catholic is just plain stupid.

    The French soldiers, sailors and officers were certainly almost 100% Catholic. Let us not overlook the contributions of Spain. Then-Catholic Spain did fight in the War for Independence on the side of the United States. The Spanish Navy wreaked havoc on Great Britain in the Caribbean Sea and the Spaniards kicked the British Navy out of the Mississippi Valley.

    While the numbers of American Catholics in the War for Independence were understandably small, the Catholic contribution from France and Spain played no small part in the defeat of Great Britain. Under the Treaty of Paris, Spain got Florida back from England (later ceded by Madrid to the US in 1821).

    As we know, things did not end well for the Catholic monarchies in France and Spain. France was drained financially after the war and it was only six years after the Treaty of Paris that the Reign of Terror began.

    Spain was invaded by Bonaparte in the first decade of the 19th century and Great Britain, of all nations, fought to liberate Spain. Spain lost almost its entire empire less than 25 years after the Treaty of Paris. Eventually, most of Spain’s landholdings in North America ended up as the American West, which was evangelized by Catholic missionaries long before there was anyone who spoke English settled in the present day US.

  • Yes, Pulaski was quarrelsome…frustrated I suspect by the language barrier and the American distrust of foreign officers, but his problems with Moylan were fundamentally driven by the American lack of understanding of the role and potential of cavalry. Gathering intelligence was an important role and Moylan may have done well in that role, but he was not a battlefield commander. With with rare exceptions, Light Horse Harry Lee being the most prominent, American cavalry played no significant battlefield role in the major battles of the revolution…Tarleton showed what impact a couple of hundred well trained cavalry could have when he scattered the Virginia legislature and almost captured Thomas Jefferson.

    Koscuiszko’s fortifications at Bemis Heights, selected by both he and Arnold, forced the British to try and outflank them, requiring them to fight in wooded terrain giving Morgan’s men and the militia an advantage they would not have enjoyed if the British could just push up the road along the Hudson.

A Few Topical Thoughts on Capital Punishment

Thursday, September 22, AD 2011

Sometimes I get the feeling I haven’t caused enough controversy lately, so here it goes…

1) It strikes me that in many ways the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia underscores a lot of the points that opponents of capital punishment which make cause even supporters to feel a bit uncomfortable: The execution occurred 20 years after the trail, and only after numerous appeals that cost the state more than life in prison would have. Several witnesses recanted their testimony after the fact and alleged police coercion (though other witnesses continued to maintain they had seen him commit the crime). Claims were made about poor defense representation. Claims were made about the race composition of the jury being an issue (though I’m unclear how this works, and Davis is black and the majority of the jury was as well.) Etc. All of this does not necessarily serve to clear Davis, but it is the sort of thing that could make many people wonder if it would be easier all around to simply lock such cases up and not deal with trying to use the death penalty.

2) On the other hand, the execution on the same day of Lawrence Brewer in Texas underscores why most Americans support capital punishment in at least some situations. There was absolutely no question as to Brewer’s guilt in the sadistic and racist murder of James Byrd, Jr., and the day before Brewer’s execution he told a reporter, “As far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets. No, I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth.” For all the claims that society can be kept safe from such people without the use of capital punishment, most people, I think, naturally feel both that someone like Brewer (who had been in prison and released twice before he participated in Byrd’s murder) needs to be executed for the safety of society and also that there is a two mile stretch of bloody highway which “cries out to heaven” for justice.

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44 Responses to A Few Topical Thoughts on Capital Punishment

  • I don’t buy the deterrence argument. Is life in prison not enough of a deterrent? I don’t buy the safety argument. Life without parole keeps society plenty safe. But I do buy the retributive justice argument. Justice for the murder of James Byrd can be satisfied by nothing short of the life of Lawrence Brewer.

    I think the most compelling case against capital punishment is that it isn’t foolproof. On rare occasion, innocent people will die no matter how careful you are. That’s a very powerful argument.

  • “Life without parole keeps society plenty safe.”

    Except for guards, fellow prisoners, lifers who order hits on those outside from prison, hostage situations, etc. True life without parole in a supermax facility is the most likely combination to keep murderers from murdering again. Ironically both of these have come under attack as “human rights abuses” by many of the same people who oppose the death penalty.

    The death penalty has never been a hot button issue for me, unlike abortion. Ban it, have it, use it, don’t use it, it matters little to me as a matter of public policy. I find the arguments of most death penalty opponents fairly weak, except the argument of an innocent dying under the death penalty. Of course the same could be said about an innocent being sentenced to prison. Death penalty cases at least receive high scrutiny, while appeals of sentences involving lengthy prison sentences receive much less.

    However, on a pure emotional level, I can understand why people support the death penalty. I have known two murder victims in my life: a three year old boy and a five year old girl. They were shot to death by their father. He dumped their bodies in a river and would not reveal their location or whether they were alive or dead after he was captured following a nationwide manhunt. Their mother, my client, lived an unbelievable agony for a week until a fisherman found the little boy’s body. After the river was searched, the little girl’s body was found the next day. I always regret that he committed that atrocity in a state which did not have the death penalty, and is still alive while his children have been in the grave now for almost 9 years. Yes, I can understand why for some crimes nothing but the death penalty will do.

  • I have always thought that deterrance (and rehabilitation, for that matter) is a somewhat dangerous idea to use around any punishment, not solely death penalty arguments. I am influenced by C.S. Lewis, among others, on the idea that the type and extent of punishment should be determined solely by one one has done, rather than whether the punishment one receives serves to deter other’s from engaging in similar crime.

    Lewis noted in “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”, that:

    “It is maintained that the only legitimate motives for punishing are the desire to deter others by example or to mend the criminal. When this theory is combined, as frequently happens, with the belief that all crime is more or less pathological, the idea of mending tails off into that of healing or curing and punishment becomes therapeutic.”

    And added:

    “…[T]the concept of Desert is the only connecting link between punishment and justice. It is only as deserved or undeserved that a sentence can be just or unjust. I do not here contend that the question ‘Is it deserved?’ is the only one we can reasonably ask about a punishment. We may very properly ask whether it is likely to deter others and to reform the criminal. But neither of these two last questions is a question about justice. There is no sense in talking about a ‘just deterrent’ or a ‘just cure’. We demand of a deterrent not whether it is just but whether it will deter. We demand of a cure not whether it is just but whether it succeeds. Thus when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a ‘case’.”

  • I also remain somewhat on the fence on this issue, and, like Don, it’s not one where I care very passionately about either way. More often than not I find myself agreeing with supporters, particularly when it comes to its constitutionality.

    Your first point is one of the more compelling reasons against, though I have a slightly different take. The death penalty would be more just if applied even more frequently. There are some 50 executions per year in the US, a paltry sum when one considers the number of murders. The number of executions that have been carried out since it was re-instituted in the early 80s is barely more than the number of murders in some major cities per year. The haphazard way in which it is applied makes it an arbitrary punishment meted out on the people who weren’t able to string out the system.

  • One thing C. S. Lewis said of Captial Punishment: nothing better focuses the person onto death so that they can prepare for it if they wish.

  • Jonathan,

    I don’t think it would make any sense to support a punishment for its deterrent value if it weren’t already proportional. However, given proportion it seems to me that the deterrence factor would be one of the ways a society protects the common good through dispensing just punishments for crimes.

    RR, I would tend to think capital punishment has a more visceral deterrent effect than life without parole.

    Don, Agreed.

    Paul, Very much agreed.

  • A more traditional take on capital punishment. Not that it hasn’t been reformed by the Catechism. But it does provide a deep insight to the pre-Catechism view. And by someone that holds that all lying is sinful. 😉


  • I think we could live just fine without the death penalty, but IF it’s going to be used, it should be reserved ONLY for cases in which there is absolutely no doubt that a murder took place and there is no doubt that the defendant did it — the only question is what was the accused’s mental state at the time.

    There seem to be plenty of cases in which no one, not even the defense attorney or the defendant himself, tries to argue that he didn’t do it, or that it was an accident. The only argument they offer is that he was temporarily insane or whatever. In those cases, the death penalty could justly be on the table IMO. But if there is ANY chance at all that someone else did it or that the death was not really a homicide, the death penalty should be off the table. Period.

  • The banned Catholic Anarchist made a futile attempt to leave acidic comments on this thread, the latest in a long line of such attempts to get around his banning. Sheesh, Iafrate, get a life! Do we have to take out an anti-stalking order against you?

  • Well, DC, as you might have suspected from my liberal politics, I found the killing of Troy Davis repugnant.

    A few things. First, I oppose capital punishment, so I oppose execution by the state either way, but the case was muddled with doubts — there was no forensic evidence and the whole case against him was eye-witness testimony based, with seven out of nine swearing they did not tell the truth during the trial, or are giving conflicting statements now, and so on and so forth. We don’t need to re-open that whole argument.

    I try dearly to steer clear of claims of racism. I generally find them highly unproductive. I am not even sure if this is a case of racism, but in 2008, the Georgia Parole Board of Pardons commuted the sentence of Samuel David Crowe to life in prison without parole, less than three hours before he was to be executed.

    This is wonderful, because I abhor unnecessary violence. On another level, it is most interesting. Crowe was convicted for armed robbery and murder, having shot someone three times with a pistol, and beat that person with a crowbar and a pot of paint. He plead guilty. This was a case where there was no doubt.

    The Parole Board gave no reason for granting clemency, though media reports state that Crowe’s lawyer argued that he had profound remorse, a record of good behavior in jail, and was “suffering from withdrawal symptoms from a cocaine addiction at the time of the crime.”

    Why clemency in one case, and not the other? It seems a mystery to me because I’d like to not simply assume the worse.

    Second, I opposed the killing of Brewer, and was given hope by Byrd’s son publicly opposing his execution.

    Third, this is true and there too are those who oppose both, at least consistently.

  • One thing I would note is that Texas did not have life without parole as a sentencing option until 2005, so if a jury wanted to ensure there was no chance a guy got out of jail and committed more crimes, the only way to do this was via a death sentence. Since 2005 the number of death sentences handed down in Texas has dropped 40% (though this isn’t apparent in the number of executions yet because of the lag time between when a person is sentenced to death and when the sentence is actually carried out).

  • The death penalty would be more just if applied even more frequently. There are some 50 executions per year in the US, a paltry sum when one considers the number of murders.

    Yes, but instances of homicide with multiple victims are far less frequent than instances of homicide per se. IIRC, instances with two victims average about 500 per year and instances with three or more average about 100 per year.

  • Ergo, the death penalty is morally equivalent to abortion.

    These people employ prudential judgments over capital punishment to contort consciences and justify voting for the radical abortion extremists so long as said pre-born baby mass murderers consistently recite their personal concepts of social justice.

    I blame this phenomenon for the one big a$$ed mistake America that is running America into a ditch.

  • Davis got to live 22 years after he killed the cop, became another poster boy/cause celebre for the libs and bleeding hearts. Can’t believe the Pope bought into his innocence and weighed in on the side of clemency. What does he know about the case? When guilt in a homicide is found by a jury to be beyond a reasonable doubt and all appeals have been exhausted, then the law and justice must prevail. There’s an infamous case in California where $22 million was spent trying a murderer who keeps filing paperwork to stay his execution. How much has it cost the state to keep Charles Manson alive when he should have been worm food years ago? On the other hand, the cost of a bullet or a piece of rope is not only a lot cheaper but expeditious and saves everyone the trouble of wringing their hands.

    And if I hear one more “insanity defense” like the Tucson shooter, I think I’ll lose it. If ever there was a justification for drawing and quartering that’s it. All you need is a couple of horses and some rope. Better yet, show it on TV.

    It boils down to one thing and one thing only: punish the guilty and spare the innocent. But many today have just the opposite view: kill innocent babies in the womb and let the murderers live.

    We live in a sick world and, as someone once said, there is no justice in or out of court.

