Book Review – Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

Monday, June 18, AD 2012

I have been intending to write a long review of Ross Douthat’s new book, Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation of Heretics, for about seven weeks now, but due to various obligations and, well, the NBA playoffs, that hasn’t happened. So here’s a short review: it’s an excellent book that accomplishes three basic purposes: one descriptive, one controversial, and one normative.

The descriptive section, consisting roughly of the first half of the book, is a useful, accessible account of the rise of a vibrant, frequently orthodox, Christianity following World War II, and the decline of orthodox Christianity and the institutions that undergird it over the past sixty years. Douthat is even-handed in his treatment of a wide variety of theological movements, theologians, and denominations. While most of the material will be familiar to those who pay attention to these matters closely – including many readers of this blog – it should be acknowledged that most Americans do not fall in this category. And even for those who do, Douthat’s synthesis of events, movements, and people is perceptive and sympathetic. Refreshingly, he avoids most of the exaggerated caricatures that populate popular writing on these themes. The average religion reporter for the Washington Post or the Associated Press would do well to use Bad Religion as a starting point and model for writing intelligently about religion in the contemporary U.S.

The second half of the book is straight forwardly controversial, as Douthat explores a variety of influential religious works and figures, ranging from Joel Osteen to Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) to participants in the Jesus Seminar, and criticizes the superficiality, self-absorption, and lack of scholarly rigor that characterizes Christianity-lite and Christian-influenced spirituality in much of the contemporary United States. In many respects, it reads as an update on Chesterton’s Heretics, although it must be said that none of Douthat’s targets approach the caliber of H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, or any of Chesterton’s original antagonists. To a certain extent, Douthat is shooting fish in a barrel; but at least they are the biggest fish, if book sales, packed stadiums, and cultural notoriety are any indication.

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9 Responses to Book Review – Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

  • What I heard from a secular friend of mine is that she hated eat pray love because the woman leaves her husband who seemed like a perfectly good husband, runs off with a boyfriend and than leaves him too and does speak to her husband anymore throughout the rest of the movie and the rest is “save me brown people” movie. So i find it hard to take a movie like that seriously.

  • That was supposed to be a “doesn’t” not “does”

  • Never read any of Osteen’s books, but looking at the covers, all of which have a picture of the intensely well-groomed Osteen, I always got the impression, “con artist”. Might be very unfair of me to think that, but I just couldn’t get past it.

    Anyways – it is high time that we had a serious discussion of the ways in which even those who say they are Christian can be part of the problem. Far more damaging than open enemies are pretend friends.

  • I’ve had the book for a month, although other than glancing at it when I purchased it I haven’t read it yet. My son who just finished up his sophomore year at the U of I has read it and enjoyed it.

  • Recall that “heresy” is a Greek word (?????????) from the verb ?????, meaning to choose.

    Speaking of some of the more pernicious heresies of the past, Mgr Ronald Knox reminds us that “traditional Christianity is a balance of doctrines, and not merely of doctrines but of emphases. You must not exaggerate in either direction, or the balance is disturbed. An excellent thing to abandon yourself, without reserve, into God’s hands; … but, teach on principle that it is an infidelity to wonder whether you are saved or lost, and you have overweighted your whole devotional structure… Conversely, it is a holy thing to trust in the redeeming merits of Christ. But, put it about that such confidence is the indispensable sign of being in God’s favour, that, unless and until he is experimentally aware of it, a man is lost, and the balance has been disturbed at the opposite end;”

  • John Henry,
    You say the NBA playoffs held you up. All I can say to that…is this…Lebron, D.Wade, Bosh versus Harden, Durant, Westbrook….historic monumentality. Tonight nine Eastern Time…Critical.
    And what’s with the lenseless nerd glasses they wear at press conferences?

  • They want to be admired, like us nerds.

  • Example of why I love Msgr R. Knox:
    “traditional Christianity is a balance of doctrines, and not merely of doctrines but of emphases” as Michael’s quote indicate, we can sometimes put the em pha’ sis on the wrong sy lla’ ble.

    I haven’t read Doubthat’s book yet. After my daughter’s wedding Saturday and we have all quieted down around here I hope to do a lot of reading, the old fashioned way (from a book)

    I am hoping I will get e-mail notifications of new comments again like I used to..


The HHS Mandate: Why the Cost Issue Is Irrelevant

Sunday, February 12, AD 2012

One issue that mainstream and even some Catholic commentators seem to be bungling to my mind is the relevance of costs. According to the Obama Administration, under the new rule insurance companies will provide sterilization and contraception free to employees of Catholic institutions like hospitals and universities. Further, the Administration has claimed that insurance companies are happy to do this because the costs of contraceptives and sterilization are lower than the costs of pregnancy and all of the associated doctors visits. This certainly seems plausible. Pregnancy and the associated doctors visits cost a lot of money. I’ve heard it claimed that policies without contraceptives typically cost more than their counterparts that include them, and so it’s possible that the new policies will be even cheaper than the prior policies (absent all of the costs imposed by other new regulations, but that’s another story).

But this just brings into starker relief the fact that no compromise has been offered at all. Let’s assume for a moment that it is actually cheaper for an insurance company to offer sterilization and contraceptives without charge than to not offer them at all. In that case, Catholic hospitals and universities have historically been able to purchase plans at a higher cost that enables them to avoid providing coverage that violates their consciences. The original rule said that they could no longer purchase such plans, and most right thinking people recognized this as an infringement on religious liberty. The new rule says: “good news, you won’t have to pay more than you currently do!” Which, of course, is completely non responsive.

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9 Responses to The HHS Mandate: Why the Cost Issue Is Irrelevant

  • Fri. noon, he served the people who want free contraception in whatever affiliation with embarassingly ‘all on the same side of the scale’ approval. Spoke to voters whose minds are concerned with maintaining things ‘below the belt’. Pretty insulting to the rest of their lives in progress with possibilities of growth and development.

    For the nation as a whole, an unspoken mandate to comply with yet deeper disturbance of any higher minded spiritual beliefs, sort of enabling another form of disease of schizophrenia. Insulting and dismissing the concerns of healthy spiritual life found in the Catholic Church and other religions, he pandered for the votes that will strengthen his culture of death. The cost won’t be counted in $.

  • “The cost won’t be counted in $.”

    First will come loss of jobs for employees or loss of businesses for business owners. Then will come denial of purchasing food and other necessities for life. Then will come imprisonment. And final the ultimate solution. The people in the 1790s who cried “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” followed this route and employed Dr. Guillotine’s “merciful machine” to ensure their liberty, equality and fraternity.

  • Arguments for a “religious employer” exemption have gone from wrong to ridiculous.

    Questions about the government requiring or prohibiting something that conflicts with someone’s faith are entirely real, but not new. The courts have occasionally confronted such issues and have generally ruled that under the Constitution the government cannot enact laws specifically aimed at a particular religion (which would be regarded a constraint on religious liberty contrary to the First Amendment), but can enact laws generally applicable to everyone or at least broad classes of people (e.g., laws concerning pollution, contracts, fraud, negligence, crimes, discrimination, employment, etc.) and can require everyone, including those who may object on religious grounds, to abide by them. (E.g., Were it otherwise and people could opt out of this or that law with the excuse that their religion requires or allows it, the government and the rule of law could hardly operate.

    When moral binds for individuals can be anticipated, the legislature may, as a matter of grace, add provisions to laws affording some relief to conscientious objectors.

    The real question here then is whether there is any need for such an exemption in order to avoid forcing some employers to act contrary to their consciences. Those demanding such an exemption initially worked themselves into a lather with the false claim that the law forced employers to provide their employees with health care plans offering services the employers considered immoral. The fact is that employers have the option of not providing any such plans and instead simply paying assessments to the government. Unless one supposes that the employers’ religion forbids payments of money to the government (all of us should enjoy such a religion), then the law’s requirement to pay assessments does not compel those employers to act contrary to their beliefs. Problem solved–except perhaps for an employer who really desires not just to avoid a moral bind, but rather wants to retain control of his employees’ health plans, limit their choices to conform to the employer’s religious beliefs, and avoid paying the assessments that otherwise would be owed. For that, an employer would need an exemption from the law.

    Indeed, some continued clamoring for just such an exemption, complaining that by paying assessments they would be paying for the very things they opposed. They seemingly missed that that is not a moral dilemma justifying an exemption to avoid being forced to act contrary to one’s beliefs, but rather is a gripe common to most taxpayers–who don’t much like paying taxes and who object to this or that action the government may take with the benefit of their tax dollars. Should each of us be exempted from paying our taxes so we aren’t thereby “forced” to pay for a war, health care, or whatever else each of us may consider wrong or even immoral?

    In any event, they put up enough of a stink that the government relented and announced that religious employers would be free to provide health plans with provisions to their liking and not be required to pay the assessments otherwise required. Problem solved–again, even more.

    Nonetheless, some continue to complain. They fret that somehow religious employers ultimately will pay for the services they oppose. They argue that if insurers (or, by the same logic, anyone, e.g., employees) pay for such services, those costs will somehow, someday be passed on to the employers in the form of demands for higher insurance premiums or higher wages. They counter what they call the government’s “accounting gimmick” with one of their own: the “Catholic dollar.” These dollars remain true to an employer’s religious beliefs, it seems, even after paid by the employer to others, e.g., insurers or employees, in that they can be used only for things the religious employer would approve. The religious employers’ aim, we are assured, is not to thereby control the actions of others, oh no, but rather is merely to assure that the employers themselves do not somehow act contrary to their own beliefs by loosing “their” dollars into hands that would use them for things no self-respecting religious employer would himself buy. Their religious liberty, they say, requires not only that they be exempted from the law, but further that anyone to whom they pay money also be exempted and thus “free” to act according to their desires.

    I wonder what they would think of their follow-the-dollar theory if they realized they had some of my “atheist dollars” in their wallets that can be used only for ungodly purposes, lest I suffer the indignity of paying for things I disbelieve.

  • @DougIndeap: The mission of the Catholic Church is to present the dignity of the human person, the common good, the subsidiarity of the government. The destruction of the human being, the obliteration of human existence, class warfare, tyranny, denying the act of creation to the will of God, none of these Is true.

  • Mr. Indeap is parachuting into various religious blogs, attempting to hit us with some knowledge.

    It’d be nice if he’d explain why he thinks everyone has a right to no-cost abortifacients and birth control first, but hey–he gets his licks in on the religious types he despises.

    And that’s what’s really important.

  • I believe Mr. Indeap’s arguments deserve a response. They are plausible and reasoned, and that’s a refreshing rarity. If he does indeed despise religious people, I see no evidence of such in his post. The comparison to taxation is especially interesting.

    1) The paying of an “assessment” is not a worthy alternative. You’re correct that it would let us off the hook as far as violating our consciences, but it is flatly unjust. Would you attempt to make the case that the government is justified in levying such a fine? Why not a fine against Mormon employers who fail to serve real coffee in the break room?

    2) On whether the employer in question is wishing to “limit their [employees’] choices to conform to the employer’s religious beliefs”: this stands out among your plausible arguments as flatly silly. Failing to buy your employees condoms impinges on their choices about contraception no more than failing to buy them parachutes impinges on their choice to skydive. Your freedom does not mean other people have the obligation to buy you things.

    3) Is the situation analogous to paying taxes for a war one doesn’t want? Certainly, to some extent. I’ve been trying to think that through myself. How could our society function if every socialized expenditure/service were optional? This question can’t be blithely dismissed. And yet, surely it does not follow that governments may therefore compel their citizens to pay for anything at all, and that citizens are never justified in rebelling against said coercion. I suggest that the burden of proof falls on the side of the government. In the matter at hand, it’s hard to imagine anyone even attempting to make such a case. The White House’s statements, riddled as they are with red herrings, misrepresentations, misdirection, and bizarre assumptions, serve to illustrate the futility of the project.

    4) Are we inventing an irrational notion of a “Catholic dollar?” No… and your analogy about your own “atheist dollar” fails. A Catholic institution would be guilty of such an invention if, for example, they claimed authority to stop employees from spending their wages for contraception. The money has changed hands: it isn’t theirs anymore, end of story. But that is not analogous to the matter at hand. The reason is that it is still the employer who is buying the controversial product. It’s a shell game to claim that “no, now it’s the insurance company providing it.” Everything the insurance company does, is done with money from the employer. The contraceptives etc. will not come out of executive’s paychecks, nor will they be delivered by the Progesterone Fairy. Even if it is true that money will be saved – and this is indeed a plausible claim – it remains true that the Catholic institution is being forced to pay for contraception. That’s the problem. The “accommodation” fails to address it.

    As much subtlety as may arise from tangential questions, the core issue is really very simple. The HHS policy makes precisely as much sense as forcing synagogues to pay their employees in bacon. None. And if you, an atheist, are ever forced by the government to buy Bibles for people you may employ, I will oppose it just as fiercely.

  • A telling illustration of the main point of the post:
    Would the Catholic employer be held accountable if there was a rider on the insurance contract hiring an assassin to kill someone? Would anyone accept the excuse that since it was an action of the insurance company, the Church was not complicit? If that’s true, then I will also accept the President’s “accommodation.”

  • I am glad the Steven Beatty took the time to give Doug Indeap’s atheist objections a thorough response. When a sincere objection like Doug’s is raised (however many times he may have parachutted onto Catholic blogs to voice his objections), then a serious response is warranted.

    On a different note, if an atheist like Doug does believe in rule of law, then what pray tell ought that law be based on if not God’s? The whim and fancy of whatever atheist makes the law? I fear we would have Maximillien Robespierre all over again. Oh wait, we do have him: Barack Hussein Obama. The cry of “liberty, equality and fraternity” never fails to result in the death of the innocent, this time to the tune of 54 million unborn babies.

The HHS “Accommodation”: Lie to Me

Friday, February 10, AD 2012

So the Obama Administration released a proposed compromise today on the recent contentious HHS rule and there was good news: The Administration is now saying that Catholic institutions will not need to pay for abortifacients, sterilization, and contraception for their employees. The bad news is that the good news is a lie.  Catholic institutions will still be paying for these things, but health insurance companies will be instructed to tell Catholic institutions that they are free.

It’s possible that this will provide the Administration with enough cover to defuse the issue; it is clever in its own way. “Obama Administration requires Church to pay for abortifacients” is a straight forward story that even a reporter can understand. “Obama Administration uses accounting gimmick to force Church to pay for abortifacients, while assuring them they are free” is harder to explain. A little misdirection can go a long way with a sympathetic press. But, for Catholics, I think the takeaway is clear enough: this is no compromise at all. The Obama Administration has decided to double down on the mandate, and Catholics can no longer expect him to deal in good faith with Catholic institutions and their leaders.

Update: This post is probably superfluous here, but I’ll leave it up. See also Paul and Tito’s earlier takes.

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6 Responses to The HHS “Accommodation”: Lie to Me

  • John Henry, I have occasionally had clients who wish to lie in court. I explain to them that I can be no party to perjury. I also tell them usually that their lies are so feeble that it is an insult to the intelligence of the judge and jury. That is precisely my reaction to the compromise con that you correctly designate as a lie plain and simple. What has always struck me about Obama and his administration is the utter contempt they so often manifest for anyone who is not in lockstep with their administration. This contempt is shown not only to critics on the right but also critics on the left. Trying to sell this utterly transparent fraud is yet another manifestation of this treatment of critics as if they were children or sheep.

  • Obama must go. We have known this since 2008.

  • Just say free contraception. They’ll both vote for me and look for work at religious institutions. Win win. Poll #’s can only rise.

    Profit to pharm co. and ins. co. comes with cost to consumer one way or another. Details to follow or not.

    It’ll be the garden of eden for them all, again. The women (unmentioned young girls,too) into “preventing babies’ sort of health can be Eve, and the apple can be the generalized ‘contraception’ word, and we the executive branch can be the snake aka you know who. Is that biblical enough you Church people? We who are mindful of religious liberty are here to accommodate you. Your employees get free contraception.
    And this is not a political football.

  • How stupid Obama thinks we are. Well, con men always have contempt for their marks, particularly when they have successfully gulled them in the past.

  • I’m glad to see that the bishops aren’t falling for it one little bit. Whispers in the Loggia has a leaked copy of the USCCB internal response sent out to all the bishops:

  • What we need is the Bishops to come out with a letter to be read at the pulpit, letting the parishioners know that the latest attempt of president Obama is not compromises at all.

    They should also state a reminder of the teaching of the Church on contraception.

    …and they should do it now!

    Come on Bishops, you need to be public as much as possible on this.
    Lead from the front.


Live-Blogging the CNN South Carolina Debate

Thursday, January 19, AD 2012

With the field reduced to four and the possibility that this is the last significant Republican primary debate, the moment appeared ripe for a live blog. Feel free to discuss in the comments.

By way of disclaimers, I’ll mention that I dislike all of the candidates to varying degrees and that Macallan’s 12 may or may not be influencing some of my remarks:

8:05: CNN says we will have audience questions. Oh, great.

8:07: Romney mentions how long he has been married and his kids. I wonder if that remark was influenced by any recent events…

8:09: And CNN leads off with the ex-wife story. Newt blames CNN and the news media for lowering the level of discourse; says the story is false. Not clear what part is false, though. Update: The ‘open marriage’ part.

 8:13: What do the other candidates think about the ex-wife story: Santorum says personal life is part of what people examine. Romney says get to the ‘real’ issues. Ron Paul disses media, says nevertheless he’s proud of his long marriage. Not sure what the best tack is there. I like Santorum’s.

8:15: Ron Paul, to the shock of all observers, says that we need to get the government out of the way.

 8:17: Bain Capital. Newt says the business model was leverage, cash out, and leave’em. Romney responds with: let’s get America working again! Then, as the moderator presses, that ‘free enterprise works’! Then describes job creation record at Bain again….mentions Dominoes pizza…”there’s nothing wrong with profit”. “Freedom makes America strong!” I suppose we are lucky Newt didn’t respond to the initial question with “Marriage is great!”; “Marriage works!”; and “Marriage makes America strong!”

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16 Responses to Live-Blogging the CNN South Carolina Debate

  • I’m out of Macallan, so I felt I better sit this one out. Our candidates are more than I can take sober (or at least mildly buzzed). So thanks for taking one for the team.

  • Gee darn, had a meeting tonight. Guess I missed this one. Shucks.

    But hey, only six more to go. Seriously. There are actually six more of these things scheduled, though I doubt we’ll actually see that many in the end.

  • I did just see the exchange at the beginning with John King. As my post below shows I don’t think Gingrich should be left off the hook, but that was about the best retort possible.

  • Gingrich has more skeletons than a small town cemetary, but when it comes to dealing with the mainstream media he is simply brilliant:

    JOHN KING: And just as speaker Gingrich surged into contention here in South Carolina, a direct fresh character attack on the Speaker.

    And Mr Speaker, I want to start with that this evening.

    As you know, your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC News and another interview with The Washington Post. And this story has now gone viral on the internet.

    In it, she says that you came to her in 1999, at a time when you were having an affair. She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage.

    Would you like to take some time to respond to that?

    GINGRICH: No, but I will.


    GINGRICH: I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.