  • Judge William T. Moore who ruled on the Davis habeas corpus petition last year, and who was affirmed by the US Supreme Court, wrote an exhaustive 174 page opinion in which he characterized the alleged new evidence that Davis was innocent to be largely smoke and mirrors, the judge’s phrase, and that Davis simply was not innocent of the murder. Read the opinion here:


  • Thanks for posting that, Don.

    I suspect that one of the things which causes so much doubt about these cases, in regards to guilt, in the mind of the casually sympathetic public is that the anti-capital punishment advocacy groups put massive amounts of time and resources into confusing each of the very small number of cases put up for the death penalty each year. While it’s certainly possible that at times all of the machinery of justice goes astray and an innocent man is executed, I suspect it’s far more frequent that those who are against the death penalty regardless of guilt manage to convince casual observers that someone is likely innocent when he is in fact not. (After all, it’s not really in their interest to take a balanced view of the evidence the way it is for a court — they are only looking for exculpatory evidence, regardless of whether or not it’s true.)

    The especially unfortunate side effect of this is that this creates in the mind of the public the idea that the justice system in general is constantly convicting innocent people.

  • Well, as a factual matter, Davis was certainly guilty. He fled the area after killing Officer McPhail, and bullet fragments from a shooting the prior evening that Davis certainly did, matched bullet fragment from the McPhail shooting. Of course, there were scads of eyewitnesses who fingered Davis as the shooter, and the supposed “recanters” don’t say Davis did NOT shoot McPhail, they now claim they can’t be sure who the shooter was. Two eyewitness still steadfastly maintain that Davis was the killer.

    As I point out on my blog, the irony of the two executions, Davis and Brewer, underscore the insincerity of a vast portion of the left about capital punishment. Davis, a favored killer because he feeds into leftist stereotypes, is virtually canonized, while Brewer, a despicable racist, did not generate a hundredth of the anti-DP fervor as Davis– because his execution did not feed into the left’s stereotypes.

    Why the Pope intervened in one and not the other I will have to pass over in respectful silence, lest I encourage the cynical to conclude that the Pope in this instance allowed himself to be used a tool for the left’s agenda.

  • Darwin, fret not… since the re-introduction of the death penalty in the 1970s, there has been not ONE verifiable wrongful execution, despite the frantic efforts of the groups you allude to. They throw lots of sand, and generate lots of heat, but there is no light.

    And frankly, even if it could be shown that there had been a wrongful execution, I’m not certain that it would be a decisive argument against the DP (while it would certainly be a propaganda coup), since there will always be cases of unquestionable guilt where the defendant deserves, and society needs, recourse to the death penalty.

  • I’m another fence sitter, but basically my thoughts mirror Paul’s. What it boils down to in this country is that if you have the money to afford competent representation, you don’t get the death penalty. The Menendez brothers being a case in point. Hell, sometimes if your case is notorious enough, you can still attract competent representation–the dreadful Ms. Anthony is Exh. A (thank you, Nancy Grace).

    What that leaves us with is a death row that is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately non-white. That’s not just, even if all of the people sitting there are guilty. About which I have nagging doubts, too: a lousy trial performance can be fatal, as the family of Terri Schiavo will sadly tell you, albeit in a different context.

    What keeps me from joining the abolitionists are the truly heinous, hellish crimes that Don describes, as well as ones that have the potential to rend the fabric of society in a truly disturbing way (domestic terror incidents). Lines have to be drawn. Will the abolitionists be satisfied with life without parole? I have my doubts, too. The Western European example is instructive: it is astonishing to me that Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist, will be free in twenty years.

  • My father, who works in health care, once told me that he found the reason people support the death penalty and the reason people support euthanasia seem to spring from the same impulse: that one is uncomfortable with the fact that the other is still alive. With euthanasia, it is usually the family and friends of the dying person who feel that they can’t go on watching this suffering, that they need some sort of catharsis that comes with an orderly death. With the death penalty, it is often the family of the victim and members of the public who can’t feel that they are “done” with the case until the perpetrator dies.

    In the James Byrd case, both the victim’s wife and children have stated their opposition to the execution of the murderers.

  • Side note: though I am opposed to the death penalty in the US (I don’t think we have a country where the DP serves the purpose it is supposed to: to eliminate the danger from the community for the common good) I do think it has application in some areas.

    It’s also rather unhelpful that many anti death penalty crusaders tend to focus on manifestly guilty people and hold them up as an example of someone who deserves freedom due to their innocence, rather than arguing the case that life without parole is fit punishment. Like Mumia Abu Jamal, who is certainly guilty of his crimes, and should never have been allowed to don the mantle of “political prisoner”.

  • What it boils down to in this country is that if you have the money to afford competent representation, you don’t get the death penalty.

    One might replace assigned counsel plans with professional public defenders’ offices with a similar salary scale and per capita caseload to the public prosecutor’s office. If county governments lack the skilled manpower, one can ensconse it in the state welfare department.

    What that leaves us with is a death row that is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately non-white.

    Do not know what the situation is now, but at one time the proportion of blacks on death row was almost precisely the same as the proportion of blacks convicted of murder. Such was admitted by David Bruck in the articles he was writing a generation ago, at which time he and his confederates developed a more elaborate argument concerning the probabilities of being executed for black-on-black murders, black-on-white murders, white-on-white murders, and white-on-black murders.

    The criminal population in general is overwhelmingly drawn from the impecunious, except on television detective serials.

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  • @ Darwin

    “I don’t think it would make any sense to support a punishment for its deterrent value if it weren’t already proportional. However, given proportion it seems to me that the deterrence factor would be one of the ways a society protects the common good through dispensing just punishments for crimes.”

    A differentiation to make, given our comments, is between calculation and effect. For instance, one calculates punishment based solely upon what was done, a.k.a., retribution. However, deterrent effect is natural when laws include the threat of that punishment, and I think that is unavoidable.

  • The criminal population in general is overwhelmingly drawn from the impecunious, except on television detective serials.

    This is why WordPress needs to invent a line-item “like” feature.

  • Mr. McKenna’s additional information is why I’ve started to try to avoid coverage of legal actions where I don’t have either personal knowledge to help sort through stuff or a big enough interest to do a good job of it. The trial around that poor little girl’s death a few months back formalized it– these things are just way too prone to group-think, manipulation and story-making.
    Then, once you DO manage to sift the truth out, you have to figure out how to 1) get people to listen, 2) counter those who were misled (and figure out why/how) 3) deal with those who are deliberately misleading.
    There are few things more frustrating than good people who are trying to do good and thus excuse themselves from un-handy facts.

  • Tom McKenna, “Well, as a factual matter, Davis was certainly guilty. He fled the area after killing Officer McPhail, and bullet fragments from a shooting the prior evening that Davis certainly did, matched bullet fragment from the McPhail shooting. Of course, there were scads of eyewitnesses who fingered Davis as the shooter, and the supposed “recanters” don’t say Davis did NOT shoot McPhail, they now claim they can’t be sure who the shooter was.”

    All of that is consistent with Davis’ story that he was there but didn’t do the shooting. Combine that with the fact that the gun belonged to someone else at the scene and there’s no physical evidence linking Davis to any shooting, and you have reasonable doubt.

  • Of course, the jury convicted Davis and 25 years of appeals sustained the conviction and the sentence because the dude that owned the gun was white . . .

    Davis used the Obama defense (which all convicts use), “It wasn’t me!”

  • Capital punishment was enforced in the O.T. context of Israel. The New Testament is addressed to Christians who comprise a kingdom separate from the world and its political entities. The Bible does not speak to capital punishment in these times. It simply isn’t a matter for Christians and the Kingdom of God. That is not to say it doesn’t concern us as we live out our earthly lives. It is just to say that there is nothing we can say dogmatically either way. We can only argue.

  • [D]eath row… is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately non-white.Dale Price

    And overwhelmingly disproportionately non-female.

  • Although this may appear to be a VERY minor issue or even a distraction from the debate on the death penalty itself, there is also the matter of the State of Texas announcing that condemned prisoners will no longer be allowed to choose their last meals (they will simply receive the same fare as other prisoners). The announcement was prompted by Brewer’s over-the-top request for a triple bacon cheeseburger, meat lover’s pizza, a pound of barbecue and other items which, when finally delivered to him, he didn’t eat.

    The combox debate over this issue doesn’t seem to have reached the Catholic blogosphere yet, but I find it interesting nonetheless. Many people favor abolition of the last meal tradition on the grounds that last meals are wasteful and an insult to the victims who were never granted any such privilege. Why not, some argue, just not bother feeding Death Row inmates at all in their final week or so since they’re going to die anyway? Who cares whether they suffer or endure indignity, after all, they didn’t think about that when they killed their victims, right? Another “con” (pardon the pun) argument from death penalty opponents: does granting the condemned a last meal simply make the practice of capital punishment seem less barbaric than it really is and condition people to think of it as acceptable or traditional?

    However, it’s the pro arguments (still very much in the minority) that I find most intriguing. Yes, it may be true that a person about to be put to death for a heinous murder (or several) doesn’t “deserve” a fancy meal, but that’s not the point. The point is that even as the condemned is about to be ultimately punished, the State, acting on behalf of society, still tries to be more merciful than the criminal was and allows him to experience one of life’s great pleasures — eating a favorite food — one last time. The request can be kept within reasonable bounds (for example, only being allowed to choose items that are already in the prison kitchen or whose cost is within a certain range) but to abolish it altogether seems kind of petty. The fact that a lot of people no longer want to bother with this form of very rudimentary mercy to the condemned is not, in my opinion, a good thing.

  • I am against taking away the tradition of the last meal for the condemned Elaine, as I would be against taking away the right of the condemned to say his last words or to be offered a blind fold if he is to be shot. Traditions help guide us in a frequently chaotic world and their observance helps us find our way. Of course currently traditions are contstantly under attack and thrown away at a moment’s notice. This is a mistake and merely makes modern life ever more graceless, utlilitarian and gray.

  • RR,

    Wasn’t Davis’ story that he left before the shooting? My understanding is that the cops found McPhail’s blood on Davis’ shorts, but that this was excluded as the fruit of an unlawful search.

  • You anti death penalty folks must think the Catholic Church began around 1980,when Pope J P 2 started to talk against the death penalty. You are wrong.
    The early Christians evidently had nothing against the death penalty. They approve of the divine punishment meted out to Ananias and Sapphira when they are rebuked by Peter for their fraudulent action (Acts 5:1-11). The Letter to the Hebrews makes an argument from the fact that “a man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses” (10:28). Paul repeatedly refers to the connection between sin and death. He writes to the Romans, with an apparent reference to the death penalty, that the magistrate who holds authority “does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty.

    Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment, even though some of them such as St. Ambrose exhort members of the clergy not to pronounce capital sentences or serve as executioners. To answer the objection that the first commandment forbids killing, St. Augustine writes in The City of God:
    The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions, as when God authorizes killing by a general law or when He gives an explicit commission to an individual for a limited time. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice.

    In the Middle Ages a number of canonists teach that ecclesiastical courts should refrain from the death penalty and that civil courts should impose it only for major crimes. But leading canonists and theologians assert the right of civil courts to pronounce the death penalty for very grave offenses such as murder and treason. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus invoke the authority of Scripture and patristic tradition, and give arguments from reason.

    Giving magisterial authority to the death penalty, Pope Innocent III required disciples of Peter Waldo seeking reconciliation with the Church to accept the proposition: “The secular power can, without mortal sin, exercise judgment of blood, provided that it punishes with justice, not out of hatred, with prudence, not precipitation.” In the high Middle Ages and early modern times the Holy See authorized the Inquisition to turn over heretics to the secular arm for execution. In the Papal States the death penalty was imposed for a variety of offenses. The Roman Catechism, issued in 1566, three years after the end of the Council of Trent, taught that the power of life and death had been entrusted by God to civil authorities and that the use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to the fifth commandment.