    KING: Is that all you want to say, sir?

    GINGRICH: Let me finish.

    KING: Please.

    GINGRICH: Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.


    My – my two daughters – my two daughters wrote the head of ABC and made the point that it was wrong, that they should pull it, and I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate.


    KING: As you noted, Mr Speaker, this story did not come from our network. As you also know, it is a subject of conversation on the campaign. I’m not – I get your point. I take your point.

    GINGRICH: John, John, it was repeated by your network. You chose to start the debate with it. Don’t try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start this debate with it.


    Let me be quite clear. Let me be quite clear. The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period said the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren’t interested because they would like to attack any Republican. They’re attacking the governor. They’re attacking me. I’m sure they’ll presently get around to Senator Santorum and Congressman Paul.

    I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.


  • Don, I have to say that I am proud of his dealing with rooting-around-like-pigs-do- when-feeding media and the response of the audience. (Cannot stomach the unending insidious bottom feeding for the appetites of viewers who care for nothing.) It’s like the people in the Coliseum right before the empire fell.
    Oh, and it occurred to me that some of our Saints wrote about their skeletons.

  • I agree that Gingrich’s response was good debate tactics. On substance, though, meh. His ex-wife is the one who decided to come forward with those allegations at this point in time. She did the Esquire story a while back, but otherwise has been pretty quiet. I’d rather live in a world where the media reported this stuff as it arose, rather than live in the 1960’s where the hoi polloi were carefully protected from anything that might inform voters about the character of the candidates. Gingrich tries to take the moral high ground here, but, for me at least, it didn’t really work: “How dare you bring up the elephant in the room!” can momentarily set a moderator back, but that’s about it.

  • PM, Newt remembers well a quotation from Danton that I have always been fond of:

    “L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace.”

  • John Henry I find it diffcult to take the media seriously as an arbiter of public or private morality. If they like a politician they will do their level best to protect him. They were forced, kicking and screaming, to give the John Edwards love child scandal any coverage, and that nasty piece of private and public corruption was left to the National Enquirer to explore initially, solely because Edwards was a liberal with a D after his name. Republicans understand that this game has been rigged against them for several generations and they are beyond tired of it. Newt touched a raw nerve in regard to this, and that is why he got the standing ovation.

    As to the substance of the story, he has long admitted to cheating on his first two wives. Marianne, the aggrieved Newt wife 2 who gave the interview, happily cheated with Gingrich while he was married to Newt wife 1. Whatever damage this has caused to him has already been factored in by any voter who isn’t comatose. Personally, I find Newt’s behavior in his first two marriages to be despicable, and I still find him preferable to Romney and light years better than Obama.

  • I agree with John that his response did come across as “he doth protest too much.” But it was genius politically. Also, whatever one thinks about the issue, I do think it is out of bounds for a debate. If the media wants to investigate and report on it, that is their right, and the public can decide for itself. But there’s no point in bringing it up in this forum, though it must be said that Newt may have benefited from the exchange.

  • I like the polish of Gov Romney and his ability to GET THIS ECONOMY GOING !!! THATS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ! With a republican house and senate, we can change Roe v Wade, and get more restrictions on abortion and this crazy same sex “marriage” thing.

  • Don, you may like Romney and think that all Republicans are the same and will guarantee a better economy, better Supreme Court nominees, etc. But, it isn’t true. Romney is, to be kind, a moderate Republican. To be truthful, he is a Wall Street democrat. He loves big Government because he knows it best benefits crony Capitalism and his pocket book (see his six houses, 15% tax rate and all his millions he is hiding by not releasing his taxes). Beyond that he is a man with very little substance. He pandered to the left when he was running for Governor in Massachusetts. He is pandering now when he says he is Pro Life. I agree that beating Obama is important. But, it will be an empty victory if it’s Romney. It may please you to see a Republican in office, but policy won’t really change all that much (see RomneyCare). And the only real winners in a Romney Administration will be Wall Street and big Government. I don’t think it will happen regardless. If the Republican party runs Romney, it will lose in November. Only a true Conservative Christian like Gingrich or Santorum or Sarah Palin will truly advance the cause of good in this country.

  • How anyone reading this blog Tom could think I like Romney is simply beyond me. Please look at my post from yesterday regarding Romney as a lousy politician. I have nicknamed him The Weathervane. My disdain for Romey is only exceeded by my disdain for Obama.

  • Don, then I heartily apologize. I usually don’t read the comments. It is unfortunate that the Republican party is force feeding us Romney (in the belief that he is the only electable Republican) — especially when Romney’s record indicates he could easily be at home in or support just about political platform and benefit financially to boot. At this point, I fear the only thing to do is to get either Gingrich or Santorum to back out so that the conservative voice can be heard. Otherwise, the debate in November will be about Wall Street — which takes the focus entirely off of Obama and his poor record of leadership and governance.

  • Santorum is my candidate Tom, followed by Gingrich. I will vote against Obama in the Fall if Romney is the candidate nominated by the GOP but I will hold my nose while doing so.

  • Don, I did a search on that quote:
    (Your comment is in there! More cyber amazement here.)

    Danton was guillotined later. He wanted the peasants to have bread, then education.
    Too bad there was destruction of so much culture then in the 1790’s.

    Good for Newt Gingrich to call out the audacity of the media in our culture which is not moving toward virtue.

  • Danton was converted to Catholicism prior to his downfall. He told his executioner to hold his head up for the people to look at after his head was sliced off since it was worth the seeing. After he was sentenced to death he looked at Robespierre who had engineered his downfall and said, “After me, you, vile Robespierre!” a prophecy which came true with the downfall of the Jacobins shortly thereafter.

Compassionate Conservatism Revisited

Saturday, January 14, AD 2012

A quasi-confession: One of my favorite politicians of the last fifteen years is George W. Bush. Unfortunately, I don’t mean George W. Bush, the President. I mean, George W. Bush, the candidate for President in 2000. The one who criticized Clinton-era attempts at “nation-building” and promised a “modest” foreign policy. The one who prophetically predicted the events that would undo his own Presidency several years later:

If we don’t stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we’re going to have a serious problem coming down the road. And I’m going to prevent that.

Well, he may have been a little off on the second prediction. 

Bush the Candidate was able to articulate pro-life principles effectively. He promised to appoint judges who were willing to occasionally glance at the Constitution. He favored raising the Earned Income Tax Credit for low and moderate income individuals. He was committed to implementing accountability in Education. Bush the Candidate advocated for expansion of social services (e.g. what would become Medicare Part D). At the time, it appeared to me that he was the best option by a mile from a Catholic perspective.

Of course, 2000 was an interesting time. No one was interested in health care reform after the Clintonian debacle in the early 90’s (other than Medicare Part D). A bipartisan compromise on welfare reform appeared to be overwhelmingly successful. There were no pressing international political issues, and Bush, as mentioned above, promised to be more modest in our dealings with the world than Clinton had been. Which left culture war issues like abortion and embryonic stem cell research as the primary differences between the candidates in what amounted to a Coke/Pepsi culture clash. Good times, with internet-bubble fattened 401k’s for much of the middle class.

U.S. politics have changed a bit since then. But I still think Bush’s platform was a good one. To be sure, it basically charted a European-style Christian Democrat course for the U.S., but then I like European-style Christian Democracy, which after all, was consciously modeled in part on Catholic Social Teaching. Obviously, there are a lot of complications with any political philosophy, but, on the whole, I’m in favor of both functioning markets and generous social safety nets (taxes on individual earnings and consumption; less regulation and corporatism). Although, unlike Bush in practice (and the Affordable Care Act), I think we need to pay for social services when we expand them. I suppose most AC readers are to the right of this point of view, but I’m curious:

How did you view Bush the candidate circa 2000, and what are your thoughts on Christian Social Democrats, particularly their effortso to model political philosophy on Catholic Social Teaching?

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17 Responses to Compassionate Conservatism Revisited

  • I love George W. Bush. As for Barack Hussein Obama…………

  • I’d distinguish between “compassionate conservatism” with what I’ll call “compassionate libertarianism.” I favor the latter. I don’t want to subsidize churches or married couples. But I do want a generous safety net that’s neutral as to spending.

  • My own policy preference (and come to that knowledge) have shifted a bit since 2000, so it’s hard to line up my impressions of that campaign with my current ones. Generally, I thought Bush was a pretty good candidate (certainly, I’d prefer a reload of the 2000 Bush to any of our current options), but I do think he’d absorbed (or maybe was just parroting) some of the politically expedient isolationism the GOP had fallen into during the Clinton administration (much more so than they have under Obama). I think the US should be “modest” in its foreign policy in terms of not attempting things that aren’t doable, but certainly not in the sense of staying home and letting things go how they go. The more I read about the history of the modern age up until WW2, the more I think that the world is far, far better off with a single superpower that spends more on the military than the rest of the world combined than on having peace rely on a balance of power between “great powers”. And while some consider this not a CST friendly role, I would tend to think that the Church’s history of dealing with hegemonic powers quite happily (the Roman Empire after Constantine, Charlemagne’s empire, the Spanish and the Austro-Hungarians, etc.) is a fairly good template in this regard.

    On economics, I am frustrated with the tendency of many Republicans these days to assume that we’re always on the wrong side of the Laffer curve, but I’m simply not clear that European style social democracy is stable (see example: Europe right now), nor am I all that clear that Bush’s vague “compassionate conservatism” was all that much like Christian Democracy.

    Honestly, neither side seems to be coming out with exciting tax/social policy right now. The Dems seem to think they can have a “New New Deal” without bothering to reference reality, and the GOP is much better at cutting taxes than cutting spending (and perhaps a bit too anti-government to do a good job of redesigning and simplifying programs rather than just eliminating them.

  • Christian Social Democracy is great until the State goes broke which appears to be happening in Europe and here. It also helps if there is a United States of America around so that the amount of the defense budget can be sufficient to defend the nation from the Grand Duchy of Fenwick, but not much else.

    In regard to the Bush presidency I doubt if there would have been any greater involvement abroad than we saw under Clinton. What utterly transformed the Bush presidency was 9-11. Up to that time I think that Bush was completely focused on domestic matters and viewed his presidency as sort of a Texas governorship writ large, with Bush having little interest in foreign affairs and little desire for any great foreign involvements. 9-11 changed all of that.

    I think the finest movement of the Bush presidency was when he got behind the Surge, when very few people inside or outside the administration were in favor of it. His numbers were tanking and it was obvious that his Iraq policy was largely responsible, but instead of cutting and running he backed Petraeus in defeating the insurgency. He will win few accolades until the passions of the present have cooled, but that was perhaps the finest act of presidential leadership I have seen in my lifetime.

  • A Christian Democrat party could easily do well in the United States – and might be necessary as the current Democrat party has failed utterly, and the GOP leadership may fail to understand the revolutionary needs of the moment. The key, to me, is a matter of better educating people on the moral aspect of our crisis – that the debt and the wars are secondary to the fact that we have become an indecent nation. We can cut all the taxes and regulations we want; we can blow the world to smithereens or pull back to Fortress America…but if we don’t have a moral revival, we’re still doomed.

    At the time, I believe this sort of education is possible…more and more people are becoming disillusioned with both Big Government and Big Corporation and if some clever fellow can tie those two monstrosities to the moral degradation of our society (and both sides of that nauseating coin do assist each other, in turn, in breaking down societal morals), we’ll be on our way.

  • Betwixt and between someone might offer the rest of us an understanding of the distinction between ‘social democracy’, ‘christian democracy’, ‘christian social democracy’, and whatever you might call contemporary American political economy. That done, you then might give us a precis of how the social encyclicals could ever be used to adjudicate the disputes parties in this country actually (rather than caricatures of the stances people have). While we are at it, just what is meant by ‘big government’ and why is it that public spending per se (as opposed to public sector borrowing) causes a society to ‘go broke’?

  • As I read your US recent history, are we to reject the former Mr Bush cabinet member who said that 44 was searching for an excuse to get after Saddam, way before 9/11. The Pentagon illegally diverted funds to go into Iraq while the Afghanistan job was not obvviously completed, still is not. I am, to repeat, not a conspiracy theorist or sit at the feet of Left of Right demagogues and respect unbiased history when one can find such!

  • HermitTalker, the former cabinet secretary to which you are referring is Paul O’Neill. People who have been fired for poor performance are not the most reliable of witnesses and even in his rendering what he heard was a solitary flippant remark.

    The Iraq war was explicitly authorized by a joint resolution of Congress.

  • As I recall his work, there were several conversations at cabinet regarding the Saddam presence; “W” did at one point mention that “he tried to kill my Daddy”- a friend who once worked inside the beltway, and is an avid Democrat now retired to FL, sees it in psychological terms, worthy of Greek drama! NOW, as to Mr Blair in the UK here in our Europe, he lost the PM-ship and his Party the election in large part because of the reasons/excuses for Iraq 11 over the WMD and it seems tthe vote to approve was not based on clear, unequivocal evidence at the time Both sides may have fudged the security facts.

  • Paul O’Neill was Sec’y of the Treasury. He was “sounding the alarm” about the housing bubble that government sponsored enterprises (FHLMC, FNMA, HUD, FHA, VA, Fed, FDIC, etc.) had inflated. He was fired. He was right.

    I dunno how that it was related to Iraq or what.

    BTW: Victor Davis Hanson:

    “When you think about it, Obama has kept the detention camp at Guantanamo. He’s going ahead with military tribunals. And where Bush only waterboarded three terrorists, Obama has used drones to execute about 2,600.

    “Obama’s sort of growing on me.”

    If Obama wasn’t destroying the USA, maybe he’d be okay.

  • One of my reasons to retire in Europe was watching the headlong rush to Natural Law chaos in the USA. The fear of how much power the government would have over health care, given the disregard for human life from womb to tomb. There are no greener fields over the fence, but I stuck my tent peg in the ground here where the culture is kinder and the economy is not war driven as president Ike warned those years back. How prophetic of a former US General of the allied forces in Europe and POTUS later.

  • It’s not surprising that getting rid of Saddam would occur to leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. Both the US and UK had had combat troops in the region since the ’91 war, trying to enforce sanctions that Saddam clearly had no intention to abide by. One needs neither complex psychological theories nor conspiracy theories to see why regime change in Iraq was attractive when it had been made the official US policy back under Clinton.

    Of course, if retiring to Europem seemed like a good idea for reasons of culture and stability… We’re just sitting around hoping the EU doesn’t manage to send its collective economy down the toilet and pull the rest of the world spiraling down after it just as we’re getting back on our feet over here. I certainly wouldn’t want to stake a whole lot of my future on European welfare state structures at this point.

  • Thoughtful post Darwin. I had other considerations obviously but you will recall that the donwslide so quickly from the fundamental acceptance of the NATIRAL LAW, as explicitly proclaimed in the Preamble bothered me a lot as a believer and Catholic Christian Humanist. We are not relying on Big Brother/Sister Merkel and Sarkozy for our economic and social security. We are being forced to pay back the gamblers, Bankers and Co. Inc. who caused the problem and we also petition the government to ease up on laying the tax burden on the most vulnerable. As we look back at the USA, we are praying for all the world economies to recover even as we shudder at the very fragile recovery there with the growing awareness that we are in fact a global village and few are thriving with stable health. Time for more prayer and discernment for the next election and the decade beyond.

  • “I like Bush’s argument, that we have a humble foreign policy, when he ran in 2000…”

    – Ron Paul

    “I get to my God through Christ.

    Christ to me, is a man of peace. He is for peace. He’s not for war. He doesn’t justify preemptive declared war. I strongly believe there is a Christian doctrine of Just War and I believe this nation has drifted from that, no matter what the rationals are, we have drifted from that and it’s very, very dangerous and I see in many ways being un-Christian.

    And to justify what we do in the name of Christianity I think is very dangerous and not part of what Christianity is all about. Christ came here for spiritual reasons not secular war and boundaries and geography. Yet we are now dedicating so much of our aggressive activity in the name of God, but God– He is the Prince of Peace. That is what I see from my God, and through Christ, I vote for peace.”

    – Ron Paul

    “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”

    Mathew 5:9

  • Sorry for the confusion with the videos.

    “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”

    Mathew 5:9

  • “The key, to me, is a matter of better educating people on the moral aspect of our crisis – that the debt and the wars are secondary to the fact that we have become an indecent nation. We can cut all the taxes and regulations we want; we can blow the world to smithereens or pull back to Fortress America…but if we don’t have a moral revival, we’re still doomed. ”

    I agree with this.

    So does Ron Paul.

  • “We are being forced to pay back the gamblers, Bankers and Co. Inc. who caused the problem and we also petition the government to ease up on laying the tax burden on the most vulnerable.”

    Could you explain how the current European debt crisis is related to bankers etc and how current European govts. are laying tax burdens on the vulnerable.

Positivism, Ethics, & Law

Sunday, September 25, AD 2011

“A positivist conception of nature as purely functional, in the way that the natural sciences explain it, is incapable of producing any bridge to ethics and law, but once again yields only functional answers.”

– Pope Benedict XVI

“This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent.  Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable.”

– Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, writing on the Troy Davis case

I am curious about reader’s thoughts on the connection (if any) between the type of legal positivism endorsed by Justice Scalia and the gulf between ethics and law  described by Pope Benedict in his recent address to the German Bundestag. One possible view is that vigorously upholding the rule of law (even when it appears that the legally correct result may result in injustice) can be part of a larger moral project aimed at establishing a just society. When laws and legal precedent are infinitely malleable at the discretion (or, more pejoratively, whims) of individual judges, the law can quickly become an arbitrary and capricious exercise.

On the other hand, there is something surreal about making slippery slope arguments when the issue is whether or not a (very probably) innocent person should be executed (typically executing the innocent is at the bottom rather than the top of the slippery slope). At any rate, I would have struggled to explain to Troy Davis that his execution was a regrettable but necessary consequence of my larger theoretical legal project and the creation of a just society.

Now that I’ve phrased the question in a one-sided fashion, I’ll leave it open to the readers. Is there a tension between the positivism espoused by Justice Scalia and Pope Benedict’s insistence that law and ethics must always be linked? Does the belief that upholding the rule of law produces, in the aggregate, a more just society, resolve the tension in individual cases between legally correct but substantially unjust outcomes?


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20 Responses to Positivism, Ethics, & Law

  • CS Lewis deals with this issue indirectly in his essay “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”. Ultimately in defending the retributive theory he acknowledges that though punishments may occur that are cruel, society as a whole, if they grow repelled by them, they’ll act to change that. He gives historical examples of juries finding criminals innocent because they knew the punishment was going to be to severe. His big criticism against humanitarian/utilitarian views are exactly that they remove the humanity of the person by removing dessert, and thus the possibility of an innocent being convicted for the sake of the utility of the punishment to society. They are good questions you raise, as one would tend to think of Scalia as a fan of retributive views of justice in general, but the view espoused above clearly seems to go against that.