    In modern times Doctors of the Church such as Robert Bellarmine and Alphonsus Liguori held that certain criminals should be punished by death. Venerable authorities such as Francisco de Vitoria, Thomas More, and Francisco Suárez agreed. John Henry Newman, in a letter to a friend, maintained that the magistrate had the right to bear the sword, and that the Church should sanction its use, in the sense that Moses, Joshua, and Samuel used it against abominable crimes.

    Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the consensus of Catholic theologians in favor of capital punishment in extreme cases remained solid, as may be seen from approved textbooks and encyclopedia articles of the day. The Vatican City State from 1929 until 1969 had a penal code that included the death penalty for anyone who might attempt to assassinate the pope. Pope Pius XII, in an important allocution to medical experts, declared that it was reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life in expiation of their crimes.

    Summarizing the verdict of Scripture and tradition, we can glean some settled points of doctrine. It is agreed that crime deserves punishment in this life and not only in the next. In addition, it is agreed that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes and that this punishment may, in serious cases, include the sentence of death.
    The current Pope, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, stated in 2004:
    3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia” THATS A QUOTE
    “Here’s the site….READ IT

  • BA, Davis says he was there for the fight but left before the shooting. I believe the bloody shorts rumor was started by Eric Erickson. There were shorts but they were of no forensic value.

  • Don Curry is right, I think. I know the Christian consensus has always favored the death penalty. I was unaware that John Paul II was the one who altered that. But I maintain that the death penalty in N.T. times can only be argued for or against. Nothing dogmatic can be said. Scripture doesn’t address it because it addresses the church, not the world.

  • “There were shorts but they were of no forensic value.”

    No, that is not the case. They were taken from a dryer at the home of the mother of Troy Davis. The defense successfully kept them out of the trial by a motion to suppress, on the grounds that the search of the home of the mother of Davis had been without a warrant. In the numerous appeals the State fought to have the shorts considered by reviewing courts.


  • Recantations years and years after the verdict from a jury are very suspect. And, if you look at the details, the defense HAD the statements years before they filed for new trial. (Why did they sit on them?) EVERY court…every one….ruled the jury verdict correct. And Ill tell you this—IF there were reasonable doubt at the jury trial…with a black defendant…I guarantee you, ONE of those 7 blacks on the jury would have held out for acquital. You can take that to the bank !As a former prosecutor, Ill tell you a black majority jury does not convict a black guy unless there is OVERWHELMING CREDIBLE EVIDENCE !

  • Don, you obviously didn’t read the opinion you posted. On page 161:

    “The State introduced evidence regarding Mr. Davis’s “bloody” shorts. (See Resp. Ex. 67.) However, even the State conceded that this evidence lacked any probative value of guilt, submitting it only to show what the Board of Pardons and Paroles had before it. (Evidentiary Hearing Transcript at 468-69.) Indeed, there was insufficient DNA to determine who the blood belonged to, so the shorts in no way linked Mr. Davis to the murder of Officer MacPhail. The blood could have belonged to Mr. Davis, Mr. Larry Young, Officer MacPhail, or even have gotten onto the shorts entirely apart from the events of that night. Moreover, it is not even clear that the substance was blood.”

  • Yes I did read it RR, but obviously not carefully enough to catch footnote 97. I assume that the Defense then filed their motion to supress just for the heck of it, or perhaps they filed it because the substance was blood and they were fearful what a DNA test would reveal, even though Davis’ mom had thougtfully laundered the shorts for him. I know in my defense cases I generally do not file motions to suppress evidence that I know will not hurt my client.

  • “In the Papal States the death penalty was imposed for a variety of offenses.” -Don Curry

    Sounds like an argument from Tradition. Now I’m curious if any books have been written about the Papal States’ domestic and foreign policy. I think that would be very illuminating.

  • The church is now against the death penalty. You may stop debating about it.

  • Completely untrue.

    “3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

    Cardinal Ratzinger


  • Hey Randy…nope you are totally wrong…I can still, as a Catholic, still be in excellent standing with the church, and not so with Abortion and euthansia. Here’s what the Pope says: QUOTE
    3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”
    Here’s the cite
    So when you dismiss my opinion…remember Randy…the Pope doesnt.

Theodore Roosevelt and Muscular Christianity

Thursday, September 22, AD 2011

Ah, if only “talkies” had existed during Theodore Roosevelt’s life.  Here we see a silent film of the Fourth of July speech in 1903 given by Roosevelt in Huntington, New York, during the 250th anniversary year of that town.  We cannot hear him speak, but the energy and passion which he poured into every speech he gave is clear from the film.

A few weeks later, Colonel Roosevelt (That is the title by which he liked to be addressed, being proud of his service with the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War.  He despised being called Teddy.) addressed the Holy Name Society on August 16, 1903.  Note his appeal to men and boys to lead good and moral lives and to give full expression to the masculine virtues of courage and fortitude.  Today of course the speech would be denounced as sexist, moralistic, Christianist and you can write the remainder of the list for yourself. Such complaints would be the sheerest rubbish.  Men and boys need precisely this type of message if they are going to be a positive force in society and to be good husbands, fathers and sons.  Too many churches, and the Church, tend to ignore giving this type of message and society has suffered greatly as a result.  Here is the text of the speech:

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27 Responses to Theodore Roosevelt and Muscular Christianity

  • I’m old enough to remember when Holy Mother Church taught that in addition to the Theological Virtues, there are Secular Virtues: Fortitude, Justice, Prudence and Temperance.

    And, the Spiritual Works of Mercy include “Instruct the ignorant, Counsel the Doubtful, Admonish the sinner, . . .”

  • I have little use for TR, but it is true that we desparately need to recover masculinity, esp. in the Church, which has suffered greatly from feminization for the past 40 years. It does a heart good to see priests such as ours at St. Josephs in Richmond, FSSP priests, young, cassock-wearing, unapologetically masculine. Such represent the future as the effeminate clergy who are more interested in being “relevant” die off.

  • Thanks for this post.
    I’m mom and grandmom to 3 sons and 4 grandsons so far.

    Do you have access to the content of the fourth of july speech?

  • I have read only one biography of President Roosevelt and claim no great knowledge of him. I was shocked by the allegations contained in that biography and disturbed by the content of the texts cited by the author. It was a far less than flattering portrayal of the President.

    There is always a danger in applying the mores of our time to the actions of times past. There is something fundamentally unfair about judging others by standards novel until late in the twentieth century. Nonetheless, there must be a universality to Right and Good and it seems to me that President Roosevelt’s views on race and intelligence should not be glossed over. That those views underpinned some of the most extraordinary abuses of fellow Catholics in the Philippines makes them all the harder to excuse.

    As applied to the instant discussion, torture and murder have ever been considered “manly” but they are decidedly unchristian acts. To my mind, this makes President Roosevelt’s call to moral behavior hollow and false.

    He called American boys to be moral and upright but ignored outright murder being done in the Philippines in his name. He called for duty and honor but then sold Korea to Japan, ushering in mass murder, rape, and subjugation because he believed the Japanese to be closer to “white” than Koreans. In so doing, he set the stage for Japan’s hegemonic rise and the eventual partitioning of Korea.

    Again, I acknowledge that my views were substantively altered by what I have read and that there may be scholars out there with the knowledge to correct anything that I’ve said. I welcome such correction but I find it hard to stomach speeches about right living from one who held such views and behaved so badly.

  • Actually G-Veg the Philippine Insurrection War was well under way before Roosevelt became President. He oversaw the end of it which included the establishment of an elected Filipino legislature. I think Roosevelt has nothing to apologize for in regard to his efforts to end the fighting in the Philippines, a war which he inherited from McKinley, and place the Philippines on the path to eventual self rule.

    Roosevelt did not sell Korea to the Japanese, a manifestly silly statement. The Japanese took Korea from a decrepit Chinese Empire and crushed the forces of the Tsar in the Far East. He negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The US had neither the power nor the inclination to go to war with Japan over Korea, especially since the alternative would not have been independence, but either domination of Korea by China or domination of Korea by Russia. The only way that the US could have prevented the Japanese from controlling Korea would have been to occupy Korea with US troops and then we would have had another situation akin to the Philippines, with the prospect of a likely war with Japan.

    I am curious as to what biography of Roosevelt you read that contained these allegations. I would appreciate it if you could cite the title and author’s name so that I could look into it.

  • I read James Bradley’s “The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War.”

  • For the record, I try to avoid “silly” statements. There is a balance between directness and bombast and I am sincerely trying to speak and write more directly. Bradley’s book left me with precisely that opinion and I stated precisely what I meant.

  • Whatever one thinks of masculinity or the lack of in the church, or TR’s speech, the use of “muscular Christianity” in the post title is unfortunate. What was known as “muscular Christianity” in the 19th century was a heresy, and one with a particular anti-Catholic streak. Blessed Newman was one of its strongest critics.

  • Well I haven’t read the book yet G-Veg, but I guess I will have to in order to critique it. It has received decidedly mixed reviews on Amazon:


    From the reviews, it appears that the author, (The Flag of Our Fathers author) blames Roosevelt for the fact that his father had to fight in the Pacific in World War II, which strikes me as utterly bizarre, if that is his argument.

    This review, if accurate, is damning:


    I did not use the term manifestly silly to be unkind or offensive but simply to indicate how far off the mark the statement was from the historical record. Apparently Bradley has made TR into some sort of devil figure in his mind who set the ground work for World War II and I therefore can understand how he would wish to mangle the historical record to support his thesis.

  • Here we have Bradley claiming that Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize was more deserved than Roosevelt’s for ending the Russo-Japanese War:


    He betrays a complete misunderstanding of the negotiations. Roosevelt actually tilted towards Russia in the negotiations and convinced the Japanese to tone down their demands. The treaty was immensely unpopular with the Japanese people.

  • “What was known as “muscular Christianity” in the 19th century was a heresy, and one with a particular anti-Catholic streak. Blessed Newman was one of its strongest critics.”

    I doubt if what Cardinal Newman was criticizing had anything to do with the remarks made by Roosevelt. As for it being a heresy, proof please rather than simple assertion. Charles Kingsley, the great antagonist of Newman was associated with the term, but Newman did not attack him over that, but rather because he libeled the truthfulness of Newman and the the Church.

  • Muscular Christianity was a movement within Protestantism which grew up in the early 20th vcentury. It reacted against the Victorian ethos, feeling that the West was going in to decline. To counteract the decadence, a muscular war-like ethos was needed to breath new life and vigor into the nation. Roosevelt was an ardent champoin of this.

  • Paul once warned me about challenging you on things historical. He was quite right.

    I am justly chastised for letting one source rule my thoughts on a subject to which I had given no great thought. I should have done research before speaking on the matter.

    Mea culpa.

  • That is handsome G-Veg. My ignorance in most subjects is of an immensity which is astounding, (Art, most of the Sciences, Mechanics, etc) which is why I stick to History!

  • “To counteract the decadence, a muscular war-like ethos was needed to breath new life and vigor into the nation. Roosevelt was an ardent champoin of this.”

    TR was always a proponent of the strenuous life. For me, strenuous means walking the ten minutes between my home and office. Certain things I admire only from afar!

  • Yes, the strenuous life was its name. The Victorian period left some people thinking we’d grown effete. Some even held we needed a good war to get us back on track.

  • Some, but not Roosevelt. He was ready to fight if necessary, but he preferred to deter aggression if possible through strength. For all the talk of his big stick policy, after he concluded the Filipino Insurrection, his administration was one of the most peaceful of the last century.

  • Yes, aside from his ‘big stick’ stance toward territories; a group arose in New England to promote anti-imperialism feeling that empire (overreach) represented decadence. Incidentally, T. Roosevelt initiated the environmental movement to get back to nature. It’s hard to believe that as far back as that tiem pepoel worried about these things. Guess that’s why Spengler penned his Decline shortly thereafter. Yes, I know it’s an unreadable tome, relatively speaking.

  • Harry Emerson Fosdick seized on muscular protestantism to promote liberal Christianity. He likened Jesus to a businessman. (Foskick was kicked out of the Presbyterian Church and forced to preach under the Baptists; he was eventually given a church in New York.)

  • Donald,

    As I value your opinion, could you recommend a biography of Pres. Roosevelt for someone who has not yet read one?

    Also, generally speaking, what is your opinion of Pres. Roosevelt, both as a man and a president?

  • There really hasn’t been a biography written worthy of the man yet. It is a daunting challenge because Roosevelt packed so many lives into his 60 years: historian, reformer, rancher, politician, Undersecretary of the Navy, soldier, Governor of New York, President, explorer, naturalist, etc. Roosevelt his entire life was a vortex of activity and chronicling it all is an arduous task. Edmund Morris, who wrote an appallingly bad bio of Reagan, has produced two good volumes on Roosevelt. The third and final volume, Colonel Roosevelt, has just been published, but I haven’t read it yet.

    A recent book has culled together TR’s writings on American history, and reading it gives a good sense of the man.


  • I love Roosevelt as a man. He was always optimistic and led life at the charge. Whatever he did, he did with explosive energy. He was never half-hearted about anything. He was a good family man and a good husband. He loved God, his country and his family, and genuinely seemed to like most people who came into contact with him. As one of his enemies said, “Someone would have to hate him a lot, not to like him a little.”

  • As President, I liked his foreign policy and his program of peace through strength. He brought the US onto the world stage, and he accomplished it in a peaceful manner after the Spanish-American war and the Philippine Insurrection, although Colombians might well differ with me on that point in reference to the Panama Canal. He stood up for civil rights for blacks, he desegregated the New York schools when governor for instance, when that stance doubtless cost him votes. I think he was too enamored of regulation of business and he came near socialism in some of his wilder utterances against Trusts. Of course in his day the Federal government was miniscule in comparison to what it is today, but without a doubt he started us in that direction. His conservation policies I believe were wise and have little to do with the eco mania that has had a negative impact on our economy in recent decades. I certainly would have voted for him in 04 and I might even have voted for him in 12.

  • On “The Imperial Cruise” – I made the mistake of buying it when it came out, and I must agree he has a chip on his shoulder (to understate things.) Knowing that history is always complicated, I didn’t take offense when he started racializing everything about late 19th-early 20th century America and deconstructing Roosevelt, but when really got alarm bells ringingwas when he tried to paint the 16th-18th century Jesuit missionaries to the Orient (like the ones who went to China and Japan) as vanguards of Western imperialism. True, the Spanish takeover of the Philippines probably did influence Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s decision to start the persecution, but the missionaries themselves (save one or two exceptions) were definitely not proponents of evangelization via conquest. (In fact, during the Chinese Rites Controversy, the Jesuits accused their Dominican rivals – i.e. it was considered a bad thing.)

    As for TR and Colombia, have you read David McCullough’s “The Path Between the Seas”? Ironically, prior to the Panama revolution Colombia had been arguably the USA’s greatest friend in South America, and a semi-working democracy to boot. TR and his cabinet, however, mistakenly thought the Colombian president, José Manuel Marroquín, was simply another Banana Republic dictator, and so…

Catholic Converts

Wednesday, September 21, AD 2011

As a cradle Catholic I have always stood somewhat in awe of converts.  I was born into the Faith.  For me, I could no more cease to be Catholic than I could cease to be a male.  It is an essential part of me.  Take my Catholicism from me, and what would be left would not be me.  Converts, on the other hand, often raised up either to ignore Catholicism or to regard Catholicism as odd or evil, have taken the big step to embrace the Faith of their own volition.  They have done something that I have never had to do, and that excites my admiration.

Frequently I have  noted that Catholic converts make better Catholics than many cradle Catholics.  Certainly my wife, who converted a few years after our marriage from Methodism to Catholicism, is a far, far better Catholic than I am.  The list of Catholic converts is endless and here are a few more to consider:

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22 Responses to Catholic Converts

  • Is Herbert Kappler the bad guy in The Scarlet and the Black movie? An online resource uses a different name of the person the story is based on.

    Anyway, it’s fun to see the Paterfamilias in The Sound of Music play such a sinister character; that alone makes it worth seeing The Scarlet and the Black. Well, anything with Gregory Peck is good, too.

  • Don, it would be interesting to see a list of cradle Catholics who either converted to other religions or, like me, just fell away. Probably wouldn’t have enough bandwidth though. : )

  • Of course I was thinking of John Wayne and Bob Hope…

  • Joe I fell away mysefl too. I thank the Lord that He brought me back (Hound of Heaven for sure). I love my faith and would be crushed if I couldn’t do a somewhat simple thing like receive the eucharist – that I took for granted as young man – more tragic never was really taugh nor understood the meaning of it at all. Something worth living for…

  • “Probably wouldn’t have enough bandwidth though. : )”

    I am sure it would be vastly exceeded Joe by the number of fallen away Catholics who with their last thoughts embrace in death the Faith they denied in life.

  • A couple more surprises:

    Christopher Dawson, the great historian, and the “Sage of Mecosta,” Russell Kirk.

  • St. Edmund Campion, S.J. , Priest and Martyr
    St. Margaret Clitherow, Martyr
    Blessed Niels Stetsen, Bishop
    Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, C.O.
    Henry Edward Cardinal Manning
    Monsignor Ronald Knox
    Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson
    Fr. Basil Maturin – the first Catholic chaplain of Oxford University…died on the Lusitania after giving away his lifejacket
    Venerable Cornelia Connelly
    Mr. Evelyn Waugh
    G.K. Chesterton
    Mabel Tolkien – her sons John Ronald Reuel and Hilary came into the Church at the same time, when they were eight and seven, respectively …
    Queen Christina of Sweden
    King James II of England
    Novelist Muriel Spark (best known for “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”)
    Judge Isaac Parker – he came into the Church on his deathbed. Charles Portis has his character Mattie Ross in the novel “True Grit” remark about Parker:

    “On his deathbed he asked for a priest and became a Catholic. That was his wife’s religion. It was his own business and none of mine. If you had sentenced one hundred and sixty men to death and seen around eighty of them swing, then maybe at the last minute you would feel the need of some stronger medicine than the Methodists could make. “

  • G. K. Chesterton was one among many British Anglicans who converted to Catholicism because of eccentric reasons. It’s been going on for a century now and the last one I can think of is Tony Blair. But these are anomolies. Resisting something in one place and wanting something else, they are drawn to Rome. Their reasons are pretty intellectual / ideological. They’re usually broadly philosophical.

  • Not only was Judge Issac Parker a deathbed convert, so was John Wayne, who played Rooster Cogburn in the original movie version of “True Grit”.

  • Kit Carson! Never knew.
    My maternal grandfather was a deathbed convert, thanks to the prayers and gentle persistence of his diligent spouse. May her prayers and gentle persistence from above continue to haul family members forcibly back to the faith.
    There is a very good film (Siódmy pokój, 1996) about St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross available. Maia Morgenstern portrays Edith Stein. Worth finding, and watching.

  • …..I have always stood somewhat in awe of converts.

    Indeed Don; I have always wondered, had I not been born a Catholic, would I have the courage to change my life – whatever it may be – to become Catholic? I have been on our parish R.C.I.A team since 1992 (when my mum retired from it) and with the exception of three years 1997 – 2000, have been there since, and have witnessed some amazing conversions. If you ever doubted the working of The Holy Spirit, then join your local RCIA team. From 17 year olds still going to school and coming without the knowledge of their Evangelical parents, to 82 year olds – one who died 6 months after entering the Church – I was one of his pall-bearers at his Reqiem Mass. Presently, a young woman (36) who came into the Church last year after a broken marriage and various protestant affiliations, and who openly wept on Holy Thursday night when her feet were washed at Mass, is now discerning a vocation to the religious life. She is extremely bright – during her candidacy, she was given a Catechism of the Catholic Church to browse through. She came back the next week having read it from cover to cover – and remembered most of it!! Now, from time to time I have converts from a number of years ago whom I don’t see at all, see me at Mass and come and chat, then realise I don’t remember them. I don’t feel good about that, but they understand – there must be well over a hundred now.

    Another notable convert is Leonard Cheshire (1917 – 1992)- Baron, Group Captain RAF, VC, OM, DSO & 2 Bars, DFC of the Dam Busters fame. Very interesting story –
    Converted in 1948.

    And how could I fail to mention
    Arthur Hamilton John Beckett 1912 – 2005 – my own dad, 🙂 who took lessons from a Fr.Michael Brown, now retired at this parish and Monseignor, brother to our bishop. Mum didn’t even know dad was taking lessons. I came down from Auckland where I was living in 1973 to his acceptance into the Church.

  • “If you ever doubted the working of The Holy Spirit, then join your local RCIA team. ”

    Sound advice Don!

  • I’ve been wanting to ask this question here and this seems like as good a post as any. My father was raised Catholic but never considered his faith. He has been asking me for books that explain (a) why Christianity and (b) why Catholicism. I was hoping someone here would have some good suggestions. I feel that he honestly wants to recommit to his faith and is looking for some intellectual guidance.

  • I would recommend Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, and The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton. I would also recommend Triumph, a history of the Catholic Church by H. W. Crocker, a convert from Anglicanism.

  • Thank you for the clarification. Funny how wikipedia contradicts itself in the Kappler article and the Scarlet and the Black article. Who edits that thing? Oh, yeah. . .

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  • Yes, beginning witht the Oxford Movement, Anglicans have occasionally converted to Rome. It’s ussually because of intellectual or ideological reasons. Reasons that have to do with philosphy and politics. Sometimes with society in general. Lewis never made that move. He seemed content with high chruch Anglicanism.

  • A surprise conversion I recently found was Mabel Walker Willebrandt. She was a lawyer and whipped up opposition to Al Smith because of his faith. She was responsible under Herbert Hoover for enforcing prohibition. In her later years she came into the Church. I wasn’t able to find (other than God’s graced) what brought her into the Church. I wonder if she and Al have met in eternity.

Interviews With Veterans of the Revolution in 1864

Tuesday, September 20, AD 2011


Hattip to commenter RL for finding this American Heritage article.

In 1864 the Reverend Elias Brewster Hilliard, a minister from Connecticut, at the request of a Hartford publisher, set out on the task of interviewing the seven surviving veterans of the American Revolution in the North, writing down their memories of the American Revolution and obtaining their views of the Civil War.  In 1958 American Heritage published a fascinating story on the results of these interviews, and the story may be read here.

The American Revolution is not normally associated with photography, but some elderly veterans of that conflict lived long enough to have their pictures taken by the then cutting edge technology of photography.  Some of the photographs were taken for the 1864 interviews.  Among the veterans pictured above is John Gray, the last surviving veteran of the Revolution.  He was born fittingly enough near Mount Vernon.  His father was killed at the battle of White Plains in 1776.  John joined up at 16 in 1780 and was present at Yorktown when Cornwallis’ army marched by in surrender.  He died on March 29, 1868, age 104.  He was not among the veterans interviewed in 1864, and I assume he was overlooked.

How brief our history as an independent nation truly is!  Men who fought to give this nation birth lived to see the Civil War and the ultimate preservation of the nation.  The last surviving veteran of the Civil War, Albert Woolson, died in 1956 just six months before I was born in 1957.  We are still a very young nation.

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5 Responses to Interviews With Veterans of the Revolution in 1864

  • Dear sir,I read american Catholic and I thank you for your hard work.I was very interested in the revolutionary war article and was wondering if you could provide me and the rest of our readers with the % of fighters and if possible some of the names of the men that were catholic in the american army.,thank you for your valuble time and God bless,Mr.Jesse Fremont Bateman….

  • Thank you for your kind words. American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented.

    General Stephen Moylan was a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster-General of the Continental Army.

    Captains Joshua Barney and John Barry were two of the most successful naval commanders in the American Revolution.



    Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.

    Thomas Fitzimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign. Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy. After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787

    Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.

    Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War.

    The list could go on at considerable length. Figures on how many Catholics served in the Continental Army or the American militias is speculative as records of religious affiliations were not normally kept. From anecdotal evidence my guess would be at least five percent, far in exess of the Catholic percentage of the population.