  • This may not be germane, but it occurs to me that when H VIII made a practical end to Catholicism in England (and thus, Great Britain and the Empire), it left his Chancellor (popularly the “conscience” of the King) who wielded the power of the Chancery Court to mitigate injustice produced by the “law”, without guidance formed by the action of the Holy Spirit upon his conscience. So came 400 years of immanentist materialism ruling the waves. A positivist outlook comes with being an Anglophone. Scalia, despite being a Catholic of Italian descent, is the latter and hence has the former. It is a matter of grace to detach oneself from cultural prejudices that forestall reception of the transcendent truths of the Church. Many Protestants are pro-life. I think the Church needs a category like “righteous gentile” or maybe an extended catechumenate.

  • Here is Scalia’s dissent:

    Scalia I think was making two points. First, the Davis case had been going on for almost two decades through the state system. Davis had ample opportunity to establish his innocence in the state court system. Federal review had reached the same conclusion by the Eleventh Circuit.
    Here is the Eleventh Circuit’s decision denying Davis the opportunity for a second habeas petition.

    An appeal from this decision was what was before the Supreme Court.

    Davis was thus asking for yet another bite at the apple by an unprecedented habeas corpus proceeding by the District Court. Over Scalia’s dissent he got it. The District Court in a 174 page opinion reached the same conclusion that all the other courts had reached: Davis was guilty.

    I can think of no judicial system, based on either natural law or positive law, that can afford convicted criminals endless appeals until they get the result they want. In our system we also should be wary of endless federal interference in what are, after all, state criminal cases. To a very large extent federal review has pre-empted state autonomy in regard to criminal justice and that does raise serious constitutional issues mentioned by Scalia.

  • As I understand it the claim of actual innocence is comes from Mr. Davis’s attorneys, fulfilling their duty to vigorously defend Mr. Davis. Certainly his attorneys are to be commended for their diligence. .. But they have never been able to establish it in a court of law. As I understand it they got him more of a tact review than is customary but the judge did the review was extremely unimpressed with their representation of old and new facts, the evidence still supported guilt.

    I do think B XVI would support suspending an excution as an act of mercy, but I do not think he would support making a decision of fact that is contarary by the established facts. While one may decide to stop an execution on pragmatic grounds, is that not the sort of utilitarianism the Pope is talking about?

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

  • I am a real amateur at this kind of question, so please let me know how far away I am from your question about the tension or lack of it in the two statements and the potential for a more just society

    I think B16 is discussing use of only functional method of finding answers leads to only functional answers… Scalia talking about not having that bridge to ethics for subjective application…that it has remained remained unresolved because they don’t have the tools within structure of precedents etc
    Jesus’ (and B16’s) approach to the law has those bridges, We have had 2000 years of Christian influence on the law but still still struggling with “yeah buts” , caveats and special cases….
    I am remembering that what happens to one man happens to all for whom the bell eventually tolls. We can’t be a just society if we are unjust to individuals. So in the aggregate, my answer is that society loses without those bridges.

  • Used to be, it was almost impossible to get an actually innocent man in to death row…it happened, of course, but very rarely. These days with the massive number of laws on the books (some assert that just in our normal, daily routines we are violating federal laws all the time) and the gigantic pressure which can be brought to bear by an out-of-control prosecutor (who will never be brought to account by another politician for fear of being “soft on crime), I’m not so sure. In Mr. Davis’ case, it does appear that he was up to a lot of no good when he was arrested…so, it isn’t like an innocent man was put to death, though there are questions about whether or not he did the deed he was condemned for.

    Scalia’s reasoning, in this, seems specious to me…but natural given the circumstances we have. Too many laws, too many lawyers…and average people are ground up in the system. Whatever method of justice we wish to have, we’ll have to go and start it from scratch at this point…our system is just too complicated and corrupted. Best would be a grand re-codification of US law in 200 pages or less.

  • “Used to be, it was almost impossible to get an actually innocent man in to death row…it happened, of course, but very rarely.”

    Actually the reverse is true. The procedural safeguards and endless appeals that hem in death penalty cases are very much a creation of the past half century. Prior to that time death sentences were carried out without appeals at all in some states. Mississippi had a mobile electric chair that would go from county to county to carry out death sentences shortly after the sentence had been imposed from 1940-1955.

  • John

    Think over your post some new thoughts cam to me.

    Personally I would not be disappointed if an Amendment were passed (by Congress and two thirds of the states) prohibiting the death penalty. But this has not happened. To say the constitution prohibit’s the Death penalty has a another ethical problem. The eighth helpful hint commandment –Thou shall not bar false witness. I do not see plausible means of saying otherwise.

    Since he is usually meticulous about such things, I am sure Justice Scalia’s statements represent statement of fact on the history of the courts handling of Habeas Corpus. Our system of government wisely provides different roles powers and limitations to the different branches and levels of government. This is fully in line with the Church’s teaching on subsidiary. Of course some with obvious good intentions hve tried to blur this to accomplish what is probably a worthwhile project. Doing this has often enough caused much more harm the hoped for good.

    I gather Justice Scalia was stating what he believed to be facts. His writing is a dissent so obviously others on the court had an honest disagreement.. But if in the interest of stopping an execution he stated something he did not believe to be true he would, with full knowledge and consent on a grave matter, be baring false wittiness. A serious ethical problem.

    He has to interpret the Constitution as he finds it not as he wishes it to be. If you think that is not the way it should be start a movement to amend the Constitution.

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

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  • It seems like Scalia’s objection is probably best summarized in his summing up:

    Today, without explanation and without any meaningful guidance, this Court sends the District Court for the Southern District of Georgia on a fool’s errand. That court is directed to consider evidence of actual innocence which has been reviewed and rejected at least three times, and which, even if adequate to persuade the District Court,cannot (as far as anyone knows) form the basis for any relief. I truly do not see how the District Court can discern what is expected of it. If this Court thinks it possible that capital convictions obtained in full compliance with law can never be final, but are always subject to being set aside by federal courts for the reason of “actual innocence,” it should set this case on our own docket so that we can (if necessary) resolve that question. Sending it to a district court that “might” be authorized to provide relief, but then again “might” be reversed if it did so, is not a sensible way to proceed.

    If I’m reading him right here, he’s not saying that whether or not someone is actually guilty is, from a constitutional point of view, irrelevant to whether he can be legally executed, but rather that the court is sending the case to be reviewed by a court which, even if it determined that Davis were actually innocent, would not have any clear line of authority to do anything about it.

  • If I’m reading him right here, he’s not saying that whether or not someone is actually guilty is, from a constitutional point of view, irrelevant to whether he can be legally executed, but rather that the court is sending the case to be reviewed by a court which, even if it determined that Davis were actually innocent, would not have any clear line of authority to do anything about it.

    It seems to me that he is saying both. If the district court had found new exculpatory evidence after (over Scalia’s dissent) the Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing, then Davis’s conviction would likely not have been upheld. In dissenting, Scalia was both expressing a view about the authority of the district court in certain circumstances and stating that ‘actual innocence’ was not a bar to execution after a ‘full and fair trial’. It is important to keep in mind that there can be substantial differences between the plain meaning and the legal meaning of what constitutes a full and fair trial.

    As it is, the conviction was upheld and the (admittedly brief) descriptions I’ve read of the 2010 trial suggest either Davis’s lawyers were incompetent or that they simply didn’t have the goods in terms of exculpatory evidence.

    In any case, I don’t think it can be denied as a general matter that Scalia’s judicial philosophy is substantially influenced by legal positivism.

  • I disagree that Scalia’s judicial phiosophy is influenced by legal positivism as such. I think Scalia does understand that a society should aspire to operate its legal system in accordance with natural law. The question is, who gets to decide what natural law is? Mindful that no human system for its determination is perfect, our system of government assigns lawmaking (or “lawfinding” if you prefer) power to the legislature representing the people. Judges are the custodians of the legislature’s decisions in this respect and are not accorded a warrant to substitute their judgment of natural law for that of the legislature’s. To act othewise would be ultra vires in principle and hubristic in practice. That is the nature of a federalist system with three branches of government, and it is a good system. While no doubt legislature’s are very imperfect in their lawmaking, judges would be far far worse. While Scalia no doubt appreciates the imperfections of legislatures, and no doubt holds disparate views of natural law in many cases, he understands his limited mandate and embraces the limitation with enthusiasm precisely because he believes, correctly, that allowing judges to substitute their lawmaking preferences for those of legislatures would almost certainly yield a much greater disparity between the positive law which he has been entrusted to apply and the natural law which legislatures have been entrusted to use in their enactment of positive laws.
    It is the job of legislators to enact positive laws that are consistent with and reflective of natural law; it is the job of the people to elect legislators who best understand this task; it is the job of the executive branch to execute and enforce those positive laws that have been enacted; and it is the job of judges to fairly and honestly construe and apply the laws that the legislature has enacted, even when they believe such laws are imprudent and even if they believe that they are imperfectly compatable with natural law. If such laws are so imperfect and odious that their faithful application would present a material cooperation with evil, a judge should say so and recuse; he should not however exceed his mandate simply because he can. That would be the true and perfect example of positive law — simply doing something because one has the “power” to get away with it.

  • I’m really in over my head here, but I think that Mike has the best explanation.

    There’s no necessary conflict between Benedict and Scalia. Justice dictates that no innocent man should be executed, and prudence dictates that each court have a specific domain. Besides, as a practical matter, if there were a case in which the correct positive legal decision violated natural law, I’m sure that Scalia would say just that. That may not carry weight in something like the gay marriage debate, but if he were to write at the end of a capital punishment appeal, “by the way, the guy obviously didn’t do it”, there isn’t a governor in the country who wouldn’t intervene.

  • Bravo Mike! I will have a post on Scalia and Natural Law tomorrow.

  • Thanks for an eloquent exposition of the position I gestured at in the post, Mike. It’s possible to believe that consistently applying a modest conception of the judicial role will result in a positive contribution to the common good.

    My concern is that even the best possible systems (let alone our current system) will produce unjust results in individual cases. I have substantial doubts about Troy Davis’s innocence (although I also have a reasonable doubt about his guilt), but let’s posit that he was actually innocent and that the evidentiary hearing in Georgia had come out the other way. Under Scalia’s view, it seems to me that the goal of preserving procedural requirements of the system have been subjugated to question of justice to the defendant for the purpose of that case. In other words, there appears to be a tension between a decision that best fits within Scalia’s view of the judicial role and a just outcome. In my view, when the matter concerns life or death for a potentially innocent person, the morally superior action is to adjust your judicial philosophy (a la Bush v. Gore, a “judicial bad hair day” in Scalia’s own words) rather than to state baldly that ‘actual innocence’ is not a bar to execution and vote to deny an additional evidentiary hearing. Even if Scalia’s facial legal positivism is only a symptom of a deeper commitment to establishing a just legal system, it seems to me that there has to be a point where commitment to creating a formally just system gives way to the need to ensure that the outcomes of that system actually are just. I recognize that the classic response to this concern is that it gives judges the license to make up laws as they go along and abuse their discretion; but, as a I said above, I find those types of slippery slope arguments rather beside the point when the question is execution.

  • It is hard to argue against the hypothesis that at some point a rule of positive law, regardless how clear, must give way to judicial discretion if necessary to avoid manifest injustice. As opposed to judicial activism as I am, even I concede the attractiveness of such a hypothesis. Assuming for a moment its sensibility, the standard is difficult to apply in practice and much heavy lifting is done by the words “manifest” and “necessity.” First, how certain must the jurist be that an injustice is at stake? In this regard the temptation will always be to substutute one’s judgment for that of others, which is precisely what is happening in the Troy Davis case. An assertion of “actual innocence,” even when combined with evidence that casts uncertainty on whether the reasonable doubt standard would be satisfied in the event of a retrial is not by any practical measure indicative of “manifest injustice.” Second, if an injustice is truly plain, is it not the job of the chief executive to exercise his responsibility to pardon? If he declines, isn’t it almost certainly because the injustice is not manfiest to him? Further, there is ample precedent for courts reversing convictions upon true proof of innocence, usually with the agreement of and often at the motion of prosecuters. In the end, while I acknowledge the hypothetical case of manifest injustice and the difficulty it presents in the abstract, the Troy Davis case does not remotely present such a situation.

  • In the end, while I acknowledge the hypothetical case of manifest injustice and the difficulty it presents in the abstract, the Troy Davis case does not remotely present such a situation.

    Thank you for another excellent response Mike. And for that matter, thank you to all of the commenters on this thread. I wish we had embedded comments here – it would make responding to each comment individually more manageable.

    It sounds like we agree in principle that manifest injustice may require a departure from the positive rule of law. We may differ in how we would apply that principle in the Troy Davis case depending on 1) our opinions on whether the additional evidentiary hearing was in tension with positive law (there seems to be some ambiguity on that question); and 2) if there was a tension, how we would resolve it. You think the bar needs to be very high to justify a departure from positive law; I think it should be lower in situations where execution or life in prison for an individual defendant are at stake.

    My question at this point is whether Scalia agrees with the principle we have articulated. From time to time he has been known to state his views in a colorful and forceful style that can give rise to misunderstanding and caricature. But when he says that ‘actual innocence’ is not necessarily a bar to execution, he is articulating a general principle that is not dependent upon his view of the innocence or guilt of Troy Davis. Is that general principle consistent with a belief that concerns about justice can override formal procedural considerations in cases involving execution? It seems to me that he is taking a more hard-line positivist approach than you subscribed to above.

  • I think that we’ve so lost the concept of binding law that Scalia feels the need to spell it out as clearly as possible. As someone said on the other thread, he does his best writing when dissenting. By its very nature, a dissent can’t accomplish anything other than provoke thought. So he lays out his judicial philosophy in a provocative way.

First Graders and History

Saturday, February 12, AD 2011

As we have learned, there was much hatred of Catholics by English Protestants in Maryland. One great Catholic man was able to overcome this hatred and he is one of our great patriotic heroes. His name was Charles Carroll. Charles Carroll was born in Maryland. His parents sent him to a Catholic school in France where Catholics were respected…Charles Carroll said that his greatest accomplishment was that he “practiced the duties of my religion.” Many Protestants began to realize that their prejudice against Catholics was unjustified.

The sentences above begin and conclude a typical lesson in a Catholic homeschooling course on American History intended for first graders.  This is not a genre with which I have much familiarity (we’re homeschooling for a few months to finish out the school year after a move), and so I thought it might be interesting to offer some comments as an outsider on the homeschooling materials we’ve received.

The most obvious (if superficial) feature of the homeschooling materials is that they are drenched in religious art, regardless of subject. As an alum of a mixture of public and parochial schools, I was surprised to find Spelling and Math textbooks adorned with (often very beautiful) religious art work. I don’t think there is anything right or wrong with decorating textbooks in this manner, per se, but it takes some getting used to.

As the passage quoted above suggests, the next thing that I noticed is that the history narratives tend to be awash in a type of Catholic triumphalism. I like a small dosage of triumphalism as much as the next guy, but it seems to me it should used (at most) as cream or sugar in coffee; the tendency with this particular textbook is instead to include a few (uniformly favorable) facts in the ongoing account of noble-Catholics-doing-good-things.

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10 Responses to First Graders and History

  • Now, now, John. I’m not sure that French Revolution professor was homeschooled… 😉

    But seriously. Where did you find this curriculum? Though to be fair, I can think of a few where this would probably not stand out a whole lot.

    We do homeschool all the kids, and as you know, MrsD and I were homeschooled through middle school and high school. I’d say this is fairly typical of a certain type of packaged Catholic homeschool curriculum. The would be the same sort of folks who would use Christ The King, Lord Of History in high school. One of the things about homeschooling, however, is that you have far more latitude than public or parochial school teachers in picking your own books, and thus there’s room for a lot more range. Some of the packaged Catholic curriculums use reprints of old 30s through 50s era Catholic school textbooks — and some of those are, in fact, overly triumphalistic IMHO. (Others are quite solid. Publishing was not as consolidated back then, and there appear to have been a wider range of materials.)

    Overall, I’d say it’s okay to have a history textbook for first graders which has a bit of a good guys/bad guys approach to some issues, but it needs to be done carefully. I certainly wouldn’t have a problem with a kids textbook talking about persecution of the Catholics in England, and how that was eventually put aside in the United States, but obviously I’d expect there to be some discussion of Catholics persecuting Protestants and Protestants persecuting each other as well. I think it’s a bad idea if a history textbook sets kids up to be surprised by that kind of revelation later. (What, you mean Catholic sometimes persecuted people as well? I never knew that! I thought they were the good guys!)

    Right now I’m reading the girls (primarily our 3rd and 2nd graders) E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World. Gombrich was, I believe, Jewish, but he wrote the book for a mainstream children’s audience in 1920s Austria, and it’s since become available in English. It generally treats the Catholic Church very fairly (perhaps no surprise, being written for an Austrian audience at that time) and I like it’s story-telling without hyperventilating approach. But there are an awful lot of good things out there.

    I’d say the key, with homeschooling, is that it primarily makes sense for people who have an active interest in spending a fair amount of time searching out good materials themselves. There are packaged curriculums out there, but as you’ve found they all have their own particular flavor, and it’s important to decide whether or not you think it’s the right one. (We take a “build our own” approach to curriculum, ourselves.)

  • (Guest comment from Don’s wife Cathy): We did history unit studies with the kids every summer before our oldest graduated from the local public high school, as well as reading aloud daily from children’s history books & biographies after (public) school. I used what Catholic materials I could find (TAN Books titles such as “Christ the King, Lord of History,” old parochial school textbooks, Vision Books biographies, and some adult books from Don’s personal collection) as supplements to Protestant homeschool materials and secular children’s books (& public-school theme unit books). I think the mix of materials from various viewpoints provided balanced coverage of the periods and individuals we read about, without boring the kids.

    Don’s wide reading background in history and common-sense “reality checks” were also a good safeguard against any nonsense which might have cropped up in our choice of history reading material. One pair of books Don particularly recommends is “The History of the Ancient World” and “The History of the Medieval World” by Susan Wise Bauer. These 2 volumes are both published by Norton and written for adults, but make extensive use of any written material available from the period being discussed, and are much less dry as read-alouds for children & teenagers than most adult history books would be. (NB: These should not be confused with her “The Story of the World” series (published by Peace Hill Press), a Protestant homeschool history curriculum (I believe) which we have not used (and therefore are unable to comment on with any knowledge).)

  • “I like a small dosage of triumphalism as much as the next guy, but it seems to me it should used (at most) as cream or sugar in coffee”

    That’s a good way to put it. Same with political or religious satire or parody — if it is used as an occasional “flavoring” to an otherwise bland public discourse or course of historical study, it’s fine; when it becomes the dominant or main course it rapidly becomes indigestible.

    Also Don and Cathy point out something that may be overlooked in the St. Blogs arena: homeschooling doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Really, ALL parents homeschool to some extent, the only difference is whether they do it full time or part time. A family that is not prepared or able to homeschool full time can still use homeschooling materials to supplement what their child receives at a public or Catholic school. Every little bit helps even if it’s just during the summer, or on weekends or in the evenings.

  • This seems to be a deficit with the textbook approach to teaching full stop. The older approach would have been more comprehensive references and instruction dependent more on lecture. The advantage of the former is that it has democratized instruction, enabling more to do it. The big disadvantage is there is no clear point to transition to mastery of a topic. As a professor of mine put it, at some point you have to stop taking survey courses and actually learn something.