    The foreign volunteers who came to fight for our freedom were overwhelmingly Catholic, including LaFayette, de Kalb and Pulaski. Of course the French troops were almost all Catholic, and there were tens of thousands of them who saw service in the US. The first mass in Boston was a funeral mass for a French soldier with members of the Continental Congress in attendance. Washington on occasion attended mass during the War along with other Founding Fathers.


    Here is a quote from Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence in regard to Catholic participation in the Revolution:

    “Their blood flowed as freely, in proportion to their numbers, to cement the fabric of independence as that of their fellow citizens. They concurred with perhaps greater unanimity than any other body of men in recommending and promoting from whose influence America anticipates all the blessings of justice, peace, plenty, good orders, and civil and religious liberty.”

  • What is fascinating to me about this post is how a single human lifespan can encompass so much history. Only a century separates the birth of Mozart and the death of Schumann, yet what a musical revolution was there in between! Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) recalled that as a young boy he remembered an old friend of the family, Mme de Mongolfier (related to the famous balloonists) recalling how as a young girl she had witnessed the mob surging down the rue St-Antoine in 1789. Towards the end of his life he mused ‘There will be someone living well into the 21st century who can say “I was told of the fall of the Bastille by someone who heard it from an eye-witness.” ‘.

  • In the first law firm I worked for John, the senior partner’s mother lived from 1865-1965. (She died from a fall while cleaning a chandelier in her house at the age of 100!) When she was born the Civil War had just ended and she lived to see the beginning of the Space Age. She saw covered wagons, the first cars, the first planes, the first phones, the first radios, the first televisions the first computers. World War I and World War II were part and parcel of her life, with a grandson dying at Omaha Beach on D-Day. She saw the reunited Union grow from 31 states to 50. What a wonderful panorama as the background of one’s life!

Calculating Divorce

Monday, September 19, AD 2011

Several days ago, Creative Minority Report posted a video interview with comedian Steven Crowder on the state of marriage in our country.  Before I get on with my own comments, I should say that Crowder makes several good points, and overall his spiel is very pro-marriage.  Give it a watch if you haven’t already seen it.

The “myth” that caught my attention is the one about a 50% divorce rate.  If it is indeed a myth, then I have certainly been taken in by it.  For, not only have I believed it for several decades, but I have found myself irresponsibly quoting it without having an actual source.  (Such is the case with myths, yes?)  I suppose the purpose of this post is not much better, because still don’t have a source.  However, the mathematician in me go to thinking about how one might go about “measuring” the rate of success in marriage at a given point in time.  Rarely do numbers lie, but people (and people’s lack of basic statistical understanding) often lie with numbers.  I made a similar point a while back with the the myth of the “99% effectiveness” of Natural Family Planning.

In other words, studies are often perfectly clear on their methodology, but most people have no idea what the studies actually measure, and they misapply the end results.

Let’s think about two different methods one might use to measure the current “divorce” rate.

The first method is the obvious one.  It is entirely accurate, but altogether impractical.  If we want to know the divorce rate for marriage that occurred in the year 2011, we take all those who were married and wait until one of two things happen: the couple divorces or one of the spouses passes away.  The marriage in which a couple passes away are deemed “successful”, whereas the ones that divorce are not.  With a simple division, we have our divorce rate.  Unfortunately, this means we have to wait until at least a half a decade in order to report on the success of marriage in any one given year.  For, although it is unlikely that a couple who is married past fifty years will end up divorcing, we cannot be sure – so we must wait it out.  (Of course, at any given moment, we could count the number of divorces and say, “The divorce rate for 2011 is at least x%.”)  This method seems to assume that divorce is a product of cultural attitude at the time of marriage.  In other words, we blame the failure of marriage on the year in which the marriage occurred.

The second method is the flip side of the first method.  It is quite easy to do, but perhaps not all that accurate.  We count the number of marriages that occurred in 2011, and we count the number of divorces that occurred in 2011, and we divide.  The upside is that all the information is available at the close of the year.  The down side is that we are comparing apples to oranges.  (Additionally, in theory very strange results could occurs, such as divorce rates above 100% .. unlikely, of course, but in this scheme, theoretically possible).  This method assumes that marriages fall apart based on current cultural attitudes, not on the attitudes in the year in which the couple was married.  Perhaps that is better, yet there still seems something wrong with counting divorces and marriages with an entirely different set of couples and then attributing the result to that particular year.

To illustrate how these calculations might differ, let’s come up with some hypothetical data.  I admit that I am over-simplifying the situation, but the goal is to point out the difference that results between the two calculations, not to give an accurate description of divorce in our country.  Because it is easier to begin with method one, we will assume that we have a 40% divorce rate that never changes.  Further, we will assume that 10% of the marriages end within the first year, 10% in the second year, 10% in the third year, and then 5% per year in years 4 and 5.  After year 7, no more divorces occur for that cohort.  (We attempt here to model the phenomenon that marriages that last tend to last!)  We will also assume for the sake of simplicity, that the number of marriages climbs by 10% every year.  Finally, we have a hypothetical starting data for the year 2000.  In order to compare results, we will need to wait through at least one cohort length, but we will extend it to two cohorts, or ten years.  Thus, our data looks like this

(My apologies for the small image.  Open it in a new window to see the full calculations and results.)

I have only totaled the years after 2004 because this is the first year we have all the divorce information (due to our assumption that no divorce takes place after five years of successful marriage).

Let’s look at the year 2005.  We know from our assumption that Method One yields a 40% divorce rate.  What does Method Two yield?  Method two suggests that we divide the number of divorces by the number of marriage in that year.  This gives us 505,510/1,610,510 = 31.4%.  There is quite a difference, yes?  (An 8.6% difference to be precise.)

Let’s see what happens as we progress through 2010.  Remember, we decided to keep a constant “Method One” divorce rate of 40%.  It turns out, and I’ll leave the reader to check this, that the 31.39% rate continues into the subsequent years.   (As a challenge, can you prove that a constant “Method One” rate yields a constant “Method Two” rate?)  Why is Method Two lower?  Because it is counting divorces with a higher cohort than might be appropriate – a number that ends up in the demoninator.  Of course, this is because the number of marriages is increasing throughout the years.  (Again, as a challenge, can you prove that if the number of marriages stays constant, there is no difference between the Method One rate and the Method Two rate?)  If the number of marriages decreases, then the Method One rate is less than the Method Two rate.  As an example, suppose that the number of marriages decreases by 10% rather than increases.  The Method One rate is still 40%, but the Method Two rate comes out to be 53.2%.

If you are savvy with a spreadsheet or a programming language, you can play around with the Method One rate and the way in which it is broken down (I broke 40% into 10%, 10%, 10%, 5%, and 5%) to see just how far apart the two method can get.  For instance, when I broke down the 40% into 10%, 10%, 5%, 5%, 5%, 1%, 1%, 1%, 1%, and 1%, the Method One 40% rate came out to a Method 2 rate of 30.1%.  The farther into a marriage that divorce is allowed to go in our model, the farther apart the two calculations get.  (Incidentally, that was with a 10% growth in marriages every year.  With a 10% decline, the 40% rate led to a 57.4% Method Two calculation.)

There are, of course, all sorts of auxiliary points.  For instance, the comedian seemed to suggest that people were afraid to get into marriage at all, in which case the rate we are really interested in is the divorce rate for first time marriages.  This will clearly be different than when we take into account all marriages.  Further, while it might be true that divorce numbers (in any calculation) might be dropping, let us not conclude that this means that marriage itself is becoming more successful.  It could mean that the number of marriages itself it dropping (or at least not growing as much as it once was).  With an increase in cohabitation, I would have to imagine that we are experiencing less marriage than perhaps would have been predicted given the rate of growth of population.  More to the point, those who chose not to get married are also those that would have been more susceptible to divorce.  (This is my intuition, not the result of actual data.)

Completely tangental, perhaps a more interesting number, especially as an educator, would be to look at the percent of the population who are the children of either a divorce or an out of wedlock relationship.  Conversely, this would mean looking at the percent of the population whose parents are either still together or have suffered the loss of a spouse.  If we are talking about the impact of divorce on future society, this seems like a valuable number to know, and the calculation is much more straightforward the the divorce rate.

I can’t say that I have read the research in front of me that proposes a near 50% divorce rate.  Likewise, I haven’t seen the research that backs up the numbers quoted by Steven Crowder.  What I can say is that it is not altogether unthinkable that both numbers were arrived at in scientific papers, each calculating the rate of divorce differently.  What this means for our casual conversation is this: try to understand what a statistic means before quoting it, and I include myself in this docile chastisement.

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16 Responses to Calculating Divorce

  • Forgive me please if I missed it, but why not simply take the total number of marriages of any given year that subsequently was terminated with a civil divorce? Statistically you could then average out the rate over the entire population by comparing ALL marriages with living partners with the total number of all divorces. It would give you a number, but it wouldn’t reflect reality with any degree of sophistication or accuracy.

    Either way, I believe your argument is sound. It is certainly evident to me as a clergyman with 22 years experience under my belt that the 50% figure was never representative of the situation, at least in this corner of Canada.

    Fr. Tim Moyle
    Mattawa, Ontario

  • Fr. Moyle,

    Once you find “the total number of marriages of any given year that subsequently was terminated with a civil divorce”, what do you propose to do with it? If you props to divide it by the number of marriages in that year, then I believe you have described what I referred to as “Method One.” In terms of accuracy, it is wonderful. The difficultly is the amount of time that needs to pass in order to get an accurate count. How long do you wait until you think your number is stable? (Statisticians play this game, by the way. They use what they call “Life Tables,” and typically estimate how long it takes for, say, half the divorces that are “going” to happen. They then extrapolate based on this number.)



  • Jake: Thank you for your kind response. That’s the point that I was trying to make. Any statistic that professes to be the ‘divorce rate’ is like a quantum measurement. It’s a number that doesn’t really mean much. (apologies to Einstein)

    Fr. Tim

  • Excellent post.

    I’ve known this for a year, but never got around posting about it.

    I’m glad you did!

  • Here’s how I’d explain it. The notion of a 50% divorce rate is based on the fact that the number of divorces in any given year is about half the number of marriages that take place in the same year.

    If you applied the same assumption to birth and death rates, since the number of deaths in any given year tends to be roughly half the number of births in that same year, one would have to conclude that only 50 percent of those children will ever die and that the remainder are immortal.

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  • Elaine,

    While agree that the method of calculation is misleading at best, I am not sure I understand the analogy you offered. The conclusion for marriage/divorce is not that the marriages outside of the divorce rate will never end, but that they will end of “natural causes”. Perhaps a better analogy would involved murder rates and death by natural causes.

    The real issue is the comparison on entirely different cohorts. A different analogy might be the following. Suppose that I have been given 100 gold coins over the course of the last 50 years. It takes me a while, but I am interested in finding out which of these are counterfeit. I go through several of these every year. It turns out that this year I was able to discover that 10 of them are counterfeit. (By the way, this doesn’t mean that these are the only counterfeits, just that ten of them were discovered this year.) It also turns out that I was given 20 more coins this year. Because I was given 20 new coins and I discovered 10 counterfeit coins in my existing collection, I report this as 10/20 = 50% counterfeit rate. It simply makes no sense. First, the counterfeits are from an entirely different collection that the current collection. Second, the counterfeits discovered this year are not even constitutive of all counterfeits in the original 100 coins (some may have been discovered in previous years, some may yet to be discovered).

    Now, the (10,20) pair is not entirely useless. It does tell us the net gain of “good” coins (or rather, “not yet discovered as bad” coins, depending on whether you are a half-full or half-empty kind of person). It tells us that we gained 20 coins and tossed out 10, so there is a 20-10=10 net gain in “good” coins. The same can be said with the marriage-divorice numbers in Method One. It tells us how many marriage have been gained in society during the course of the year.

    I would like to emphasize, however, that if the number of marriages stays constant, this faulty method does actually give a correct result. Bad-reasoning, perhaps, but a correct rate nevertheless. This is true because the “incorrect” denominator being used just happens to be the right “number”, even though it was collected from the wrong data. It is only if the number of marriage begins to change radically (either decreasing or increasing) that the two Methods begin to diverge. The greater the change in marriages, the greater the discrepancy in the two Methods.

  • Why not simply divide the total number of married couples (new and existing) by number of divorces each year? So instead of option 2 using only new marriages that year as the numerator, you’d use all (existing) marriages. It would be something like per capita income; call it per couple divorce rate. It could be viewed for each year going back to discern trends. This would not tell us anything about the attitudes of marriage and/or divorce based on the year of marriage, or falsely give an impression about how many married this year will ultimately divorce at some point in the future. But it would wash out any significant jumps due to an aberrantly large number of marriages or divorces in any given year. So if there is a general societal openness toward divorce that is increasing, this statistic alone would be useful over time. (Of course, it would be way below the 50% myth and its publication would risk headlines declaring “Concerns about divorce found to be highly exaggerated,” etc.)

    To perhaps have something more useful and get closer to a “true” divorce rate, we could use probability to make assumptions about when the ending marriages had taken place. So even without the married year datum tied to the divorced year datum, we could say that 60% (or whatever it is) of all divorced couples have been married between 0 and X years (based on some single good study or average findings of multiple studies). Then you could count back to the range when those marriages would have taken place, and use the new marriages for each of those years to get a total, which you would divide by X years and call it M. Take 60% (or whatever the factor is) of the current year’s divorces call it D. Whatever D/M is each year could be a kind of moving divorce rate, call it estimated rate for couples married this year to get a divorce in the next X years. This stat would, better than the per couple divorce rate, reflect any societal and generational trends toward increased marriage instability.

  • Erich,

    I think you have presented two different takes on the two Methods I outline. I actually agree with your first method, which is an alternative to “Method Two.” It simply changes the denominator. There is nothing wrong with this, and in some ways is preferred. I think you hit the nail on the head in indicating that we would have to describe what the measure actually measures, which in this case is decidedly not “how likely a marriage is to end in divorce”, but rather “the per capita number of divorces” among married people. This certainly reflects a society’s attitude towards marriage and divorce, and in a way reminds me of my call to calculate the percent of the population that is a child of a divorce or out of wedlock birth. It tell us something about the current state of marriage attitudes and impacts.

    Your second suggestions is very close to what statisticians call “life tables.” Think of it this way. I said, in describing “Method One” that one could potentially have to wait upwards of fifty year in order to know the final outcome of marriages that occurred in any one given year. However, past (I am guessing here) twenty years or so, the number of marriages that end is very low, perhaps low enough to not effect the actual rate by any statistically significant measure. Thus, maybe we only have to wait twenty years. Of course, this is still not feasible, so statisticians like to predict how long we would have to wait in order for half of the divorces that eventually will occur to actually occur. They wait this long, and then they double the number of divorces. Because marriages that break up are far more likely to do so earlier, this turn out to work pretty well. However, it is all based on probabilities, which in turn are based on past data. Essentially, this is what you are suggesting, though in a modified version. The upside is, it is doable, even in the short term, and it actually reflects what people think of as a “divorce rate” (i.g., the likelihood that a marriage will last/fail). The down side is, the result is only as good as the working probabilities. I don’t know the research enough to comment on their confidence intervals. Do they reach the 95% that we usually look for? I’m not sure.

    Thanks for your comment.

  • Thanks for your response, Jake. I agree the probability factor used in my second suggestion would have to be fairly certain. Also, I imagine you’d preferably want it updated every year, so you are not making assumptions based on the probability rates from marriages ten years ago. As people get married later and/or people chose not to get married, it could affect the probability for divorce within a certain number of years. I don’t really have a sense of any studies or annual measure for this, as I was only “thinking out loud.” It makes me want to look a little deeper though. And to see if anyone has been calculating the per capita divorce rates; if so, I haven’t run across them. Your article really does a good job of discussing the issues in not only calculating divorce rates, but also in being precise in telling people what exactly is being measured. Thanks again!

  • Jake, it’s been a long time since I’ve studied demography, but it looks to me like your article is correct. You see the same problems in total fertility rates (your type 1) and crude birth rates (type 2). The best you can do is apply the current rates of divorce for each year into a marriage across the current marriages. It’s an approximation.

  • Pinky,

    Yes. Actually, in the end, I would not disagree so much with the method as I do with how it is used (misused)? Using divorced versus marriage in a particular year does tell us something … it tells us the net gain of marriage in society. If we were to look at that in a per capita sort of way, as suggested by another commenter, it would tell us something about the change in attitudes towards marriage over time. What it doesn’t tell us is how likely a marriage in a particular year is to last.

    I made very similar points a while back in a post on NFP effectiveness ratings. I have no problem with the ratings themselves (which often boast upwards of 99%), so long as people understand what they mean. They are calculated over a period of only one year. The problem is that people misunderstand this and think that the 99% is a “life long” success rating. That number is decidedly lower than 99%.

    This is tangental, of course, but confirms the original point. Numbers don’t lie, but people can lie with numbers (either purposefully or inadvertently).

  • Jake,

    Survival analysis with right censored data?

  • Unfortunately, there is no way of gathering divorce statistics that are entirely accurate. Even if there were, they would still not reflect just how successful marriages are as quite literally thousands of couples separate but do not proceed with a divorce.

  • J.,

    (I had a student named Jason Christian when I was teaching at the seminary.)

    Yes, this is the technical term for the process describe by Erich (okay, in fairness, his was a modified version of this), and the process with which I used the phrase “life tables” as a summary. It seemed to me not prudent to go into the Calculus of probability distributions for the average reader. The difficulty, as I am sure you know, with survival analysis is that it requires the survival function, or the lifetime distribution function (its complement). This is the “probability” to which Erich refers (again, in a modified way). It begs the question, how we we construct such a function? The answer: Life Tables. It is based on data from the past and being sued to predict data in the future (hence “right censored”). This all begs the same concerns, though. Just how accurate is it?

    Here is where I have to admit that I am not an expert. (I try …emphasize “try” … never to speak past the point where I know what I am talking about.) While I understand the method, I have not had the opportunity to see what confidence intervals come out of the calculations. Are they 95%? 99%? Perhaps you are more familiar with the literature.

    In the end, the main point stands. Numbers are fine – measurements are great – so long as we know what they are measuring and using them out of context.

  • Divorce Blogger,

    Yes, this is true. However, coming up with a reasonable and consistent calculation can at least show us societal trends.



5 Responses to A Professional Pirate

Keynesian Twilight Zone

Monday, September 19, AD 2011

There are few things sadder than a one trick pony whose trick fails to work.  Obama, with a faith whose fervency cannot be doubted, believes with all his soul that vast government spending is the mechanism to lift the country out of this never ending bad slump.  That his policies have failed to do anything other than to increase our massive public debt, sways him not at all.  For a true ideologue, and that is what Obama clearly is, a collision between reality and  beliefs merely means that reality is wrong since the beliefs are beyond question.  Thus in economic policy this administration is one endless Groundhog Day where the nation is stuck in a loop of high unemployment, minimal economic growth and ever expanding public debt.

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15 Responses to Keynesian Twilight Zone

  • He makes Carter look good.

    Thomas B. Reed, “Every time he opens his mouth he subtracts from the sum of human knowledge.”

    “The Emperor Has No Clothes.”

    I know! I’m a racist.

  • That his policies have failed to do anything other than to increase our massive public debt,

    The last assessment I saw calculated the multiplier of the stimulus spending at 0.6, not at 0.0. (IIRC, there were economists who offered just that estimate going in). Arguably it was not worth the candle but not nothing.

  • At least one study Art asserts that the stimulus cost a net 595,000 jobs:


    Much of the stimulus of course merely allowed the states to use federal money to pay for highway projects instead of state funds. Estimates of the cost of jobs “created or saved” by the stimulus range from 287,000 per job from detractors to a “mere” 100,000 per job by supporters. Blue smoke and mirrors is too kind a phrase for 787 billion dollars sent down a rat hole. Obama would have had more of an economic impact if he had just gone from town to town throwing $20,000 checks made payable to cash at random from the presidential limousine.

  • In fairness to the President, he seems to be channeling the Democratic Party’s cognoscenti in matters economic. The new line (propagated by Joseph Stiglitz) is that the stimulus was not large enough, we have a plentiful supply of useful public works, and that we are fools not to borrow at minimal interest rates (as if those rates were set in stone). Thomas Sowell posed the question some time back as to whether Dr. Stiglitz et al could state their propositions regarding stimulus in a manner that was potentially falsifiable. Morning’s Minion, take it away.

  • Arg, Matey!

    It likely isn’t Master Keynes’ fault.

    Nick Gillespie, “Whalen isn’t simply dumping on Keynesianism, he’s bent on pointing out that even its latter-day adherents are straying far from their master’s theory. And in this, he’s surely correct. As Allen Meltzer has argued, Keynes was against the very sort of large structural deficits that characterize contemporary federal budgets and policy, believing instead that deficits should be ‘temporary and self-liquidating.’ And Keynes believed that any sort of counter-cyclical spending by government should be directed toward increasing private investment, not simply spending current and future tax dollars on public works projects. Or, to put it another way: If the federal government had a strong track record of responsible spending, it would mean one thing if it went into hock for a short period of time to goose the economy (again, whether this would work is open to question). It means something totally different when a government that spent all of the 21st century piling on debt and new, long-term entitlement programs responds to an economic downturn first by creating yet another gargantuan entitlement (Obamacare) and taking on even more debt in the here-and-now.”

    Shiver me timbers! I doubt Master Keynes would call class war/demagoguery fiscal policy.

  • “There are few things sadder than a one trick pony whose trick fails to work. Obama, with a faith whose fervency cannot be doubted, believes with all his soul that vast government spending is the mechanism to lift the country out of this never ending bad slump.”

    Why do you hate Catholic Social Teaching?
    Morning’s Minion

  • Catholic social teaching doesn’t say we should abdicate to Caesar what is our own God-given duty as Christians to do. It is NOT Caesar’s responsibility to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, etc. That’s our duty as the adopted children of the Great King, and every time we abdicate our responsibility and evade our accountability to keep the command that God gave us to love our neighbor as ourselves, then we sacrifice on the altar of political expediency our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven and the very power of God in our own lives for the temporal “graces” of a secular national socialist democracy and its Obamanation of Desolation. The lesson of Judas Iscariot is clear when he suggested that the proceeds from the oil with which Mary annointed Jesus’ feet could have been given to the poor. Judas said that not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. That’s exactly what Scripture says in John 12. Government is no different. And by the way, we shouldn’t be seeking the bread that perishes as that crowd did in John 6, but the eternal Bread of Life. Jesus didn’t feed that crowd a second time. He noted exactly what they wanted: another free handout. TANSTAAFL – There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch – not then and not now.

  • The following is a Walter Williams column from 1998. Diverting money from the free productive private economy into the wasteful and destructive government command economy is disastrous.

    New study shows economic growth is inversely proportional to government spending

    20 MAY 98 – James Gwartney and Randall Holcombe, economics professors at Florida State University, and Robert Lawson, an economics professor at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, have just completed a report for Congress’ Joint Economic Committee. The title is The Size and Function of Government and Economic Growth.

    The report points out, as just about every American knows, the expansion of the U.S. economy has now moved into its eighth year. It’s been 15 years since a major recession. That’s the good news.

    Despite this performance, the real rate of economic growth during the 1990s is less than half that achieved in the 1960s. In fact, our average rate of growth has fallen during each of the last three decades.

    Greater economic stability, but less rapid growth, has also been the pattern of other developed nations. Gwartney, Holcombe and Lawson, using data from 60 nations, produce convincing evidence that there’s a strong negative relationship between the size of government, increases in government expenditures and economic growth.