    Personally, I don’t see much value in a first grader knowing about Carroll. I can understand giving a kid cocktail answers (the year the US entered WWI, the allied powers of WWII, the axis powers of WWII), but giving a kid cocktail opinions just seems silly. Even were the opinion of Carroll not difficult to defend, the child still would have no real ability to defend it and have no real understanding of the opinion. I’ve come to the opinion that it is better to teach children mastery of a few things than to give them a little knowledge of a lot of things.

  • The statement is true, it is pitched at 1st graders who, presumptively, are being brought up in the Catholic faith…in such a situation, you keep it simple and you provide abundant reasons for loving what should be loved…you can explain why the beloved object did some hateful things later, then the kid is older and fully grounded in the faith.

  • Interesting. I’ve never thought about home school curricula before.

    Agreed about a 1st grader not needing to know about an oversimplified version of Carroll. But I could see maybe having your child read about him in later high school, and maybe even reading The American Cicero by Birzer.

    That’s what I see as the great home school advantage. The ability to utilize great works on a particular issue that actually inspire and generate interest. 1776 or John Adams by McCullough, e.g., for the war of independence. I’d also recommend Bill Bennett’s American history books for high school level (maybe junior high, as well) called America: the last best hope; I think it comes in two volumes. He wrote it with the intention that it be used by students as an inspiring, narrative-oriented alternative to the dry, sterile, p.c. account we find in most textbooks. It even has a sprinkling of Catholic anecdotes.

  • Thanks for the comments, all. As Darwin, Cathy, and M.Z. point out, it looks like we made a rookie mistake in approaching homeschooling. We were just looking for something to fill in a few months prior to the next school year and so we have not spent much time figuring out what materials to use. For now, I think we will probably just selectively use the pre-packaged curriculum we have (how bad can the Math book be?) with some supplemental materials for subjects like history.

    Mark – to the extent we disagree on the merits of the lesson quoted above, I’ll note that my problem with the lesson is not primarily that it presents a rosy view of Catholics; it’s that it denigrates Protestants as full of “prejudice” and “hatred” while at the same time presenting Catholics as heroes. Any time a history book starts resembling a New York Times Op-ed, I get a little uneasy. Tribalism is tribalism, whether it’s religious or political.

  • Hmmm, not sure I see the problem with the cited passage, which seems simply factual to me.

    Of course, all history comes with a viewpoint. Why should Catholics feel compelled to give their children the supposedly “neutral” viewpoint (which in fact imports a secularist viewpoint).

    Of all the viewpoint-laden history out there, it seems to me perfectly natural that Catholics would select a history that highlights the accomplishments of our co-religionists, and attempts to correct some of the “black legend” so prevalent in American history texts.

    Of course, when students reach higher levels of study, the simple grade school narrations give way to a more comprehensive study, which will be more nuanced.

    But for grade school, history has to be a fairly simple narrative. Better one like the sample above than what passes for history in the government schools.

  • Oh, and some of the “prejudice” and “hatred” for Catholics in the New World is touched on here: and includes violent persecution.

    After all, we’re talking about an English colony during a time when the Penal laws were in effect, and martyrdoms were occuring, yes, even in the colonies.

    I don’t think it’s mere tribalism to re-cover some basic truths about this period of history: the dominant English Protestant culture was not a welcoming environment for Catholics, and not just in New England.

  • John,

    Well, I wish it were a reasonable assumption that one could simply pick up on of the standard Catholic curriculums and expect it to be good without reservation, but at least as of when I’ve looked I’ve always had a few issues with their choices in history and science (though the latter shouldn’t affect first grade much.) On the other hand, there’s no reason not to mix and match, so it’s easily remedied.

    For the record, if someone does want to pick up a boxed curriculum and not have to worry about any of the content, my strong recommendation for a Catholic family would actually be to pick up the secular (but certainly not hostile to Christianity) curriculum from Calvert, which is the curriculum which is often used by kids of parents in the diplomatic core, etc. Pair that with the Faith & Life religious ed books from Ignatius and some bible stories and saints lives and you’re pretty much all set. (Not like I’d be advocating doing a sudden switch in your situation.) Calvert is not cheap, though it’s less than parochial school tuition, but they’re been pretty universally good in all the grades I’ve seen. I’d tend to say this is an example where a well done secular approach to curriculum development is sometimes better than an overly religiously-motivated one.

He Leadeth Me and Paul Krugman

Tuesday, October 5, AD 2010

I suppose it may be a symptom of an unbalanced intellectual life, but one question that occurred to me while reading He Leadeth Me (an excellent and moving account of a Catholic priest who was  imprisoned for over two decades in the Soviet Union) several months ago was a question about the failure of the Soviet economic system. In the book, Fr. Ciszek recounts year after year of back-breaking labor for 12-14 hours a day in Siberian labor camps. He and his fellow prisoners lived in squalid conditions, and were provided with hardly enough food to keep them alive. This is all horrible, of course, and I’d recommend Fr. Ciszek’s work to anyone who has a tendency to complain about the difficulties of pursuing sanctification in their jobs.

But it seemed to me that, unless the prisoners were basically digging ditches and filling them back up again,  this type of coercion would increase economic efficiency, given that the inputs required to organize the prisoners were minimal and the workers were producing a great deal. Certainly, Soviet workers in these mines were producing more than unionized U.S. workers of the time. As it turns out, I am not the only who thought this way. As Paul Krugman helpfully explains, claims about the economic superiority of the Soviet Union were commonplace in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and many prominent economists reluctantly concluded that centrally planned economies had unique efficiency advantages:

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3 Responses to He Leadeth Me and Paul Krugman

  • Glad I’m not the only one who gets off on these odd economic digressions when reading some unrelated piece.

    One other item of interest on how planned economies tended not to work as well as might otherwise be imagined — centralized planning also tended to be very good at meeting needs well understood by the planners. However, if the planning was imperfect, so, often, the production. Thus, the USSR might achieve some feat like assuring that every collective farm had an automatic wheat harvesting machine, yet miss the detail of which collectives actually produced wheat. (That being an example I remember reading about at one point.) Obviously, at that point, the accomplishment of producing all the harvesters is semi-wasted effort.

  • I just remember what some anonymous Russian was quoted as saying “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” Slave labor is never really productive.

  • The Soviets simply recreated state serfdom with the added horrors of mass executions, mass imprisonment and man-made famine. Western useful idiots eagerly swallowed make-believe Soviet statistics, and ignored the fact that, at a much higher human cost, the Soviets were simply continuing the industrialization process that already had been well under way during the reign of the Tsars. Russia and its subject states were and are immensely rich in natural resources and manpower, and it took a truly pathological system to achieve simple industrialization in the 20th century through the type of unending misery imposed on their subjects by the Soviet Nomenklatura.

Wishful Thinking Revisited

Tuesday, September 21, AD 2010

Following the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, it looked for a time as is if the passage of the recent Health Care Reform legislation was unlikely. The most common arguments aimed at moderate Democrats in the House during this time period were as follows:

1) That the Health Care reform bill would become more popular after it had passed.

2) That given widespread voter ignorance, it was unlikely that this particular vote would have much effect on any individual House member’s re-election campaign.

The first argument has long since been proven false. And now it appears the second was incorrect also:

Out of the original 50 districts, only 41 had members who cast a vote on health care reform and are running for reelection.  If we just divide these members based on their health care votes, those who voted for health reform are running 2.7 percentage points behind those who voted against it.  But, of course, we should control for other things, especially district conservatism, since those from the more conservative districts voted almost uniformly against reform.  I also included the members’ DW-NOMINATE scores to distinguish the health care vote from the members’ overall voting records.

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14 Responses to Wishful Thinking Revisited

  • By financially irresponsible, I assume you think that it will not pay for itself and actually reduce public deficits. I assume you think that the CBO is simply wrong.

    Even so, I assume you will admit that the Act at least attempts to pay for the subsidizes involved, which was not true of any of the three big Bush episodes in fiscal irresponsibility – tax cuts tilted toward the rich, war, and Medicare Part D – each of which cost more than the price tag for healthcare, and none of which was paid for.

    I assume you also think that extending insurance to 32 million people is not worth the risk that the CBO might know something more than you.

  • What is truly telling about Obamacare is that this is the signal accomplishment of this administration, and that not one Democrat running for Congress is touting this “achievement” in campaign ads, while several Democrats are touting their opposition to Obamacare. Bloggers can say what they will, but the proof that something is truly unpopular is the total silence of the candidates of the party which passed the legislation.

  • By financially irresponsible, I assume you think that it will not pay for itself and actually reduce public deficits. I assume you think that the CBO is simply wrong.

    No, I think the CBO was correct. They followed their stated methodology, and acknowledged that their methodology was very unlikely to accurately reflect reality. The difficulty is that we were already on the path to financial insolvency from Medicare and Social Security; by using up all of the easiest cuts to those programs on this go-round to “pay for” an expansion of entitlements (and notice the payments don’t start until 2014, while revenues are collected much earlier), we made our long-term debt load significantly more difficult to service. Additionally, the Act did not do much at all to increase the supply of health care services; it’s primary effect is to increase demand. This will dramatically increase costs and/or rationing in the long-term.

    Even so, I assume you will admit that the Act at least attempts to pay for the subsidizes involved, which was not true of any of the three big Bush episodes in fiscal irresponsibility – tax cuts tilted toward the rich, war, and Medicare Part D – each of which cost more than the price tag for healthcare, and none of which was paid for.

    I know the tu quoque is invaluable for partisan hacks and polemicists the world over, but I find it tiresome. The Bush tax cuts were fiscally irresponsible. The Iraq invasion did not meet just war criteria, and additional taxes were not raised to finance it. Medicare Part D was somewhat fiscally irresponsible (although I can’t imagine why you, of all people, would object to it). So what? The Bush era deficits were a drop in the bucket compared to the current projected Obama deficits, and Bush had more reason to suspect they could be paid off than Obama. If you actually object Bush’s record on the grounds of fiscal irresponsibility (as opposed to reflexive partisanship), I imagine that you are horrified by the Obama-era deficits. Certainly, the polls suggest that many voters are.

    I assume you also think that extending insurance to 32 million people is not worth the risk that the CBO might know something more than you.

    As I said, I think the CBO did a perfectly fine job; I simply accept their statements that their projections are unlikely to match reality. Keep in mind that insurance is not health care; a promise to provide health care is not health care. The AHCAA is a leap into the dark. We are certain it will be expensive. We are certain it will lead to more rationing. We aren’t certain of much else, and if the wishful projections of the health care reform proponents on the finances are anything like their political prognostications, we will have simply added another unaffordable entitlement program on top of social security and medicare. The goal of expanding access to health care is admirable; the moment was not right and the means were ill-chosen.

  • By financially irresponsible, I assume you think that it will not pay for itself and actually reduce public deficits.

    Am I missing something – how will it pay for itself? Raising taxes to cover it is not “paying for itself” – it is us paying for it.

  • Heck, even the Dems aren’t arguing anymore that it will save money and reduce the deficit:

  • Heck, even the Dems aren’t arguing anymore that it will save money and reduce the deficit:

    I suppose it’s just a concession to voter ignorance: any educated voter knows that financing health care for 32 million more people (10% of the population) will reduce the deficit. I chalk it up to Republican lies and fear-mongering. 😉

  • Yes indeed. The Koch brothers at work. Obviously. :0

  • Polling is typically +/- 3.5% error. Add to that a likely voters model which introduces its own error, and you end up with crap like this that treats an issue as determinate that may or may not be determinate. There are so many problems with this analysis I don’t hardly know where to begin. Probably a good start would be requiring him to retake his stats course. If he would have ran the model with several other votes, we might approach having some data on what is costing people voters in certain districts. This again assumes congressional votes are determinant in elections which is hardly settled. Of course the easy way to ascertain this is to ask the poll question, “Does Congresscritter’s vote for/against health care reform make you more likely or less likely to vote for said critter?” While it wouldn’t be perfect, it would be better than trying to infer by a several weeks of polls occuring months before likely voters starting really caring about candidates.

  • M.Z.,

    Polling may typically have +/- 3.5% error, but the numbers above aren’t based on one poll, but rather an aggregate of a number of polls across many races based on predictions, which is pretty much the best available data (and hardly likely to be skewed toward GOP favorable narratives). It’s not perfect as professor Masket acknowledges, but if you want to debunk the poll, I think you’ll have to do better than the observations above. I doubt political science professor Seth Masket needs to retake (presumably one of his own) stats classes, and I certainly took it as an argument against interest given the respective political affiliations of Matt Yglesias, Masket, and

  • John Henry writes: “you actually object Bush’s record on the grounds of fiscal irresponsibility (as opposed to reflexive partisanship), I imagine that you are horrified by the Obama-era deficits.”

    I am horrified by this statement. Are you at all aware why the deficits are so high? The vast majority can be explained by the Bush-era policies and the automatic stabilizers from the deepest recession since the Great Depression. I assume that not even you would propose a procyclical fiscal tighening in the midst of deep recession.

    As for the old cannard on social security and medicare – yes, medicare is becoming unsustainable (social security is totally different, something the punditocracy simply don’t get). The healthcare bill takes the first step toward curbing the growth of costs, including with the Medicare commission that Republicans are demonizing (funny how they can rail against “government” healthcare and defend a single payers system tooth-and-nail at the same time, isn’t it?). In fact, most experts praise the delivery system reforms as the first ever real attempt to bend the curve here. I advise you to actually look at what is in the bill (start with the Kaiser video if that is simpler).

    On costs, another points is that private insurance costs are rising dramatically more than public costs. Of course, this cost is really borne by lower wages, and so is not transparent, but it is real.

    Finally,I find it dismaying that you paint pictures of phantom “rationing” while saying nothing about the scourge of rationing by cost today in uninsurance and underinsurance. Brining 32 million more people into the net is a great achievement. And yet you remain cavalier. You claim to support the goal, but you claim the means were ill-chosen. Please tell me what means you would choose. I can tell you that universal coverage pretty much always requires some form of community rating alongside an individual mandate. This is why none of the Republican proposals would not even make a dent in the number of uninsured. The laughable part is that this reform was considered pretty conservative only a decade ago – it was basically the Republican alternative to Clinton healthcare reforms, and formed the basis of Romney’s reform. But now, with the inmates running the asylum, it has been transformed from a prudential private-sector approach to a socialist conspiracy. And you call me a partisan hack.

  • I am horrified by this statement….I assume that not even you would propose a procyclical fiscal tighening in the midst of deep recession.

    This is either ignorant or deliberately obtuse MM. The major expenditures for the health care bill don’t even start until 2014. The point above was obviously not that right now, in the midst of a terrible recession, we’re running deficits. Of course we are; tax revenues fell of a cliff. The point was that adding a new entitlement program to our long term commitments was unwise; it makes the structural problems with our existing entitlement obligations worse.

    As for the old cannard on social security and medicare

    Canard? Medicare and Social Security have grown from 16% of the budget forty years ago, to 40% of the budget today, and they are expected to continue to consume even larger percentages of the budget going forward.

    The healthcare bill takes the first step toward curbing the growth of costs, including with the Medicare commission that Republicans are demonizing (funny how they can rail against “government” healthcare and defend a single payers system tooth-and-nail at the same time, isn’t it?). In fact, most experts praise the delivery system reforms as the first ever real attempt to bend the curve here

    Yes, as I mentioned above, the health care reform bill makes some reforms to medicare (I have a friend in charge of implementing some of them – and he’s skeptical they really will reduce costs). But all of these ‘cost-savings’ were used to finance an expanded entitlement. Even if the reforms to Medicare are as effective as advocates hope (about which many experts, including my friend, are skeptical), that money is simply being used to finance another entitlement that we also have to hope won’t be more expensive than forecasted. The Administration has dishonestly tried to double count the Medicare savings on a number of occasions – despite the CBO’s explicit statements to the contrary. Calling this activity ‘curbing costs’ requires some real creativity.

    On costs, another points is that private insurance costs are rising dramatically more than public costs. Of course, this cost is really borne by lower wages, and so is not transparent, but it is real.

    Right, and the CBO estimates that the health care reform bill will cause the cost of private insurance plans to rise an additional 10%-13%. That’s curbing costs, alright.

    Finally,I find it dismaying that you paint pictures of phantom “rationing” while saying nothing about the scourge of rationing by cost today in uninsurance and underinsurance. Brining 32 million more people into the net is a great achievement

    Right. Or rather, it would be a great achievement if it doesn’t cause problems worse than it sought to resolve. In Massachusetts, costs have skyrocketed, and it’s not clear that health outcomes have improved. I believe that a similar thing will happen in the U.S. as a whole, and I see little reason for optimism on that account. A promise of health care that can’t be delivered on because of much higher costs and lower supply of medical professionals is not a better outcome than the status quo.

  • John,

    You are making a number of factual errors that have been debunked many times.

    First, the huge long-term funding gap in entitlement program is almost exclusively medicare; social security makes up only between 15-20 percent of it, if I am remembering correctly. Social security can be fixed very easily, while bending the long-term healthcare cost curve (both public and private) is a lot harder. And you are not giving the PPACA any credit for at least taking a tentative step in the right direction.

    Second, PPACA is not an entitlement. It is an mandated expansion of insurance through the private sector. You might call the subsidies an entitlement, but that twists the definition somewhat. (And anyway, if you are so worried about long-term trends, how about we agree to raise taxes on the rich and cut military spending – the two discretionary items that would have the largest budgetary impact?).

    Third, you misinterpret, or misunderstand, what the CBO found on premiums. See here: The bottom line is this: premiums in the small- and large-group markets (159 million people, the vast majority) will see little change (a minor reduction, in fact). In the individual market, you do see premiums rise by 10-12 percent, but the CBO goes to great pains to explain that this is all from better packages. With access to real affordable options, people are choosing higher quuality packages – this accounts for a 30 percent price increase, suggesting countervailing savings from the individual mandate and elsewhere. Oh, and if you get a subsidy, your premiums fall by 60 percent. Not a bad deal.

    Fourth, you claim the Romney experiment has failed. Not so. Coverage is now close to universal, and both the individual and employer mandate are working. This reform mirrored the federal reform on access to healthcare, but not on cost control, so we won’t expect to see big savings, especially in the group markets. But there is one area where we do – the same old previously-dysfunctional individual market. Jonathan Gruber wrote a paper on this, and his conclusion is that the average individual premium fell by 40 percent, while the rest of the nation was seeing a 14 percent increase. Again, this is not bad.

  • The looming entitlement crunch is going to be brutal. Two partisan-like points that don’t seem terribly arguable, in my opinion:

    Bush and the GOP were reckless in recent years, particularly with military expenditures in lives and money.

    The Democrats, led by Obama, are not only bad on such measures (less so on military adventurism, more so on entitlements and deficits) they are worse.

    This is one reason to wish the populist Tea Party folks well, even as I dislike populism.