    In the case of our country, the authors conclude: If government expenditures, as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), had remained at their 1960 level, the 1996 GDP would have been 9.16 trillion instead of 7.64 trillion. That translates into $23,440 for the average family of four.

    The authors also compared developed countries with the smallest increases in the size of government between 1960 and 1996 to those with the largest increases and looked at their growth rates. In 1960, government spending as a percentage of GDP in the United States, Iceland, Ireland, United Kingdom and New Zealand averaged 28.9 percent. The growth rate for those countries in 1960 averaged 4.3 percent. In 1996, government spending in those countries rose, averaging 39.1 percent, and their growth rates fell, averaging 2.7 percent.

    Developed nations with the largest increases in government size between 1960 and 1996 were Portugal, Spain, Greece, Finland, Sweden and Denmark. In 1960, those governments spent an average of 28.1 percent of their GDP, and their growth rates averaged 6.4 percent. In 1996, government spending averaged 54.5 percent of GDP, and their growth rates fell to an average of 1.2 percent. From these statistical estimates, Gwartney, Holcombe and Lawson show that for each 10 percent increase in government spending, there’s a 1 percent decrease in the rate of growth.

    The authors are not anarchists; they acknowledge an important critical role for government, namely that of providing the legal and physical infrastructure for the operation of the market and a limited set of public goods to provide a framework conducive to economic growth.

    As governments move beyond these core functions, however, they adversely affect economic growth through the disincentive effects of taxation, diminishing returns as government takes on activities for which it is ill-suited and government interference with the wealth-creation process. Governments aren’t as effective as markets in adjusting to changing circumstances and discovering innovative production methods.

    The Gwartney, Holcombe and Lawson study understates government size because it doesn’t take into account its regulatory burden. But even with this minor shortcoming, will the study’s persuasive argument and evidence lead Congress to reduce government size? I doubt it.

    The reason is that it is impossible for any of us to know or appreciate how much wealthier we would have been had government expenditures remained where they were when John Kennedy was president. In other words, how can a family of four know that it is $23,440 poorer because of Washington and its state and local governments?

  • “Why do you hate Catholic Social Teaching?”

    Do you equate CST with the progressive, Demorat class war? If so, I love more prosperity but love less economic destitution and financial repression.

    It’s not yer mother’s CST, minion matey.

  • It is time we all just understood the stark fact that Obama doesn’t know any better. No, he’s not very bright, doesn’t spend time thinking things over and wouldn’t know an idea if one fell on him. We elected the “Un-named Democrat” who always does so well in polling. We put upon Obama whatever wonderful things we wished to find and we then voted for our dream…but the dream was carried by a man who’s only claim to being worthy is to have two wonderful daughters…which is no small thing, but hardly something that fits a man for the Presidency.

  • Keynes was against the very sort of large structural deficits that characterize contemporary federal budgets and policy, believing instead that deficits should be ‘temporary and self-liquidating.’ And Keynes believed that any sort of counter-cyclical spending by government should be directed toward increasing private investment, not simply spending current and future tax dollars on public works projects.

    The Roosevelt Administration’s largest deficit prior to the War amounted to about 4% of gross domestic product. The president and Congress turned in two balanced budgets during the period running from 1933 to 1941.

  • Friends, Americans and undocumented immigrants, I come to bury Obama not to libel him. The failures men fall into . . .

  • So ten years ago we passed tax cuts lowering the federal tax take to the lowest it has been since before WWII, the result was the worst 10 years of employment growth in the same time frame. The response to the fact that the current President’s policies have not quickly enough repaired the damage of the last President’s policies is to ask for deeper tax cuts. And the Democrats are the one trick ponies.

    To hold true to Keynes’ teachings, President Clinton raised taxes and produced a surplus while during the good times. The president who followed him cut taxes and turned that into a deficit. Tracking from the end of WWII our total debt as a percentage of GDP continually dropped until1981 when we cut taxes on the promise that it would increase revenue. Revenue did not increase until the massive tax increases of the mid 1980’s took effect. Nowhere in historical economic data is there evidence to support tax cutting to produce long term jobs. There is plenty evidence that the government can spend money (even deficit spending) and create infastructure that leads to long term job creation. Two prime examples are the interstate highway system and the internet. This isthe type of spending originally proposed, unfortunately, it was changed to allow it to get through congress.

  • “So ten years ago we passed tax cuts lowering the federal tax take to the lowest it has been since before WWII, the result was the worst 10 years of employment growth in the same time frame. ”

    Get behind me, Satan.

  • Ziggy zoggy!
    Ziggy zoggy!
    Oy! Oy! Oy!

    Look it up. Terrorist attacks 9/11/2001. Recession. Global war on terror. Average unemployment rate during Bush presidency 5.2% (Eurozone average 8.2%). Also, tax reductions were passed to Buffett”s secretary: 50% pay no federal income tax. Stop me!

    Bush’s tax cuts were passed based on the same conservative, private sector growth concepts as another great American President: JFK.

    Employers are not hiring because taxes aren’t high enough . . . Actually, it’s Obamacare.

    You cannot reason with a person that will not agree that 2 + 2 = 4.

Some ideas to motivate your pastor…

Sunday, September 18, AD 2011

In his book Futurecast, George Barna details a two-decade-long downward spiral in religious belief and behavior on the part of U.S. adults.

Futurecast: What Today's Trends Mean for Tomorrow's World  -
By: George Barna

Barna’s most important finding?

Although more U.S. adults today claim to have accepted Jesus as their Savior and expect to go to Heaven, they continue to drift away in large numbers from active membership in institutional churches.  This finding demonstrates itself in specific behavior:

  • In 1991, 24% of U.S. adults did not attend church.  In 2011, it’s 37%.
  • In 2011, more U.S. adults in 2011 than in 1991 reported that they haven’t attended church in the past six months, except for special occasions like funerals or weddings.

This weakening of institutional affiliation is true for every U.S. subgroup: religion, race, gender, age, and region.

Nowhere is this weakening more true than when it comes to doctrine.  For example, Barna reports that only 7% of the adults surveyed believe in the 7 essential doctrines of Christian faith, as these have been defined by the National Association of Evangelicals’ Statement of Faith.

Barna theorizes this weakening of institutional affiliation mirrors American society writ large.  He notes:

We are a designer society.  We want everything customized to our personal needs—our clothing, our food, our education.   Now  it’s our religion…America is headed for 310 million people with 310 million religions.

So, it should not prove surprising that increasing numbers of U.S. adults are matching their religious faith with personal preferences.  According to Barna:

People say, “I believe in God. I believe the Bible is a good book. And then I believe whatever I want.”

Who’s to blame?

In so far Barna is concerned, pastors deserve some of the blame.  He writes:

Everyone hears, “Jesus is the answer. Embrace him. Say this little Sinners Prayer and keep coming back.”  It doesn’t work.  People end up bored, burned out and empty.  They look at church and wonder, “Jesus died for this?”

Agree or not with Barna’s methodology, data, or interpretations, his findings depict much of what has transpired in the U.S. Catholic Church since the 1960s.

Barna’s solution?

Maximum Faith

In his new book, Maximum Faith, Barna details new research describing four barriers U.S. adults have identified that keep them from developing deeper faith.  These include:

  1. commitment (only 18% of those surveyed describe themselves as totally committed to their spiritual development);
  2. repentance (only 12% reported feeling “devastated” by their sinfulness and need for God);
  3. activity (spiritual disciplines are not practiced with sufficient frequency to make much if any difference); and,
  4. spiritual community (only 21% of self-identified Christians say it’s necessary to be part of a community of faith to grow spiritually).

To assist adults to overcome these barriers, Barna presents three challenges to pastors.

The first challenge: don’t confuse tools with expectations.

While laudable, preaching about the tools—-to worship and evangelize, to be disciples, to practice stewardship and service, and to form community—misses the goal of deepening faith.  As Barna rightly notes, faith development requires being motivated to meet high expectations.  Focus upon high expectations—the purpose of faith—to provide the foundation for deeper faith, not vice versa.

The second challenge: assist adults to embrace suffering and sacrifice with the goal of surrendering and submitting to God.

Barna argues that spiritual growth occurs when adults embrace their brokenness—to be broken people—not by concealing it.  But, they need exemplars.  Barna suggests that pastors identify the experiences of members of the faith community who have suffered for their faith, that is, the pain they endured through personal crises, their prolonged commitment to spiritual growth, and their increasing practice of spiritual discipline.  For example, preaching about these exemplars teaches selflessness and inspires hope in adults that they can also experience victory in deepening faith.

Barna’s third challenge: get adults to perceive and experience the faith community as a vital support system in the pursuit of deepening one’s faith.

Slightly more than 25% of self-described Christians meet during the week for Bible study, prayer, or life sharing; however, many of these meetings are primarily a means for creating community and a sense of connection to the larger church, the product of which oftentimes is a combination of knowledge and comfort, not commitment and the application of faith to real-life.  These meetings, while helpful for personal and perhaps spiritual growth, oftentimes do not get translated into the “fruit” of deeper faith: personal, congregational, and cultural transformation.

Barna believes that pastors should redefine “success” when it comes to motivating adults to overcome the four barriers to deepening their faith.  He notes that typical measures—attendance at church and program attendance/completion—demonstrate little correlation with deeper faith.  What pastors should focus upon is “plowing the ground”—the stuff of deeper faith—rather than “pruning the vines”—providing programs—if the pastoral goal is to effect the transformation of all things in Christ.

Adult Catholics who are serious about deepening their faith and strengthening their affiliation to the Church might consider discussing Barna’s findings and challenges with their pastors.  Think about it: Were Sunday homilies to integrate each of Barna’s three challenges effectively, it is likely the adults in the congregation would perk up, listen, and consider the stuff of a deeper Catholic faith: character change, lifestyle shifts, and attitudinal transitions.  They might even practice spiritual discipline more frequently and make a greater commitment to the life of the Catholic faith by developing parish-based programs to assist their peers to deepen their faith.


For information about Futurecast, click on the following link:

For information about Maximum Faith, click on the following link:

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One Response to Internet Hitler Mourns Attack Watch

  • Barron’s ran a Book Review by Susan Witty (RIP): Mr. Speaker! The Life and Times of Thomas B. Reed the Man Who broke the Filibuster written by John Grant (of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer).

    Mr. Grant quotes Congressman Reed concerning civil trash like Obama’s low life acolytes, “They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.”

There’ll Always Be An England and a Newfoundland

Saturday, September 17, AD 2011

Something for the weekend.  There’ll Always Be An England.  This was always a favorite of my sainted mother.  It was played frequently during World War II in Newfoundland when she was a child. Newfoundland sent off a very high percentage of its military age male population to fight, about 10% of the entire population served in the British armed services and Merchant Marine during the War, and some 900 Newfies died in service.  (On a per capita basis that is roughly the equivalent of the US war deaths  in World War II.)  Mom always remembered how many Newfoundland fathers, sons, brothers and uncles never came back from that War, and taught her sons to remember this sacrifice by a small nation.

This sacrifice was typified by the stories she would tell about Uncle Bill Barry, her uncle, my great uncle.  Uncle Bill was a fun loving Irishman and a boxer.  He joined the Royal Army in 1939, saying that “Someone has to teach the Limies how to fight!”  He served throughout the War, and was in combat from D-Day to the fall of Germany.  Uncle Bill was a fighter indeed, and his courage earned him promotion to sergeant after his platoon took a village.  He was placed in charge of the village.  He told his men to do as he did and led them on a raid of a local wine cellar.  The Lieutenant in charge of the platoon found Uncle Bill and his men dancing in the village square, all blind drunk, when he got back.  The first thing he did was to bust Uncle Bill back to private, which did not upset Uncle Bill nearly as much as the hangover he had in the brig the next day.