  • First, the huge long-term funding gap in entitlement program is almost exclusively medicare; social security makes up only between 15-20 percent of it, if I am remembering correctly. Social security can be fixed very easily…

    First of all, 15-20 percent is a significant component of a problem; it’s not a ‘canard’ to note that. And while the fixes for social security are easy conceptually, that does not mean they are easy politically. If they were, they would already have been made (and many of them, like means testing, will be fought tooth and nail by the Obama Administration).

    Second, PPACA is not an entitlement. It is an mandated expansion of insurance through the private sector. You might call the subsidies an entitlement, but that twists the definition somewhat.

    It’s not “twisting” the definition at all in this context; health care subsidies are simply slightly differently structured entitlement programs. Certainly it makes no difference from a fiscal perspective, which is what we were discussing.

    Third, you misinterpret, or misunderstand, what the CBO found on premiums. See here: The bottom line is this: premiums in the small- and large-group markets (159 million people, the vast majority) will see little change (a minor reduction, in fact). In the individual market, you do see premiums rise by 10-12 percent, but the CBO goes to great pains to explain that this is all from better packages.

    Well, it depends on what ‘a better package’ is. If the new package is expensive as projected, less and less people will be able to afford it, which in turn places more pressure on private market premiums. A 7 series BMW is better than a Civic. But a Civic is fine for most people; what the new health care reform bill did was ban the sale of Civics, and mandate everyone purchase a somewhat cheaper 7 Series. For some people that’s great – they get a cheaper 7 series; for a lot of other people (who will likely then require more government subsidies) it means they can’t afford a car at all.

    Fourth, you claim the Romney experiment has failed. Not so. Coverage is now close to universal, and both the individual and employer mandate are working. This reform mirrored the federal reform on access to healthcare, but not on cost control, so we won’t expect to see big savings. Jonathan Gruber wrote a paper on this, and his conclusion is that the average individual premium fell by 40 percent, while the rest of the nation was seeing a 14 percent increase. Again, this is not bad.

    I am not sure what you mean by ‘working’. Contra Gruber, costs have risen significantly for private insurer plans in Massachusetts – and those costs can be directly linked to the health care reform legislation. Massachusetts has the second most expensive health insurance in the country. The health care market basically shut down earlier this year when state legislators decided that the cost increases required by legislation they passed were too expensive for insurers complying with the laws to pass on to consumers. As to why I rely on experts other than Gruber, this would be the same guy that wasn’t even honest enough to disclose that he was being paid $300,000 by the Obama Administration to reporters when he provided them with quotes as an ‘independent’ expert?

Lies People Tell Children

Friday, September 17, AD 2010

Ann Althouse has fun with a recent back-to-school speech delivered by President Obama:

President Obama’s back to school speech contained blatant lies…and if there were any students not bright enough to notice that they were hearing lies, the lies, in their particular cases, were, ironically, bigger lies. Check it out:

  • “Nobody gets to write your destiny but you. Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing — absolutely nothing — is beyond your reach, so long as you’re willing to dream big, so long as you’re willing to work hard. So long as you’re willing to stay focused on your education, there is not a single thing that any of you cannot accomplish, not a single thing. I believe that.”

If you believe that, you are so dumb that your chances of controlling your own destiny are especially small. But it’s absurd to tell kids that if only they dream big, work hard, and get an education, they can have anything they want. Do you know what kind of dream job kids today have?  A recent Marist poll showed that 32% would like to be an actor/actress. 29% want to be a professional athlete.  13% want to be President of the United States.  That’s not going to happen.

Even young people with more modest dreams — like getting a decent law job after getting good grades at an excellent law school — are not getting what they want. To say “nothing — absolutely nothing — is beyond your reach” is a blatant lie, and Barack Obama knows that very well…

…Does [Obama] look at a poor person and say, his life is what he made it? Of course not.

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13 Responses to Lies People Tell Children

  • The ideology of egalitarianism (we all have the same moral worth, but differ quite a lot in aptitude and interest) has massive opportunity and emotional costs – and not infrequently, just so some elite can feel good and morally superior.

    In education, for example, what if very easily observable differences in educational attainment (existing across time and environment, regardless of massive influxes of cash – go ahead and look into the Kansas City and New Jersey examples as particularly bad on that score) are due in no small measure to heredity? UH OH – thought crime. But then our whole educational system is a giant false pretence, with constant “innovation” to little avail. Better to have tracking and a revival of vocational training (combined with a massive lowering of immigration to keep wages from crashing).

    If, that is, our PC-addled stomachs can take it, which I seriously doubt.

    Once again, leftists and right-liberals: you care about the poor? Stop destroying their wages through the systematic decline of industry and the influx of labor. Cesar Chavez, a great hero of mine, understood this, but many of you seem much more interested in status posturing – after all, your job is not in jeopardy……


  • Interesting. The idea of ‘vocation’ is thrown quite out the window, isn’t it? When life only has a meaning that you choose, can it really have a meaning?

    Having said that, I believe intelligence is a very flexible trait. Not to mention wisdom.

  • I find myself conflicted about this kind of thing, in that, on the one hand, it’s demonstrably false that you can do anything if you try hard enough, believe, in yourself, etc.

    On the other hand, with sufficient effort one can often do a number of things which a given teacher, relative, mentor, etc. would not actually realize that you would be capable of doing. So while what you can do in life is certainly contrained by ability, there is a great deal one can do with sufficient effort.

    It seems to me that sometimes our development is spurred on by a bit of delusion. I look back at stuff I wrote in high school, which I honest thought was very good writing at the time, and I know it was just bad. Yet, if I’d been fully aware at the time how bad my writing was, I probalby would have simply quit. In similar form, a certain amount of “you can do anything with sufficient effort” kind of thinking may actually be helpful, even if it isn’t true. But if you have no idea of what your actual limits in ability are, and you really do spend fifteen years of your life trying to become an astronaut or an NFL star, when you pretty clearly just can’t, you’ll end up a pretty disappointed person.

    American culture seems fairly heavily based on the illusion that with sufficient hard work anyone can do anything — perhaps as much so as some traditional cultures were built on the idea that everyone was categorized by birth. I’m not sure what happens to American culture if we actualy admitted on a widespread level that many people don’t actually have the ability to “rise to the top” even if they work hard.

  • It’s a balancing act. I’ve been discouraged from doing things I’ve been told I wouldn’t excel at but looking back my only obstacle was the discouragement. I’ve also been encouraged to do things I’ve failed at miserably. It’s good to pursue big dreams but it’s equally important to assess our chances of success realistically and take measures to hedge our risk of failure.

  • ….How many folks stick with what they wanted to do in high school? (Well, TECHNICALLY I’m being paid to write, but I don’t think that Amazon’s Mechanical Turk would even be recognizable to me. ^.^ I’ll still never be able to write the stories I dream of, any more than I’ll paint the images I dream, or be a great singer.)

    I can’t stand the “you can be anything you put your mind to”– although I like its cousin, “work hard and you can succeed.” It may not be the success you were thinking of, and the work may be in more places than you ever imagined, but hey.

    An odd association popped up: how many dang times in the Bible does God pull his little joke of giving folks things in ways they never thought of?

  • I can’t remember who said it (W.C.Fields or Will Rogers?) but I always loved this advice:

    If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. After that, move on – there’s no sense in being a dang fool about it.

  • “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again… Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.” ~Mark Twain

  • I think Christopher Lasch offered that early 19th century writings on the subject of coming into adult life did not typically incorporate notions of upward mobility, but of each man having a ‘competence’. The difficulty with that at this time is that contemporary division of labor leaves a large fraction of the labor force with service jobs for which the level of skill and capacity for acquiring it is severely limited. One salutary social adjustment is having such employment nearly universal for people at a given point in their life cycle and another is having such employment as a pragmatic supplement to family income. Still, you have a large fraction of the labor force who do this sort of work all their lives and have to look outside their work for aught but minor satisfactions.

  • I can’t speak for other eras, but all my 50+ years I have observed that most people work for money. They very seldom have jobs that they would confuse with their avocations, and those that do are mightily blessed. Fathers work in jobs they do not particularly enjoy as an expression of love for their families. I doubt this is new. There is risk in the ubiquitous admonishment “Find your passion!” We have tens of thousands of 20- and 30-somethings in this country who live at home waiting for an occupation to surface that suits their passion or interest. This is not to say that no passion seeker ever succeeds — just that it is a very risky strategy. My observation is that those who embark on this strategy successfully usually do so from a posture of family comfort. A trustafarian can more rationally try to align his work-life with his interests than most of us.

  • The part of the message that is true, and ought to be repeated is this:

    Nobody knows what you can do until you work at it for a while.

    But “you can do anything if you put your mind to it” is simply false. It also sends an extremely bad message (as does the french fry poster), that certain kinds of work is to be sneered at, that workers who toil at those kinds of work are “people who didn’t put their mind to it,” and that the purpose of work is self-satisfaction and pride.

    Which it’s not.

  • Which it’s not.

    It is not, but there is a sense of craftsmanship to be had in tasks well-executed. (Of course, people’s capacity to experience that is variable, as is their opportunity).

  • Craftsmanship =/= pride.

    Satisfaction in a job well done =/= self-satisfaction.

  • As in most things there needs to be a balance between “You can do absolutely ANYTHING if you try hard enough” vs. “You are nothing but a helpless victim of circumstance and it doesn’t matter what you do.” Perhaps the first attitude is an overreaction to the latter, or vice versa.

    Although perfection cannot be achieved in this world, there is a value in setting the bar pretty high. Another favorite quote of mine from Mere Christianity: “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”; aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Glenn Beck: Evangelical Outreach Coordinator?

Tuesday, August 31, AD 2010

I’m on record as not being a member of the Glenn Beck fan club. I don’t like his overly emotive mannerisms, his politics, or his theology. I’d rather the president of my alma mater was more circumspect in praising him, and I’ve written to the university to that effect. At the same time, I’m somewhat fascinated by the accounts of his rally in DC this past weekend. For instance, here is David Weigel (erstwhile Washington Post reporter and Journolist member) reporting on the event:

“It’s about as angry as a Teletubbies episode….The Democrats who pre-butted Beck’s rally by predicting an overtly political hateananny were played for suckers. They didn’t pay attention to Beck’s “Founder Fridays” episodes on Fox, his high-selling speaking tour, or his schmaltzy children’s book The Christmas Sweater. It’s not his blackboard that makes him popular. It’s the total package he sells: membership in a corny, righteous, Mormonism-approved-by-John Hagee cultural family. The anger is what the media focus on, he says, joking several times about what “the press” will do to twist his words.

Beck’s rally ends just as he said it would—without incident, political or otherwise. He’s just taken the world’s most derided TV audience, put them in the National Mall, and presided over the world’s largest megachurch. “Bring out the bagpipes,” he says. Bagpipe players then walk onto his stage, and the sound of “Amazing Grace” fills the mall.

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85 Responses to Glenn Beck: Evangelical Outreach Coordinator?

  • I’m more or less on the fence about Beck, though perhaps a little less critical than you. I watched a few minutes of the event on Saturday, and am mainly glad I didn’t wade through Metro and/or traffic in order to get down there myself.

    That said, I think he gave his critics very thin gruel indeed. I don’t know that this will mark a turning point as much as he claims it will, but really, what was the harm? And I’m not sure those that were there were there for the man or for the message. Perhaps a bit of both, but I think it was more an opportunity for these folks to come out and celebrate together,

  • Goes to show you how out of the loop I am with the rest of the “well-organized, narrative-shaping right-wing smear machine” that I didn’t even know about this thing on the Mall until I read after-the-fact accounts about it online yesterday.

  • The often crazed Beck, no Woodrow Wilson was not the fount of all evil, is not to my taste; most of the people who attended his rally are. They had a good time and are motivated to change the country come November. It does not surprise me that it was not overtly political. Beck has always been far more concerned about making cultural points than political ones.

  • I’ve got this theory bouncing around in my little brain, that we’re seeing a turf war between the evangelicals and the non-religious for control of the Tea Party movement. I think the Beck event was a deliberate show of force by the religious branch.

    When the dust settles after November’s elections, any victorious Republicans are going to have to figure out to whom they owe their loyalty. The party will have less claim than usual. Right now, an argument could be made for the traditional fiscal/social conservatives, or the fiscally conservative independents. Some people like Palin straddle both groups. Not many do.

  • no Woodrow Wilson was not the fount of all evil

    Nah, just most of it it. 🙂

  • I really don’t care what I think. And, you shouldn’t either.

    It seems that a segment of the “cognitve elites” and assorted liberal brahmans react to Mr. beck with malice.

    He has got to be doing something right.

  • John Henry, I think you hit the nail on the head, especially for the last part. Increasingly, the Catholic Right is sounding like the Catholic Left, moving, as C. S. Lewis warns, from political activism in the name of Christ to Christianity in the name of activism.

    Beck infamously called on his followers to reject any church that teaches “social justice,” which either means “reject Catholicism” or “Catholicism is a collection of churches that believe different things, and you don’t have to follow the Pope.”

    For many Catholic Republicans, the meaning of “pro-life” has been lost into “voting Republican at all costs” the way “helping the poor” and “protecting minorities” have become “voting Democratic at all costs” for the Left.

    This weekend, I had a brief exchange on Facebook with a woman who had attacked one of my FB friends for criticizing Beck. She said Beck is a “good and decent man.” I pointed out her that the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding apostates is abundantly clear, and that Beck cannot be “a good man” because he’s on the fast road to Hell as an ex-Catholic. I also pointed out that Beck supports artificial contraception and opposes conscientious objection rights for pro-lifers in the medical profession.

    She replied with some ecumenical gobbledygook, and said, “I am pro-life, and that’s all that matters to me, and Glenn Beck is pro-life, and I’ve never heard him say otherwise,” and of course she said he’s her friend. I reiterated that no one who leaves the Catholic Church intentionally can be saved, and that no one who supports contraception can claim to be pro-life. She replied, “You, sir, are an evil man,” and she blocked me.

  • I reiterated that no one who leaves the Catholic Church intentionally can be saved, and that no one who supports contraception can claim to be pro-life. She replied, “You, sir, are an evil man,” and she blocked me.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to call you evil, but you have a rather novel interpretation of Church teaching as regards to those who leave the Church.

  • I reiterated that no one who leaves the Catholic Church intentionally can be saved,

    It’s important to be precise here. If someone – fully knowing that the Catholic Faith is true – decides to reject it, then that may be accurate. But none of us can assess with regard to any individual person whether that is true, and it seems rather unlikely that it happens very often (if, for no other reason, than that catechesis in the United States is abysmal). As it is written, your statement is inaccurate, presumptuous, and implies a knowledge and authority to judge that you do not have.

  • @GodsGadfly – I enjoyed reading your comment. I feel that as a Catholic there is no good option when it comes to choosing between Democrats and Republicans. I suspect that Glenn Beck is probably more of a “humanist” than a Mormon. Humanists whether of the deist type or the atheist type think that morality should not be tied to religion. That makes morality a subject of endless debate since they claim there is no absolute Truth. I think Beck is just a right-wing humanist who uses religion as a shield to hide behind. For comparison there is Obama who is a prototypical left-wing humanist. (No wonder people are confused about Obama’s religious affiliation.)

    So anyway, I wrote an article that deals with some of these issues in relation to so-called gay “marriage”. I think you might find it an interesting read. I’d be interested in getting your comments.

    Here’s an excerpt:
    “Even though many conservatives claim to be motivated by religion, they are so thoroughly indoctrinated by the rationalist (atheistic) philosophies that they steadily lose ground to the so-called liberals. In fact there is little difference between most conservatives and liberals. They are mostly just engaged in a battle between themselves for power over who will reap the economic benefits of the increasing secularism of society.”

  • John Henry,

    Are you so certain that your own statements don’t imply too great of a desire to appear tolerant and inclusive to those who are always slamming Christianity for being intolerant and exclusive?

    You said his statement may be accurate, then inaccurate. Your “but” doesn’t change the substance of the statement.

    And talk about presumption… catechesis may be abysmal indeed, but there is some personal responsibility involved; if the condition of sufficient knowledge is some first class catechism course, then few are going to make it.

    Don’t underestimate the will, the desire, for things that are evil in turning people away from the Church. It isn’t all about what you know or don’t know, but what you value and devalue. If you really value goodness and truth, then you will make an effort to learn what the Church truly teaches. If you really don’t value it, then a few superficial disagreements will serve as all the pretext one needs to go one’s own way.

    This was hammered home to me quite recently in a long and drunken debate with old high school friends who are proud and vulgar apostates.

  • Joe,

    There are a few basic issues here that I want to separate out:

    1) Are people who reject the Church, knowing that the Catholic faith is true, rejecting Christ and salvation?

    I think the answer is yes, and agree with the commenter.

    2) What level of knowledge is necessary for such a rejection to be a rejection of Christ?

    I tend to think this level of knowledge needs to be pretty high; most people don’t really know that much about the Church or even basic philosophy/theology, much less have an opinion on its truth. You may have a lower standard of necessary knowledge.

    3) Should we assume that individuals we know who leave the Church a) had that level of knowledge; and b) rejected Christ and the Church in this way?

    Here I think charity demands that we assume they did not, absent strong evidence to the contrary (‘judge not, lest ye be…” and all that). We don’t know the hearts, minds, motivations, or level of knowledge of most other individuals, and so it is presumptuous, in my view, to judge them in this regard (and inaccurate to imply, as the commenter did, that our judgment is definitive).

  • There’s also the lack of sacramental support to consider. An individual who leaves the Church, even out of ignorance, loses access to the established channels of grace. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel like I’m just barely functioning as a Christian, and that’s with the graces of the sacraments. I can’t imagine what I’d become without them.

  • Pinky, I’m with you 100% on that one. We are all spiritual infants in this society.


    Perhaps I’m reading you wrongly, but it seems to me that you’re saying that a person basically has to have the equivalent of a college degree in Catholic theology before they become culpable for their choices.

    But, if, as you say, people don’t even have a “basic” knowledge, then naturally it doesn’t need to be pretty high, unless you consider even this basic knowledge to be attainable only through rigorous and prolonged study.

    At the end of this road is gnosticism.

    And it doesn’t even apply to someone like Glenn Beck, quite honestly, because the man has enough material and intellectual resources to fully understand what he is accepting and rejecting spiritually. Now of course no one can “know” anything for certain, nor judge another’s soul.

    But you’d have to shut your brain off to look at someone like that and not have a pretty strong inclining as to where he’s probably headed. There is no excuse for apostasy, and I include my own as a child.

  • I mean, after explaining the “basic” teaching of the Church about God, Christ, and our reason for existence, my apostate friend said, “f— that, I don’t want that.”

    What level of knowledge do you think he needs before that becomes a mortal sin?

  • For those who may be unaware of the many odd twists in the life of Glenn Beck.

    I truly believe that the man is loosely wired to put it mildly.

  • I truly believe that the man is loosely wired

    ‘fraid we are everywhere.

  • Drugs and alcohol will do that.

  • That was in response to Beck’s history. No assertions about Art Deco’s youth.

  • Does everyone agree that this country and its citizens need to return to God and/or Godly principles? Would everyone agree that there is an encroaching secularism that challenges Christianity and those principles every day? So, if you said “yes” to either or both of those questions I don’t understand why anyone would take issue with Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally.

    There are some Catholics that believe that helping the poor can only be achieved thru socialism and that the Church is in favor of socialism, when the Church has consistently condemned socialism.

    Plus, there is a difference between the Church’s definition of “social justice” and liberals or progressives definition and implementation of “social justice”. The Left has perverted the meaning of social justice and called for “economic justice” and are promoting class warfare against any wealthy or “rich” person who have earned more income than lower income families due to their hard work and success. The economically disadvantaged feel that they are owed or have a right to a healthy sum or large portion of his income to achieve “equality”. The Church also teaches against progressive taxation.

    Here is a post I have written covering this subject:

  • I deny a history of heavy drinking.

  • Joe,

    Just my $0.02, but I’d tend to say it’s not so much academic study/knowledge which is the determining factor, but whether rejection of the Church is the result of a “I prefer my way” decision or an honest (though clearly mistaken) belief that the truth is elsewhere.

    The trick is, it’s awfully hard to tell from the outside which of these has gone on in any given circumstance. We really have no idea how the final encounter between sinner and God will go.

    That’s why I think it’s generally better for Catholics not to go around speculating (or even stating flatly) where particular people are headed.

    This is not meant as any particular defense of Glen Beck, whose show I’ve never even seen, but it is something that very much bugs me about the behavior of some of the more rigorist Catholics one runs into.

    (Of course, on the flip side, I love Dante, who put some rather big name people into hell. On the other hand, he put some surprising people into purgatory and paradise as well — and he’s just too beautiful a writer for me to object to.)

  • “The Church also teaches against progressive taxation”

    Huh? That’s news to me. Does this mean the Church endorses only flat taxes (everyone pays the same dollar amount) or flat rate taxes (everyone pays the same percentage of income, property value, etc.)? Does this also mean that the Church opposes Earned Income Tax Credits and other means that effectively enable the poor to pay little or no tax, which has the same effect as a progressive tax?

    “it’s not so much academic study… but whether rejection of the Church is the result of an ‘I prefer my way’ decision or an honest (though clearly mistaken) belief that the truth is elsewhere.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself there Darwin.

  • Elaine,

    When I stated progressive, I was referring to excessive progressive taxation and not referring to the concept that people who earn more in income should pay what is considered to be a reasonable higher percentage in taxes of their earned income than lower income persons do. The key question is what percentage of taxation should be considered “reasonable” and what should be considered “excessive”?


    15. “And in addition to injustice, it is only too evident what an upset and disturbance there would be in all classes, and to how intolerable and hateful a slavery citizens would be subjected. The door would be thrown open to envy, to mutual invective, and to discord; the sources of wealth themselves would run dry, for no one would have any interest in exerting his talents or his industry; and that ideal equality about which they entertain pleasant dreams would be in reality the levelling down of all to a like condition of misery and degradation. Hence, it is clear that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected, since it only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonweal. The first and most fundamental principle, therefore, if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property. This being established, we proceed to show where the remedy sought for must be found.”

    47. “Many excellent results will follow from this; and, first of all, property will certainly become more equitably divided. For, the result of civil change and revolution has been to divide cities into two classes separated by a wide chasm. On the one side there is the party which holds power because it holds wealth; which has in its grasp the whole of labor and trade; which manipulates for its own benefit and its own purposes all the sources of supply, and which is not without influence even in the administration of the commonwealth. On the other side there is the needy and powerless multitude, sick and sore in spirit and ever ready for disturbance. If working people can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land, the consequence will be that the gulf between vast wealth and sheer poverty will be bridged over, and the respective classes will be brought nearer to one another. A further consequence will result in the great abundance of the fruits of the earth. Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them; nay, they learn to love the very soil that yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of good things for themselves and those that are dear to them. That such a spirit of willing labor would add to the produce of the earth and to the wealth of the community is self evident. And a third advantage would spring from this: men would cling to the country in which they were born, for no one would exchange his country for a foreign land if his own afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life. These three important benefits, however, can be reckoned on only provided that a man’s means be not drained and exhausted by excessive taxation. The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair.”

  • No one who leaves the Catholic Church can possibly be saved regardless of the level of knowledge they have for two reasons:
    1. The gift of Faith is imparted at Catholic Baptism and is lost through the sin of “Rejecting the Holy Spirit” which can not be forgiven.
    2. All Catholics have the duty to know their Faith, so ignorance is no excuse.

    No one who is so dead wrong about eternity as Glenn Beck is could possibly be right about the infinitely less important field of politics.

    Read the Bible Republicans. It says among other things “The poor are entitled to their alms.” “The man who defrauds a laborer of his hire is brother to the man who sheds innocent blood.” What do you think a minimum wage below subsistence is? “Thou shalt not muzzle the oxen while he treadeth grain.” Yet the Republicans attack unions.

  • “No one who is so dead wrong about eternity as Glenn Beck is could possibly be right about the infinitely less important field of politics.”

    Rubbish, or Christ would never have said Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars. I can think of countless great leaders who were wrong about religion by my lights. I can also think of countless great saints that I most definitely would not have wanted setting economic policy or defense strategy.

  • Agreed Don. Jefferson comes to mind as an example of the former.

  • I think the common thread that runs through Bob DeClue’s comments is a misunderstanding of the Catholic view on the relationship between grace and nature. Grace builds on nature; it does not obliterate it.

  • OK, Teresa, that makes sense. The Church is not in favor of taxation that promotes class warfare or punishes the rich simply for being rich.

    It’s one thing to see the goods other people have and resolve to obtain them yourself through honest work and wise investment; it’s quite another to decide that whatever you don’t have, no one else should have either. The first kind of “envy” is not sinful while the second kind is.

  • “I can also think of countless great saints that I most definitely would not have wanted setting economic policy or defense strategy.”

    Although she is not officially a saint and may never be, Dorothy Day comes to mind here. I think she was unquestionably holy, and SOME of her economic ideas made sense (she was, for example, no fan of nanny-state liberalism), but I sure would never have wanted her to be Secretary of State!

  • @Teresa – You quoted from Rerum Novarum which was written by Pope Leo XIII in the 1880’s. I’ve been going through and reading some of the encyclicals by Pope Leo XIII and have become a huge fan of his. He clearly states the importance of private property. He also believes that the State has a role to play. And he admonishes the rich for not giving more to the poor. But I think what is most central to his teachings (and the teachings of the Church in general) is that these things can only come about when the laws of the State are based upon the laws of God. And when society accepts the Truth taught by Jesus. Charity cannot be legislated through the income tax system or any other set of laws. Charity must be a basic principle that is embraced by individuals in society through their devotion to Jesus Christ.

    While the majority of Americans at the time of the American Revolution were devoted Christians, many of the “founders” were not. People like Jefferson were deists. Today we would probably refer to them as “humanists”, although not “secular” humanists (which is really just a form of atheism).

    If you want to get a good idea of what people like Jefferson really thought about Christianity and the Bible, read “Age of Reason” by Thomas Paine. (It’s available online.)

    “Age of Reason” is really quite shocking, including suggesting that Mary was a woman of low character. Humanists believe (or at least pretend to believe) that morality does not need to be based on religion. We’ve seen what comes from this sort of thinking, and the bar just keeps getting lower over time as people become conditioned to a particular level of “morality”.

    Anyway, I think Beck is just using religion to further his political agenda. The founders did this by making some oblique references to God in the Declaration of Independence. But when it came time to write the Constitution it doesn’t talk about God at all – only “we the people”. This is placing Man above God! Only the devout Christianity of the population has kept America from falling into disbelief in the past. Today’s humanist are waging a cultural war against religion using the same tactics as marxists. In this struggle we Catholics will need all the allies we can get and I think this includes other religious groups like Mormons and even Muslims. But not people like Beck, who has some of the characteristics of an anti-Christ.

  • Paul,

    What I wrote is *not* “novel.” You can find it, among many other places, in Karl Adam’s _The Spirit of Catholicism_, a book highly regarded by both “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics (and converts like Hahn and Howard) as anticipating Vatican II. Adam gives the best explanations of extra ecclesia nulla sancta and baptism by desire that I’ve ever read. His book was vetted by the Holy Office and criticized for being a bit too liberal in some of his views on other religions, and he edited them according to the Holy Office’s corrections.

    And that’s not the only place I’ve read it. But if people would spend time reading actual Catholic theology instead of watching FOX News, maybe the teachings of the Church wouldn’t seem so novel.

    In any case, Catechism 818 says that those born and raised outside the Church cannot be charged with the “sin of disunity”, implying that those who are born in the Church and leave Her *can*.

    Culpability rests on the reasonable ability to know something. If one has the ability to learn the truth and is not blocked by practicality or invincible ignorance, and one does *not* know the truth, one is culpable for that lack of knowledge. A basic knowledge of the teachings of the Church is all that’s required for culpability.

  • Beck presents himself as a knowledgeable man. He associates regularly with Catholics. He has plenty of access to know the teachings of the Church.

    He teaches a masonic concept of religions “working together.” He teaches that contraception is OK. He teaches that conscientious objection is wrong. He teaches that “social justice” = socialism (and is literate enough to have studied and learned the difference),and calls on his followers to reject any church that teaches it. He even says gay marriage is OK. I think it’s safe to say he’s consciously rejected the teachings of the Church.

  • But if people would spend time reading actual Catholic theology instead of watching FOX News, maybe the teachings of the Church wouldn’t seem so novel.

    Well, so much for intelligent discourse from GodsGadfly.

  • 500,000+ conservative voters rallying on the Mall… if I were a Leftist I’d try to marginalize Beck, too.

  • 87,000 people were at the mall. I am not a leftist. I am a Catholic and that is why I am marginalized by Glenn Beck. You can not serve two masters. The Left and Right are artificial constructs with random positions that force people to accept some type of evil with each regime change. Abortion and sodomy, promoted by the Democrtats are so obviously evil I did not find it necessary to list them, but oppressing the poor is the same as committing murder according to Ecclesiasticus, a book Protestants, the original Republicans before Vatican II, conveniently purged from the Bible. They invented capitalism, not Catholics, whose social order, and yes, justice, built western civilization. They legalized the gravest sin of usury, stole the churches property in their revolution,created both despotic government (with Luther’s divine right of kings doctrine) and a permanent poor class of Europeans and are happy to have their enemy, Catholics, serve as their useful idiots as they use fraudulent paper money and purchased politicians to rule America for their own gain. It irks me to no end that Catholics have enough people to start their own political party where they can have a 100% moral platform but instead split themselves between Democrats and Republicans as the lesser of two evils, and then begin to follow political leaders instead of church doctors.

  • Glenn Beck is not the problem for anyone here. The noose around the neck of the Church, tenaciously held there by the grasping hands of our own bishops, is the tax exempt status that stops all Christians short of our obligations to society.
    As long as the Church refuses to speak for Christ in the public square, it leaves the podium open to whoever chooses to ascend to it; Glenn Beck, Barack Obama, or Adolph Hitler. Whining about Beck doesn’t put Father Pacwa or bishop Take-your-pick in front of a microphone. Then again, considering what we often get out of our bishops when they do speak in the square, maybe we should accept Beck as the lesser of two evil effects.

  • They legalized the gravest sin of usury

    A discussion of the ambiguities and contingent circumstances to be considered in assessing whether it is moral to put a price on credit can be found here:

  • @Bob DeClue – When that other culture war against Catholicism, Kulturkampf, was launched by Otto Von Bismarck in 1800’s Germany, the response was to create the Catholic Centre Party which became a powerful political force and eventually forced Bismarck to back down.

    In Europe there is still the Christian Democrat movement which was founded on the idea of giving Christians a political voice. Wikipedia says, “In practice, Christian democracy is often considered conservative on cultural, social and moral issues (social conservatism) and progressive on fiscal and economic issues.” That sounds like what you and I are looking for. But in Europe they have a parliamentary system which gives power to minority parties, whereas in the US our “winner takes all” system insures that only two parties will dominate.

    There is also the practical problem that the Church cannot get too involved in politics because of its non-profit tax status. I was doing some reading and apparently this was not enforced very strictly until the abortion issue came around, at which time the pro-abortion groups started pushing for tighter regulation of the political activities of religious groups.

    Ultimately, we need to realize that politics reflects the culture. We need to work from the bottom up to re-evangelize America. We need to become like St. Paul and preach the Gospel throughout the (American) Empire. We have to come to terms with the fact that we are no longer living in a Christian nation. If St. Paul were alive today, he would be doing everything possible to come to Washington (Rome) to spread the Gospel. Remember though that his message was not political, and he taught that all Christians should be model citizens. It took hundreds of years, but eventually Christianity triumphed in Roman society.

  • I find most these musing about Beck to be quite interesting, often hilarious and relatively misguided.

    Mr. Beck is a commentator. He is an entertaining radio/TV personality who engages in presenting his editorial view of things. He has never claimed to be otherwise.

    He is not a teacher, preacher, religious or political leader. The reaction that he gets from the left and the right and just about every other ideological position in between is amusing because it betrays more about the opposing view than it does about Beck.

    Beck is a recovering addict. Beck felt that the Mormon Church was a good home for him to turn to God. We all know that Mormonism is a false religion. Most people, including most Mormons, don’t know that and don’t know all that much about Joe Smith’s mental delusion. What I know about Mormonism makes me sick, not the least of it being that it is stealth Masonry. What I know about Mormons is that most of them are moral people who adhere to the commandments as best they can. I also know that in practice it may be the best religion for an addict. They are certainly far more disciplined than main line Protestants and Catholics too.

    Beck calls it as he sees it and he has responded to God’s call to vocation. I don’t think he wants to be the catalyst for a religious revival in the USA, yet God gave him the biggest microphone and it seems Mr. Beck said yes.

    Unlike those who saw some of this on TV or read about it on some blog, I was at the restoring honor rally. It was wonderful. No, not because it was a particularly moving spiritual experience. We often forget how blessed we are – I can assist at Mass or go to Adoration and have a real spiritual experience. It was not wonderful because I particularly like Gospel music, the way Protestants pray or even some of what Beck talks about.

    It was wonderful because I was able to stand on the cross of the Mall and pray with other believers. The National Mall is in the shape of cross. That sort of renders the idea that we are NOT a Christian nation void huh? I was standing there with over 500,000 other Americans who believe in God and want to do His Will. People who want our country to realize that we are supposed to be a nation under God and we are supposed to act like it. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance, sang the National Anthem and Amazing Grace and prayed. Sure, the prayers were a little odd, but they were good and directed to the One Triune God (despite the fact that Mormons are polytheists – the only Mormon I could identify was Beck).

    Imagine what would happen if more Americans prayed to God in public! First, the lefties’ heads will explode – that’s not only fun to watch but could be quite purging too. Perhaps God will continue to favor the USA – I say continue, because no matter how bad things are now, and they are quite bad – relativism is the religion of the modern era – yet, in all the West (Christendom) the USA alone remains strongest in adherence to God’s Will – no, not our government or our leaders – the American people.

    That is a sad comment because we are not doing a very good job – especially Catholics. Of the 70,000,0000 Americans who self-identify as Catholics – over 90% are NOT. Most of us can’t even keep 6 precepts, let alone 10 commandments. I’d rather pray with a believing heretic than a lying Catholic.

    Before any one goes and criticizes this event, especially because you may not agree with Beck – think about what you are criticizing. You are denigrating hundreds of thousands of Americans who think our country, our culture, our way of living is in such dire straits that they traveled to the capital to stand for hours on end, some over 36 hours, in the excruciating heat and humidity of DC in August to pray together. Knowing that the only answer is God. To celebrate the three theological virtues – sure, they don’t understand the virtues the way we do – that is not an opportunity for Catholic-arrogance; rather it is an opportunity to teach those who are receptive what Faith, Hope and Charity really mean. As for honoring those who serve in their vocation with Christ in their hearts, including our military men and women and the merit badge honorees and a healthy dose of patriotism – what exactly is wrong with that? Patriotism with humble acknowledgment of God is awesome; rather than some hollow nationalism that is practiced by the Republicants and the Demoncrats.

    I find it distasteful that something as monumentous as this was is denigrated simply because one has a problem with the messenger. You don’t have to like or agree with Beck in order to acknowledge that this was a healthy, necessary and wonderful event.

    Do any of you think we could get over 500,000 Catholics to have a Eucharistic procession and pray the Rosary on the Mall? Sadly, probably not.

    If Our Lady gave the West a victory at Lepanto, what do you think she would obtain for us if we did that.

    Instead of attacking Beck, how about heading his call. Get up and pray. Would any of you come to DC to Adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and pray the Holy Rosary so that God may spare us from relativism, secularism and all the other modern ills we are facing?

    That would be something to witness.

  • Two masters? Cute. You’re preaching to the wrong choir, I don’t worship Obama.

    The CBS number of 87,000 is debatable. That Glenn Beck was able to rally 500,000+ people who are rightfully concerned about the path that Obama and the Leftists Democrats are taking this country is something to be admired. Two and a half years ago the MSM was having an orgasm over Obama and believed that the entire country felt the same way. NO – we don’t like what Obama and the Left are doing to this nation.

    And who exactly are you accusing of oppressing the poor? Your statement makes no sense. I did not attend the rally, did Beck call people to oppress the poor? Resource link please.

  • “I am not quite sure what to make of this particular event, which I had assumed would be political,”

    The key word here being ASSUMED. Usually best to investigate & get some facts, don’t you think? The only effort that’d require on your part is turning on FOX for an hour in the afternoons & watching Beck’s show.

    Then you wouldn’t have been at all surprised at what happened on the Mall last Saturday.

  • A friend of mine went to the rally and was talking about it at a homeschool party last night–can you say “awkward”. He decided to go at the last minute when Chris Matthews ticked him off berating and insulting the SC Tea Party director. He said of all the buses the SC Tea Party had organized to go, they only had 6 remaining seats when he called. So it would seem that the best way to estimate would be to see how many organized groups went.

  • Paul,

    How was that not an intelligent comment? You accused me of expressing a “novel” idea, and I explained that it wasn’t. The obvious, logical conclusion is that you’re not very well-read.

    It is quite an intelligent comment to point out that people are better served reading books than watching the news, and that is my gripe with overly political Catholics of either side, and also the temptation I myself struggle the most with.

  • I truly believe that the man is loosely wired to put it mildly.

    Well, perhaps, Donald. I have watched Beck’s show twice and was not terribly impressed. ( I think I was put off by the fact he cried both times. Haven’t seen such weepy males since the ’70’s 🙂 His radio show is much funnier and sharper.)

    I knew nothing about Beck’s background or upbringing before I read the Wikipedia entry you posted. Really, as someone who didn’t go to Mass again for 25 years after leaving Marquette, can I blame Beck for leaving the Church after a Jesuit education? My goodness, given my education (Daniel McGuire), I’m thankful Beck and I didn’t run off to join the Shining Path under the impression that we were being good Catholics by doing so:-)

    Actually, Beck’s story confirms that this country is still great. A guy with a high school education, a guy with drug and alcohol and family problems, a guy who was at the bottom of the barrel in 1994 managed to climb out, embrace faith (I’ll take a Mormon over an atheistic addict any day), and achieve fame and fortune. Only in America!