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George Washington and Constitution Day

Saturday, September 17, AD 2011


Today is Constitution Day, the 224th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.  Since 1788 our nation has been governed under a document, the Constitution, produced by a group of the wisest men ever to arise in our nation, collectively known as the Founding Fathers.  The video above from the magnificent John Adams series depicts the first inaugural of George Washington.  Washington for me is the standard by which all our other presidents are judged.  Without him of course, in all likelihood, there would be no United States as the American Revolution would have been lost without him to lead the starving, ragged Continentals to an against the odds victory.  In turbulent times he then led the nation for the first eight years under the new Constitution, setting the nation firmly on a course of prosperity, growth and expanding liberty.  A statesman like Washington comes to a people once every few centuries if they are fortunate, and we had him precisely when we needed a leader of his calibre most.

Would that our other presidents, with the exception of Lincoln, had possessed half of his ability to lead and his wisdom to chart a sound course.  I also wish that our other presidents had one of his minor traits:  brevity.  Here is his second inaugural address in its entirety.  His fidelity to our Constitution shines through its few words:

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The Debt Crisis in a Nutshell

Friday, September 16, AD 2011

Hattip to Bookworm Room.  We are heading to debt repudiation both nationally and internationally, although I am sure that some euphemism will be used.  What this does to the global economy is anyone’s guess, but I think at best we are looking at a prolonged recession\depression lasting at least a decade.  Long range however, I share the fundamental optimism expressed by Milton Friedman in the video below, if we are capable of understanding how we got into this mess and make the necessary changes to radically alter our course.

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15 Responses to The Debt Crisis in a Nutshell

  • Here are the policy choices:

    Raise tax receipts.
    Reduce expenditures.
    Accelerate GDP (private sector) growth.
    Inflation – the cruelest tax of all.

    Obama has been unable to achieve any of it based on his one successful government program: killing jobs.

  • Kenneth Rogoff has said that several years of moderate inflation (4-6%) would be therapeutic for our economy. Among the difficulties that the PIIGS economies face at this time are the technical impediments to devaluing their currencies.

  • T. Shaw- it doesn’t seem to be via directly killing off Evil jobs, or even spending mad amounts to help Saintly Jobs, but inflation sure seems to be hitting my family. I know they cheeze the inflation calculations these days by saying that food and energy doesn’t count, but it sure counts in our check book, since that’s most of the non-rent spending….

  • Agreed as to consumer inflation Foxfier. I can see it not only in what my wife has to spend for groceries, but also when looking at the rate of inflation through traditional analysis:


  • I know they cheeze the inflation calculations these days by saying that food and energy doesn’t count,

    No, they do not. They publish a figure commonly called ‘headline’ inflation which includes food and energy prices and ‘core inflation’ which excludes them. Food and energy prices are commonly volatile in both directions, which is what makes the core measure useful to know.

  • AD: A+ on the Euro!

    9/7/2011 Barron’s “Milton Friedman’s Euro Smackdown” by Gene Epstein – he was pessimistic about euro’s prospects. “Suppose things go badly, and Italy is in trouble.” An independent Italian money would address that with a reduction on the lira exchange rate, which would lower Italian prices and wages relative to other’s, and enhance Italian competitiveness.”

    With the Euro Italian prices/wages will need to fall – a more difficult action. “Such asymmetric shocks hitting different countries, said M. Friedman meant the euro had an uncertain future.”

    Case in point is the current sovereign debt crisis. With separate currencies devalued the troubled debt would trade at more (exchange rate changes) favorable prices. With the euro you lilely will see a “disorderly” restructuring of Greek debt by year-end which would trigger a renewed recession.

    Then, what about Spain and Italy? The dollar would seem undervalued, except for Obama . . .

  • Art-
    when the only stat that they talk about is the core inflation, it doesn’t much matter if they offer headline inflation and then say “but it’s not reliable.” (Interesting, though– Investopedia mentions that it’s normal to do a 12 month average of headline inflation to counter that exact point. Shocking how that stat isn’t in standard use, rather than the one that discounts such a huge chunk of actual expenses, isn’t it?)

  • when the only stat that they talk about is the core inflation

    That is not the ‘only stat’ they talk about. This is the most recent release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The core inflation numbers are not mentioned until the 3d paragraph. The comprehensive index is discussed in the 1st and 2d paragraph.


  • Art, it most assuredly is the only “inflation” stat you’ll hear about– even news stories that do mention the consumer price index will say ‘inflation’ when they’re talking about the core rate. The information is around to be found, if you know it exists, if you can understand it, and if you care enough to go looking.
    Same way you only hear about the jobs rate on the day it’s released and they don’t mention the adjustments– even the times when most of this month’s growth is from the prior month being adjusted down. (How many times did that happen?)

    There’s a reason that sites like that “shadow stats” place are popular.

  • Foxfier, it is not the fault of either the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the news media that you listen only selectively. (And you are no more correct about news reports than you are about the press releases of the BLS).

    The constituency for “shadow stats” is people who get a charge out of fancying that they are being lied to and are happy to be gulled by the character who runs it. The same sort were buying Birch Society literature four decades ago.

  • Art, your link has the word “inflation” on it once– down at the bottom, leading to a calculator. That you find the information and interpret it just supports my point. Five minutes of looking around would show you that it’s not exactly news that the media keeps using the core stat when they talk about inflation, rather than the 12 month average or the actual monthly stat, even adjusted.

    If you want to have a whizzing contest about how superior you are to the people who just listen to broadcast news, or read the local paper and take them at their word, and how incredibly superior you are to people who will search out sites that offer calculations you disagree with, go for it– you can do it without me. Hope you don’t stub your nose on a doorframe.

  • Five minutes of looking around would show you that it’s not exactly news that the media keeps using the core stat when they talk about inflation, rather than the 12 month average or the actual monthly stat, even adjusted.

    That is just nonsense.

    The precise term the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses is ‘Consumer Price Index’. ‘Inflation’ is a common shorthand.

    For the most part, I read the newspaper and see the same news you do. The media is not putting one over on you. The government sites quoted by the newspaper are just as accessible as this blog and not notably obscure in their presentations.

    Mr. Shadow Stats is an elderly management consultant who contends that he produces better statistics at his desk than the federal agencies who have large staffs to collect, analyze and publish statistics. Implicitly, he contends he produces better statistics than the Conference Board or the Institute of Supply Management. He is not serious.

    I am not interested in a whizzing contest with you or anyone else nor in who is superior to whom. You are propagating falsehoods to your own detriment and that of anyone who listens to you and you should stop doing that.

  • Oh, my!

    Almost everybody I know daily eats and heats (say December to April) their homes. Unadjusted stats 12 months ended 31 August 2011: all energy up 18%; gasoline up 32%; home heating oil up 35%. Food at home is up 8%; all food is up 4.8%. Source: All Urban Consumers (CPI-U): US city average.

    Apparently, the Fed believes that energy inflation magically slows the economy and so it doesn’t need to jump on it with its weapons of mass monetary destitution. This probably is the reason the Fed “hearts” exclusion of energy from analyses of consumer price increases (er, the inflation rate). Concomitantly, there seems to exist a high, inverse correlation between reduced economic inflation and increased mass malnourishment.

  • There are arguments to be made on both sides for including and excluding food and energy prices in determining the rate of inflation. On balance I think they should be included, the wide swings in such prices notwithstanding. As a result I always pay more attention to CPI than to core inflation. A good overview of where CPI stands currently:


  • The practice of using the two methods strikes me as not just reasonable but necessary if one is going to derive any meaningful intelligence about the state of the economy. Things like averaging for a year or adjusting for seasonality are important. It’s not an indication of shenanigans, but one of competency. I would be mocking the reports if those breakdowns didn’t exist.

Fourth Trimester Abortions (Updated)

Thursday, September 15, AD 2011

One question that pro-lifers often pose to pro-choicers is how can they reconcile permitting abortion while still prohibiting the murder of newborns?  To put it differently, what is the substantive difference between a newborn child and a child in the latter stages of pregnancy?  For that matter, what is the difference between an unborn child at any stage of development and a born child?  Evidently this logic hit a Canadian judge pretty hard and she recognized the contradiction in distinguishing the born from the unborn.

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Attack Watch!!!!!

Thursday, September 15, AD 2011

You know, sometimes I suspect there are forces within the Obama administration attempting to throw the upcoming presidential election race.  The most recent evidence of this is a truly Orwellian website, Attack Watch, at which Obama supporters can report unfair attacks on Fearless Empty Suit.  Go here to view the Attack Watch webite.  Sheesh, I hope the Obama campaign didn’t waste much money on the design of this snitch site.  I guess they aimed for foreboding and hit silly.  I practically expect to hear the Imperial March theme from Star Wars.  Actually, I will supply that for your listening pleasure as you are perusing the site:

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6 Responses to Attack Watch!!!!!

  • The twitter responses to this are hysterical:

    Some of my faves:
    Hey #attackwatch, I saw 6 ATM’s in an alley, killing a Job. It looked like a hate crime!

    Obama campaign announces new site AttackWatchAttackWatch.com to stop attacks aimed at discrediting #attackwatch.

    RT @AtackWatch See a new attack on the President or his record? Use #gestapo to report it and discuss attacks as they happen.

  • This whole AttackWatch program would be really funny if I was watching it on the Colbert Report, but unfortunately it is true and the President of the United States of America is behind it. That makes is scarey, bazaar, unsettling, etc…
    If there is anyone out there who still believes that Obama is playing with a full deck they should be evaluated by a shrink also.

  • I’m still considering getting a picture of our youngest daughter with a copy of my Right Wing Conspiracy Handbook and sending it in…

    She drinks raw, uninspected whole milk! And has gained over ten percent of her body weight in two weeks! And is associated with guns, alcohol and tobacco! (…OK, so the first two consist of “living in a house where it is,” and the second one is because cigar boxes are incredibly handy….)

  • “I guess the campaign assumes that anyone supporting the Empty Suit Helmsman is too stupid to think up pro-Obama arguments on their own.”

    -and, by featuring pictures of the fearsome three at the top of the page, inform supporters upon whom to initiate counterattack due to the kneejerk action verb terminology of the watch site, the black background and red lettering giving emphasis to the serious outrage of it all.

  • now, back to twitter …

  • Pingback: Internet Hitler Mourns Attack Watch | The American Catholic

A Short-Sighted Maneuver by PA Legislators

Wednesday, September 14, AD 2011

There is an effort underfoot in the Pennsylvania legislature to change the way the state awards its electoral votes.

PA Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi wants to allot Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes on a congressional district by district basis, rather than the current system of winner take all.

In a state like Pennsylvania, where Democratic candidates for President have won every election since 1988, it could be a way for Republicans to avoid a total loss.

For a number of reasons, I think this is a bad move.

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5 Responses to A Short-Sighted Maneuver by PA Legislators

  • Democrats hate the electoral college so even if splitting it puts a Republican in the White House the outrage over the change would be somewhat subdued.

  • Yes, both wings of the Democrat party – their left wing and their far-left wing – hate the Electoral College. So, if a state splits its distribution of Electoral College seats between the slates of two candidates and that puts a Republican in the White House you can bet that Democrats everywhere will be as mad as Wisconsin Democrats. Their screaming, name-calling and use of any excuse to bash the Electoral College will go on for years. It’ll be the trigger of the Democrats’ second “Selected, Not Elected” intifada.

  • further eroding the purpose of the electoral college.

    The Electoral College is a convention. It has no purpose.

  • Another post on this topic on NRO by Tara Ross. She brings up a good point.

    Looking beyond Pennsylvania, national adoption of the district system could change the focus of presidential campaigns in negative ways. Instead of “swing states,” we’d have “swing districts.” This could unfortunately encourage the federal government to become even more entangled in purely local matters.

    Pennsylvania legislators should not implement a congressional district system based purely on partisan considerations. Perhaps they believe that NPV advocates have their own partisan reasons. The does not make such motivations any less unwise. Every state can make its own assessments on these matters and should make its own decision. But Pennsylvania legislators will serve their constituents — and their country — best if they remember to honestly assess what would serve their state, rather than their political party.

  • This could unfortunately encourage the federal government to become even more entangled in purely local matters.

    It would be pleasant if she would provide for her readers the intermediate steps in this particular chain of reasoning.