    I didn’t like his show much and yet I was moved by the man when I saw Chris Wallace interview him on Sunday. He doesn’t strike me as insincere. He seems like a guy who is willing to admit his foibles and errors, who knows he’s very far from Presidential material, and whose populism is tempered by the knowledge there are things he doesn’t know – and he wants to! He’s searching for knowledge and he sometimes embraces spurious cranks – well, I still prefer Beck’s mistakes to the arrogance of our ruling elites, who think they don’t need to learn anything. The astounding fact is that a high school grad put F.A. Hayek on the Amazon bestseller list a few months ago – how many college grads have read Hayek? I never even heard of Hayek or the Austrian school until the mid-90’s.

    So, Beck is frequently mistaken, and sloppy and goofy – but he brought good people out on the Mall en masse to pray and reaffirm their traditional values. Are we Catholics really going to turn up our noses at him and say “Yes, we want allies in the culture war – but not those allies…not people of that faith or that background.” I’ve seen that attitude from fundamentalists. It’s no more attractive when Catholics display it.

  • The obvious, logical conclusion is that you’re not very well-read.

    Because I had a different interpretation of Church teaching than you? Yeah, that obviously follows.

    No, it was an unintelligent comment because you relied on a lazy trope rather than engage in substantive argument. Frankly it’s boring at this point to hear the “Fox News” talking point echoed back by some “independent” parrot who thinks he is above everyone else.

  • Lisa,
    I listen to Glenn Beck frequently and I almost never see a show of his where he isn’t oppressing the poor verbally. I heard him call unemployed Americans unAmerican, I heard him scream at a woman begging for a job, and I don’t need to give further examples. People have different opinions, and they always will. The fact that somebody disagrees with you or me on an issue doesn’t make them evil or unAmerican.

    I am 56 years old, and never in my life, including the Vietnam years, have I seen such an orchestrated campaign of hate, fear, and terror directed against the legally elected, in a landslide, president of the United States. I was raised in a Conservative Republican family and thought, as Glenn Beck does, that the Left was unAmerican. By the third time I read the Bible I was forced to admit that I had been wrong most of my life about politics. That doesn’t mean I think that right wing people are evil, and it doesn’t mean I think the left wing is always right. A logical analysis of either party’s so called “philosophy” reveals no consistency in either one. Me, I pray for the day that God returns Saints to rule our church, and Catholic Kings to rule the world.

  • I am 56 years old, and never in my life, including the Vietnam years, have I seen such an orchestrated campaign of hate, fear, and terror directed against the legally elected, in a landslide, president of the United States.

    You have not been paying attention. He was not elected in a landslide and I would wager you a content analysis of media would show he is treated more agreeably by the political opposition than three of his eight immediate predecessors.

  • Baba,
    I believe you are correct, the Christian Democrats are closer to Catholicism than anything in America. About the fear of losing tax exemption I think Vatican II is the real problem. Before Vatican II, legalized abortion was inconcievable, sodomy was a crime people went to jail for, and the threat of removing the Catholic Church’s tax exemption would have brought down the government quicker than a no confidence vote in the British Parlaiment.
    My wife is European, so I have an inside look at the life that the right wing demagogues are always trying to scare us with, and it really doesn’t sound so bad.
    I read a book called “Life and Work in Medieval Europe” by Pierre Boissinade. I recommend it for anyone who has never been exposed to anything but the two establishment sides of the same economic coin, capitalism and communism. In it you will find systems in both empires totally different, yet providing stability and sustaining growth for centuries.
    I submit that a stable economy is the most important function a government can perform. I remember life before LBJ debauched the currency and Richard Nixon floated the value of the dollar on the world marketplace. What I grew up in is a different world than what it is today. When I grew up crimes against nature were punished. People bought their homes and had no fear of losing them. Women stayed home to raise their children. People were secure in their families, jobs, and homes.The communities were knit together. Now we hardly ever see our spouses and our children are raised by day care, and we never know when the economic axe is going to fall on our jobs. That is no way to live. If anyone is interested I will tell you what I think caused this situation, but won’t offer it if it isn’t asked for.

  • Art,
    I am spammed with shocking, racist and worse stories, jokes, and cartoons about Obama every single day of the year. The Democrats victory in all three houses was most certainly a landslide and was a clear mandate to the president, one he seems unwilling to run with. This hatred and attack is coming through the internet more than the TV media, but it is there, it is unrelenting, it is orchestrated, and it has the purpose of bringing down our government. Since so many Republicans blindly hate Obama (Who is the most conciliatory and compromising president I have ever seen)this anti American campaign, which quite possibly could be orchestrated by radical moslems, will never even be investigated.

  • Bob,

    Some of what you say sounds good; however, some the undefined terms could cause confusion.

    What do you mean by poor? Are you referring to the poor in spirit? Because that would be most of us, including Beck. Or, are you defining the materially poor? If that is the case, then it is highly unlikely that you’ll find any poor in the United States of American. Those who our twisted government bureaucrats define as poor have far more material wealth than most of the people on the planet, more than the wealthiest of the wealthy had 200 years ago and they have more than most of us in the so-called ‘middle-class’. I am not attacking what you stated, I am simply trying to understand who the ‘poor’ that you allege Beck is oppressing are. Especially since as a TV/Radio commentator I am not sure he has any power to oppress.

    As for the rally, from my vantage point, in the middle of it, it seemed that Beck was calling the poor in spirit to pray on our knees to God for forgiveness, for virtue, for character because he recognizes that the problem in American today is a moral problem and that politics is merely the practical application of our moral state. I would also argue that we are very, very poor – morally speaking. Though I suspect we are still far better off, dismal as that is, than the rest of the Western world.

    Me thinks thou doth give Mr. Beck too much credit – he isn’t that powerful. In fact, he seems to do nothing but humbly tell us what he thinks. He also encourages his viewers/listeners to think for themselves and research his postulations on their own. That hardly seems oppressive, right wing, or even wrong. If we are too lazy to actually think for ourselves and do our own research we certainly can’t blame him.

    Additionally, I grew up in Europe and the Middle-East, not in theory, but I actually lived there, and I can tell you – it sucks. The Middle-East has been plagued by the Moslem heresy and Europe is plagued by the same heresy, albeit, without reference to God. For all of those who think that social justice is better defined by Communists/Socialists/Fascists and other collectivists rather than the Church, I will be happy to buy you a one ticket to Europe. If it is so good, go live there and leave the USA with our ‘unjust’ Constitutional Republic – we like it and the option you’d rather change it to already exists. Last I checked we don’t secure our border, so one can leave just as easily as all of those ‘poor’ Mexicans can come. Gee I wonder why the ‘poor’ from south of our border keep coming here, I mean it sucks so bad, you’d think they’d just go to Venezuela or Cuba.

  • Whoa!

    Wait a minute. Beck is now an instrument of the destruction of the American Republic that has Obama as its champion, and he’s working for the Moslems! I had no idea.

    That’s it – I’m turning him off. Thanks for pointing out this deep conspiracy. Obama is such a nice guy and has everyone’s interest at heart. Especially the millions of pre-born children he wants to kill, the US Constitution and Jesus Christ. I expect Obama to walk on the reflecting pool just to show Beck up, I HOPE he can do it and then maybe he can CHANGE water into wine – wouldn’t that be cool.

    Seriously? Please tell me that last post was an attempt at humor.

  • “This hatred and attack is coming through the internet more than the TV media, but it is there, it is unrelenting, it is orchestrated, and it has the purpose of bringing down our government.

    Gee… why would we want to attack or fight against Obama when we disagree with approximately 99% of his policies? I know you would just lie down and make nice if the president was conservative and implementing policies that you believed were hurting both America and the American people? The Left are still a bunch of hateful cranks even with being in control of both Houses of Congress as well as the presidency. I would love to know what will make the Left happy? It seems nothing at this point. Well, maybe, having absolute control over our lives — being able to tell us what and when we can eat, what kind of energy products (wind, solar, etc.) that we can use, infringing on our free speech, and removing all things related to Chistianity? This sounds a lot like socialist or communist policies.

    Since so many Republicans blindly hate Obama (Who is the most conciliatory and compromising president I have ever seen)this anti American campaign, which quite possibly could be orchestrated by radical moslems, will never even be investigated.”

    Excuuuuse Me!!!! I think I just became sick from entering the twilight zone at warp speed. What reality have you been living in? Obama is the most divisive President in American history!!! What edited clips have you seen of this president crossing the aisle? His idea of reaching across the aisle is reaching across the aisle, is reaching around with his arms, grabbing the person and dragging them across to his far leftist side of the aisle. This president has a “my way or the highway approach” to his policies. He has NOT compromised one iota!!

    He wouldn’t do what is right for the American people when it came to health care reform. He had to bribe congressman to get this debacle passed. The GOP had an alternative health care plan and gave suggestions but he refused to compromise. It was all about he and the Democratic Congress having more power and control over our lives, and nothing to do with lowering costs of health care or making health care more accessible.

    First, the Libs got a hold of our education and that has gone downhill in a big way and now there will be more bureaucracy with our health care, making it much harder for our doctors to treat us properly, higher costs, and health care rationing. Obama tries to act as a referee when speaking but then changes the rules midway during his speech by slamming the other side and violating the rule he imposed at the beginning, that obviously applies to everyone except himself.

  • Hi Bob,

    I agree that economic and job stability is very important to maintain strong families and communities. We just don’t have that in today’s economy. Maintaining the pace of “progress” dictates that this will not happen.

    I hope you’ll reconsider your opinion of Vatican II. I love the Church and it saddens me to see people in conflict over Church policies or doctrine.

    From what I have read, the US Bishops did all they could to oppose abortion. In fact they were taken to court for their pro-life positions, and pro-abortion groups demanded that the Catholic Church be stripped of its tax exempt status. This case went to the Supreme Court in 1988. (The case was United States Catholic Conference v. Abortion Rights Mobilization. The ACLU supported the coalition of pro-abortion groups.)

    We need to strongly defend the Church because she is under attack from all sides. I can’t imagine a world without the Catholic Church. I’m fortunate to be a member of a great parish with great priests.

    Peace be with you,

  • “Not quite sure what to make of this.”

    …at least some poeple are sure, such as Glenn Beck.

    Shall we just see the face? Must we dissect every creature of God? Maybe just Bob.

  • American Knight,
    Thanks for the thoughtful response and question. I am glad to see a few people on this website that still retain a Catholic sense of honor.
    Poor is a relative term and in some respects even subjective. Objectively speaking, we have teenagers in this country who live lives as luxurious and hedonistic as any Satrap in Ottoman Empire. At the same time we have a society in which much of the blue collar class are six paychecks or less away from losing their home. By contrast even the poorest serf ( a slave class) in Europe could never be evicted from his home, and his children inherited it. State constitutions in the Old South required slave owners to provide homes, food, and medical care to their slaves. In that respect many Americans are poorer than antebellum slaves.

  • Teresa,
    I am sorry, I just find no possible way to respond to what you wrote.

  • Baba,
    I know the American bishops fought abortion, but the public dissent that Vatican II encouraged with its ambiguous doctrines destroyed the Church’s appearance of solid unity and thus its political power. Before Vatican II, when a bishop spoke to a government official, the official heard millions of Catholics, now he hears just a single bishop.

  • Teresa,
    I didn’t mean to sound as abrupt as what I see when I posted to you just now. I just don’t see from rereading your posting again that there is any common experience, belief, interest, education, or personality between us that could be a basis for any type of meaningful communication.

  • Anyone,
    I am new to this website. How do you get your photo to display with your name?

  • Bob DeClue,

    Here is the link:

    It should be easy to follow. If you have any problems, just post another message or contact via email and I’d be happy to walk you through it.

  • Bob DeClue,

    I don’t blindly hate Obama. I hate him for very clear reasons: 1. He single-handedly shot down the Illinois Born Alive Protection Act. Even Hillary Clinton and NARAL dare not actively oppose Born Alive Protection. Illinois tried to pass a law making it illegal to suffocate or starve a baby born from a “botched” Abortion, and Obama called it a threat to the “right to choose.”
    2. Obama said that if one of his daughters made a “mistake” (ie, committed the sin of fornication), he wouldn’t want her “punished” by having a baby!
    3. Obama said he believes Jesus is just one of many great moral teachers.
    4. Obama is endorsed by every major New Age Guru from Chopra to Oprah.
    5. Obama says his greatest mistake was voting in favor of the Terri Schiavo Act.

    You asked for more Catholic teachings and not politics?

    How about this: “A nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope”–John Paul II
    “How can you say there are too many children; that’s like saying there are too many flowers.”–Bl. Teresa of Calcutta.

  • Paul, I don’t think I’m above everyone else, and one man’s “parroting” is another man’s catechesis.

    A person who is Catholic and rejects the faith is an apostate and cannot be saved. You say that this is a “novel interpretation” of mine, but it is not. You claim not to know something I’ve read in numerous Catholic texts.

    And I’ve already said that I said it in part because listening to too many secular sources and not enough Catholic ones is a fault with which I convict myself.

    I’m not “independent.” I’m conservative. I don’t like FOX News because it paints conservatives as idiots, and all the “Catholics” on it are pro-contraception and otherwise oppose a consistent life ethic. Also, there’s what Rod Dreher found out at the 2002 Bishops’ Conference, when a FOX News correspondent told him there were orders from the highest levels of NewsCorp NOT to talk about homosexuality in the Sex Abuse Scandal.

  • God’s Gadfly,
    What you wrote about Obama is true. It is also, I fear, now true of a large percentage of Americans, if not the majority. I don’t hate Obama, or other Americans for their errors, or their truths if I am the one in error. As I get older and more relatives and friends pass away, the horror of God’s justice fills my soul. Ignoring hell and its eternal pains does not make it go away. If there actually is any global warming, it is caused by the millions of souls a day who are cast into hell and increase its heat accordingly. Meditating on the four last things helps to cleanse hatred from the soul because God’s punishment on the unrepentant is greater than anything our hatred can dream up for our enemies. I know it is a joke to say “Can’t we all just get along”, and we can’t because to get along according to Christ we have to be what the politically correct call “intolerant”. We can, however, try to imitate Jesus, who hated none of his enemies, even the former Lucifer.
    On your response to Paul, there is a clear division of thought between pre and post Vatican II Literature, perhaps this accounts for different perception in some of the church’s more esoteric doctrines. I limit my trust in Catholic authors to pre 1900 writers, because the Early Church Fathers stressed fidelity to Tradition, even St. Paul who said listen not to a different Gospel, even if preached by an Angel of Light.
    I presume you have political views akin to Conservatives who liken themselves to Jeffersonian Democrats, as I once did. I was truly astounded when I discovered that this was the Liberalism condemned by the Catholic Church. It required 20 years and an entire library of Catholic saints and doctors for me to finslly understand the Catholic position and I now have no political ideology at all, except that I judge every issue independently of the party that proposes it, and in light of my own imperfect understanding and guess of what Jesus would do. I rarely vote for candidates for public office in elections because I believe there should be no compromise with evil and as a man of honor will not vote for the lesser of two evils. I did however work as a campaign volunteer for Patrick Buchanan, which will probably surprise the two people here who attacked me as Liberal and Communist in their posts.

  • Hi Tito,
    Thank you. I had 3 pictures on my computer. I used all 3 at Gravatar and two show up solid black. This one is 40 years old.

  • @GodsGadfly

    Those are the main reasons I cannot support Obama in good conscience. Abortion is murder and by supporting or voting for those politicians who support the murder of the most vulnerable innocents, catholics are supporting a grave and intrinsic moral evil.

    Yes, I do believe that in God’s eyes he sees a big difference between a terrorist who is trying to kill us, has murdered, is trying to destroy the West (yes, even from within via mosques) and an innocent baby who is an innocent human being and a “surprise” for some people due to their promiscuity, and who has committed NO crimes, and how the two are treated accordingly. There is love. But, then there is “tough love” and loving the person and hating their actions, and it seems like a decent number of catholics have totally discounted “tough love” and how that can be implemented for the common good. PLus, there is the whole defense of nation or national security issue at hand also. Our Congress and President took an oath to protect and defend this country’s citizens and they must not quash their duty to fulfill that pledge, by totally discounting the necessary use of “harsh” methods in extraordinary circumstances to achieve that goal.

  • …a bit off topic but…

    I’m a Glenn Beck fan. He makes me laugh and he’s very entertaining. I agree with many things he has said.

    But I’m getting tired of his attacks on Social Justice and the Catholic Church. And now he’s berating Dorothy Day as a “Marxist” and un-American.

    Someone needs to contact him or his people and explain to him how wrong he is about Dorothy Day.

    He isn’t that bright if he thinks Dorothy Day is pro-big-government and a Marxist.

    Has anyone tried to explain that to him?

  • Tito,

    Have you?

    Perhaps Beck can’t reconcile her involvement with socialist organizations, although I think she may have been a Episcopalian at that time.

  • I will be next week.

    Pat Gray who co-hosts the radio program with Glenn Beck ripped into Dorothy Day and that was the last straw.

    Pat Gray used to have his own local Houston talk radio program and I like him a lot, so I’ll be seeing if I can talk some sense into him.

    As far as Dorothy Day, like many saints and other people of holiness, they made mistakes prior to their conversion.

    Does anyone hold Saint Augustine’s libertine behavior prior to his conversion against him each time he is quoted?

  • @Tito

    I am a Glenn Beck fan also. I think Beck is mistaking distributism for Marxism.

    But I’m getting tired of his attacks on Social Justice and the Catholic Church. And now he’s berating Dorothy Day as a “Marxist” and un-American.

    The type of social justice that has been passed down from the Time of Jesus is not the form of social justice that Beck is attacking. He is attacking the liberal/socialist distorted version of social justice that says “spread the wealth” as well as promoting class warfare between the rich and the poor.

  • Tito,

    Most people don’t consider St. Augustine a saint. They like his ‘literary’ works and sadly, some like what he has to say precisely because he was a libertine. We live in strange times.

    Also, remember, Beck is trying to be a good guy and I like him and think he is doing a lot of good, but, he is an apostate and a Mormon – pray for him.


    I think you’ve got it right and Glen did explain that to his viewers/listeners, but without a Catholic worldview, it was somewhat inarticulate. I got what he meant, so did you, others, maybe not so much.

    The devil is cunning. Look at the words used by those who promote inequality, favoritism, theft, plunder and are the architects of the culture of death: Progressive, liberation, tolerance, choice, peace, giving back and, yes, social justice.

    Everyone of those words is ‘good’, yet in the context commonly used all stand for very, very evil things.

    Even before Glen talked about it, the words ‘social justice’ cause me to cringe. Social Justice is only valid as understood by the Church and orthodox Catholics – most of the time and in most common use, they do not mean what the Church teaches, they mean the opposite. See Isaiah 5:20.

  • AK,

    Most Catholics do consider Saint Augustine a saint.

    He’s borderline besmirching the Church with his outlandish comments about Catholic Social Justice and Dorothy Day.

  • It appears to me that Glenn Beck supporters are believers in our current form of economics they generically call Capitalism. Capitalism is as equally condemned by the church and is as intrinsically evil as communism.
    I see the following points his supporters seem to make and will respond:
    1. They grant an inordinate importance to what is called private property. This is warned against by the original apostles in the “Didache”. The Catholic concept of material goods is that they belong to God and that man is steward of them and they are to be used in the service of God. The Catholic teaching of distributism is simply that God gave the Earth to mankind as a whole so that all of us could have some of it, not so that some of us could have all of it. Conservatives have been hoodwinked into calling this redistribution and have not been taught by their appointed leaders how capitalism based on a debt money system redistributes wealth from those who produce it to those who control the paper.
    2. A belief that people own whatever they can get their hands on by whatever means they do so. This is not true. The ruling elite have consolidated the world’s wealth into their hands through the mortal sin of usury. The primary function of the Church’s inquisition was to hunt down and exterminate usury. The penalty imposed by the church for almost a thousand years was to seize all assets of the usurer and distribute them to the community he preyed off. The Bible itself clearly grants absolute ownership to the fruits of one’s labor and toil “under the sun”, and very little else. Defrauding the laborer of any portion of his fruits is one of the four sins that cry to heaven for vengeance. I spent fifteen years of my younger days as a fur trapper. I wonder now why every bird had a nest, every groundhog had a den, every living animal I came across had a home, but for some reason conservatives think that humans are the only life on this planet without a God given right to a piece of this Earth.
    3. A belief in the capitalist principle that something is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. This is not true. A “laborer is worth his support”, for instance. The “Philokalia” warns monks to always use lay brothers to procure goods for the monastery because it is almost “impossible to buy or sell without committing sin”. The reason for this was the Catholic concept of something having a fair value. To pay less than the fair value when a sellor is distressed, or to require more than the fair value when a buyer is desperate are both violations of the 7th commandment.
    4. A belief that government regulation in general is wrong. This belief can not be supported by Catholic Tradition.
    5. A belief that Samuel Adams economic theories are actually laws and not just theory. I would be happy to correspond in depth with anyone concerning any economic principles or theories. Also an agreement with his conclusion that Laissez-faire economics(basically economic Darwinism)produces the most wealth. This is a debatble point.
    6. A tendency to quote sophisms given to talking heads by their masters as if they are facts. Please, somebody throw me a sophism and ask me to respond.
    7. A belief that because the Republican Party figured out how to perpetually milk the pro-life cow while never feeding it that they are right about everything they believe and that because the sexually amoral who want abortion took power in the Democrat party when Catholics deserted it that their platform is wrong about everything.
    8. A belief in seperation of church and state. I do not believe in seperating them.
    9. No understanding of the difference between the Free Market System our government created in this country based on Adam’s theories and the modern capitalism that the Rothschild-Rockefeller cabal replaced it with.
    10. A belief that unions are bad. Unions are the modern day incarnation of the medieval guilds. Guilds were created by the Catholic Church in the dark ages. They were structured on the old Roman Corporations which created centuries long economic growth and stability for the Roman civilization and in turn guilds created the material half of Christendom.
    11. I believe Glenn Beck supporters as a whole have a tendency to worship the founding fathers and the United States Constitution, but possess limited knowledge of them, especially the Catholics.
    12. No belief whatsoever in the laws God the Father set forth for the just government of people when he authored the Biblical books “Numbers”, “Deuteronomy”, and “Leviticus” through the hand of Moses.
    13. No knowledge that any economic systems other than Capitalism and Communism ever existed. It is not entirely their fault. I attended 6 colleges and universities after high school and none offered any courses in alternate economics.
    14. No knowledge of the Jewish and Protestant heresies that created capitalism and how the Catholic Church fought them.

    I would be very happy to enter a dialogue with anyone in depth on any of the points I listed, or any of Glenn Beck’s points I did not list.

  • Tito,

    I agree with you, most Catholics, both the Protestant and orthodox type consider St. Augustine a saint, most of the rest of the world does not and our culture is overwhelmingly secular and not Catholic.

    Beck, being an apostate and a Mormon, is going to have a problem with many, if not most of the doctrines and teachings of the Catholic Church. Yet, he also seems to recognize the ‘mere Christianity’ that C.S. Lewis talked about. I agree that he sometimes does seem to border on anti-Catholic bigotry – perhaps that betrays a subconscious animosity to the Church, or it could be a more subversive Mormon/Masonic thingy.

    I must admit that I agree with his attack on ‘social justice’ and I don’t think it is a problem for orthodox Catholics. The type of ‘social justice’ that Beck seems to be attacking is steeped in liberation theology, Communism and other collectivist schemes designed to destroy humanity while veiling the destruction in ‘good works’. ex. the Shriners have hospitals for children, which is good and no sane person would argue against; yet, their purpose is to spread the Lucifarian religion.

    Granted the Masonic influence of the Mormon heresy may have perverted Beck, yet I see no evidence of that – yet, and hopefully never will.

    I also think that we can agree with Beck on those perspectives and issues that are in line with Catholic teaching and reject those that do not. There needs be no compromise and Beck is merely a commentator and not a theologian. It seems many people, regard those of us, like you, me and Teresa as blind followers of Beck; rather, than free-thinking individuals who happen to agree with Beck on some things based on our own criteria, which hopefully is Catholic thought.

  • Bob,

    I can’t say I agree with everything you stated; however, a couple of points ring true. Often, when we begin to escape the mass delusion perpetrated by mass propaganda, advertising and other psyops control devices we find many more points of agreement than division with each other, yet, some of our preconceived prejudice stemming from the false left-right paradigm still exist. That being said, some of what I perceive as your views stemming from the left, give me pause.

    A few comments on your points, solely from me perspective:

    1. Private property is absolutely necessary in this world to secure personal freedom and the good of the community. The truth is that the world is one giant estate and it all does belong to God. Stewardship, without temporal regard for private property, is currently impossible. Without private property no natural free market can exist – I believe God intended us to have a natural free market after the Fall and that a natural market can be redemptive.

    2. Usury is one of the gravest ills conceived by man and may have been the chief sin that gave a fertile ground for the spread of Mohammadism because it correctly condemns usury, although the Islamic definition of usury is mostly incorrect. Capitalism/Communism are essentially slightly different means to the same evil end. However, what most people in the West, when referring to ‘capitalism’ mean is a natural free market. Capitalism is effectively corporatism and will lead, if it hasn’t already, to the control of resources, wealth and people by a very few individuals and they do not have good intentions. Communism will lead to the same goal. I think Beck is grasping, imperfectly, at this idea.

    3. The price mechanism is the best way to determine the temporal value of material things. Business ethics based on Moral Truth will manage that system in justice as far as is possible for fallen man.

    4. In principle government regulation is NOT wrong and is, in fact, necessary. The problem is that Communist/Socialist government regulation benefits the few at the cost of the many and so does Corporatist/Capitalist government regulation. Until such time as we restore limited Republican (format not party) government, I believe it is a virtue to oppose government regulation because it is for the purpose of subjugation and not an authentic attempt to make things regular.

    5. I think there is a difference between creative destruction and economic Darwinism. Capitalist/Corporatist machinations are predetermined economic Darwinism; however, a natural free market will destroy the less efficient and effective actions of man for the benefit of the whole community. The elimination of horse-carriages by the automobile is a benefit. Sure the horse-carriage drivers and dung disposers lost out, but cab drivers and mechanics did not (simplistic example.)

    6. & 7. Although true to some extent, are gross generalization and I don’t think they deserve a comment in this context.

    8. It depends on what is meant by separation of Church and Sate. I think that the State should not encroach on the Church, yet the Church is designed to be the moral compass of the State. I think the original intent of the Founders is correct, I think the modern perversion is the worst thing we are facing in politics today.

    9. On this point you actually agree with Beck. The usurious, debt-paper money system is not natural, it is not free, it is not moral and it is very, very destructive. I think that is beginning to change. We need to end the Fed.

    8. Again, unions, as a concept, are NOT bad. Unions as they are in practice only benefit the money-power and the political opportunists.

    9. To paint all of Beck’s audience as ‘worshipers’ of men and a legal document, is unfair, condescending and not constructive.

    10. Ignorance may not be intentional and perhaps beyond someone’s control, but it is a bad excuse. If someone wants to be educated the knowledge is available and corporatist, liberal educational institutions are not the place to get a good education, or even a practical one. As Fr. Corapi often says, most ‘intellectuals’ have been educated into imbecility. Mr. beck is uncredentialed (although he recently received an honorary doctorate), yet he is educated.

    11. Secular Jews and Calvinists are in large part responsible for the Corporatist Capitalism & Socialism/Communism we are subjected to and the solution is quite obvious, the only question is do we have the courage to stand against the status quo.

    From your points, I am quite surprised that you do not find more in common with Glenn Beck. The beauty of knowing what orthodox Catholics have been given is that Truth is absolute and much, certainly not all, can be deduced through human reason. Beck is capable of being correct about many things, totally wrong about others, simply because he is trying to be a truth-seeker. This makes him no different than most of us and we need to be very grateful that we have the graces of Christ received through His Church, most people don’t. We also have to check our hubris, because being Catholic gives us no right to be arrogant.

  • American Knight,
    Very good. Thank you for responding. I have further comment on some points.
    5.I don’t believe the natural free market exists anymore and we are now in the C/C phase. When Reagan deregulated the financial industry the Wall Street Robber barons decimated the free market. Through gambling machinations on the stock market they drove the stock price of almost all small and midsize manufacturing concerns in the country one at a time to a price significantly below the value of their capital assets. At that point they initiated a hostile takeover and immediately liquidated them pocketing the profits but leaving a decimated rust belt behind. This concentrated the means of production into the hands of a few multinational corporate elites. Although there are many companies in the Fortune 500, they are controlled by a few interlocking directorates. As you pointed out, the net effect is the same as Communism. Modern mass media has eliminated efficiency and quality as the primary factors of product success and replaced it with marketing.
    8. After a century of struggle, unions in the US have brought us labor laws and practices almost as elightened as those King Phillip II promogated in New Spain in 1547 (?), so in practice they have benefited us all.

    Not much in common with Genn Beck:
    The corporate elite wage a class war against the produers of wealth and we are on opposite sides. In 1999 I left upper management in a fortune 100 company with the statement that “the executive board’s arrogance is exceeded only by its incompetence”. From my experience in the corporate world, I do not believe that company very different from most. I owned a small business for a while and now belong to a union and work side by side with others building the offices these pompous jackasses sit in when they call us lazy, ignorant, smuggle in illegal aliens to take our jobs and then sneer at us and tell Amwerica we don’t want to work. Art, I sat in board rooms where the air literally dripped with the contempt they held the little people of the company in. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Glenn Beck says the rich create jobs, and his listeners don’t even remember Economics 101: Demand in the marketplace creates jobs. He says the rich earned their millions and implies if your not rich you are lazy or stupid, when all their incomes are by definition unearned income. I believe God gave a few of us extra intelligence so that we could elevate our fellow man, not enrich ourselves at his expense.

  • Bob,

    I am not sure we are listening/watching the same Glenn Beck. He is a libertarian leaning conservative with a nod toward acknowledgment of politico-economic conspiracies and recognizes that America is a nation under God (of course, I am not too sure that he means the Blessed Trinity because he is an apostate Catholic and a Mormon.) As for his statement that the wealthy create jobs, I think he is referring to the entrepreneurs (small business) and not the uber-wealthy trans-nationalists. In a true free market it is the consumer that demands production, hence the creation of jobs, yet it is the entrepreneur that manages the market risk and innovates products and services, hence the creator of jobs.

    Additionally, I don’t see Reagan as responsible for the consolidation of the corporatists and neither does Glenn Beck. Beck favors blaming both Roosevelts, Wilson, Johnson and other progressives along with the trans-nationalists (Rothschild, Rockefeller, et al.)

    Reagan was a brief light in the darkness of the last 100 years of political leadership in the these United States. The machine is just too big for any one man to overcome. Reagan desired to reduce government, to promote a natural free market, to end the Federal Reserve and other than JFK, another president who fought against the money power, was shot. I am not necessarily saying they were shot because they both opposed the trans-national financiers, but it is suspicious.

    Unions may have provided benefits in the past; however, they are instruments for the Communist/Capitalist pincer movement now. That does not disparage union members, who are as much victims as the rest of us. The problem is with the opportunistic union leadership, the corruption of a criminal-political nature and the danger that union power poses to what little free market, if any, we have left. These days, unions are tools of division, class warfare and political consolidation.

    Again, I think, a more objective, second look at Mr. Beck, might show you that you do have more in common with him than you think. You just have to watch out for the misuse of words that we are all victims of – Newspeak has been slowly implemented for so long, we often get caught up in terminology rather than intent and context. In any event, none of us need agree with everything he says, but there is no denying that he has a big microphone and that for the most part he is doing more to stem the corporatist/communist tide than most.

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  • American Knight,
    I understand that it is Mormon belief that when the males die they become gods and rule over their own planets, and that females can only be saved by marrying a Mormon man, but I don’t know what saved means in their context. Do his harem serve him the way the Moslems 40 virgins do? I have no interest in learning any more of their cult. Was involved with trying to save Jehovah’s witnesses at one time and no far more about them than I want to. It is better to follow the admonition of the Apostles:”
    Speak to heretics once, maybe twice, and then have nothing further to do with them.”

  • American Knight,
    Some entrepeneurs actually take risks, start businesses and make money. As a general rule they become wealthy by some definition after doing this, not before. In a free market system, profit is the reward one receives for taking risk, and I have no objection to that. I do have objection to the biggest profits being made by companies who take no risk.

  • Wallace fought against the money system. He too was shot. You may be right about a connection.

  • Bob,

    Mormonism is a strange, twisted heresy. What we have to keep in mind is that like Freemasonry and to some degree Mohammadism, it has secret levels of initiation and most Mormons don’t know the dark secrets of the heresy. Like Masonry and Islam, on the surface and at the lowest levels of initiation it is presented as good, of course, we know that demons often appear as angels of light. Most Mormons follow the moral precepts of the heresy, which are based in truth. No heresy can get started unless it roots itself in the ancient and true doctrines of our Church. Many Mormons are ‘good’ people, in the secular term. I am not sure what they mean by ‘saved’ either. Keep in mind that most of Beck’s audience listens to him regarding practical matters and not theology.

    My only interest in discussing religion with Beck would be to address the common secular religion of the West, based on the doctrines of the Church, and also, to attempt to witness to the Truth in order to be a tool to bring him back to the Church.

    As regards risk-taking, the only way a business can avoid risk, which is inherent to business, is to use the force of the government to eliminate it through the burdensome ‘regulation’ of its competitors, through the enforcement of cabals and cartels and by socializing their loses through bailouts. The problem here is the greed of certain ‘wealthy’ individuals and the parasitic nature of politics and government. The US Constitution created an authentic free-trade zone within the United States and a protection of that zone from without. Today we have the opposite, the trans-nationalists, through our general government, control trade within the US and we are afforded little to no protection from without. See Isaiah 5:20.

  • “Wallace fought against the money system. He too was shot. You may be right about a connection.”

    So did Lincoln.

  • To all: I will leave the reading of what is written upon this mans heart and the judgment of his soul to you. Additionally, I will not be the one to bring up his past faults or make fun of his sensitivity – perhaps y’all are in a position to cast that stone, I am not.

    Respectfully, the Divine Destiny Event on 8/27 was a truly inspiring event that brought together Christians, Jewish, and Muslim leaders from across the country, for the single purpose of finding points of unity and methods for education and tolerance across the nation.
    I am mystified that so many can find fault with that noble effort, regardless of who’s in charge. Check out the Black Robe Brigade if you are truly interested in the truth about what happened that evening when over 2,000 religious leaders came together. Then take a moment to think where such a movement can lead.

    The Restoring Honor Rally was awesome!

    Not only did he manage to raise a ton of funds for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a group that steps in to assist families and specifically children after the loss of their parent, but, more importantly showcased these contributions were duties as defined by the Lord in James 1:27. How can we argue with that message? Because of the man who orchestrated the event? I applaud him for his efforts. His message all along was that charity is a God inspired selfless gift to others. I don’t find anything wrong with that message.

    The Rally itself was filled with inspirational speakers from various faiths, gospel songs, and badges of honor given out for faith, hope and charity. At the end of the rally over 200 clergy stood arm-in-arm on the stage – I cried like a baby and felt a presence in my heart that I had never felt before.

    His presence filled my heart and soul – it was a truly amazing day and event. I still tear up when I see a video of the geese flying overhead – the whole event was a testament to the unifying power of the Lord.

On Media and Mosques at Ground Zero

Saturday, August 14, AD 2010

One of the interesting (by which I mean dull, predictable and repetitive) aspects of the 24 hour news cycle is that all forms of media have incentives to magnify and actively seek out controversy. Not only does this increase ratings/page views/newspaper sales, it provides media outlets with something – anything in a slow news month – to talk about. I can’t help but feel that the recent outburst of commentary about the construction of a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks is the type of story designed to increase media consumption and accomplish little else. The First Amendment is not in dispute here; freedom of religion is well established and protected by settled case law. Furthermore, the proposed mosque is to be constructed on private property, and there is no legal reason to challenge its construction. And so most of the discussion revolves (and frequently devolves) around taste and symbolism.

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44 Responses to On Media and Mosques at Ground Zero

  • I take your point about media generated controversies, but I’m not sure I’d place the mosque controversies at least entirely in that category. I find the following aspects of this controversy to be very remarkable and worthy of reflection:

    1. The legal right of Muslims to build houses of worship has been called into question.

    2. Islamic terrorists are being conflated with all Muslims.

    3. It’s being proposed that Islam really isn’t a religion.

    I really see our country at a crossroads right now. The increased presence of Muslims challenges our national narratives (e.g., we’re a Christian nation) and the extent to which we value are willing to extend religious liberty. This controversy is forcing us to ask ourselves who we are, and that question is as serious as anything.

  • I suppose, in turn, I take your point Kyle. There are important issues connected to the controversy (although points 1 and 3 strike me as rather fringish, self-marginalizing ideas). I think it is a matter for serious concern that so many voices on the right have picked this particular battle. At the same time, I do not see why it is a national, rather than a local, issue. There is no legal basis for challenging the mosque’s construction, and there is virtually no chance of that changing in the near future (barring a cataclysmic series of events). I am glad that liberals have stated these truths and criticized the over-heated rhetoric from the right, but I still see this more as a controversy-of-the-day, rather than a matter of significant national import.

  • John Henry,

    There are a lot of things I can say about your perspective, and few of them would be very flattering. I’ll limit myself to this: as a Catholic, you ought to have a better understanding and appreciation of the symbolic. To dismiss the importance of symbolism in the manner you have seems rather crudely materialistic to me. Symbols are generally representations of real things.

    “there is little reason for anyone else aside from the families of the victims of 9/11 or residents of that area of New York to comment”

    And yet here we are, in a free society, in which people don’t need reasons deemed acceptable by others to engage in public discourse. Don’t let it burn you up too much 🙂


    “1. The legal right of Muslims to build houses of worship has been called into question.”

    It has not. And someone ought to question the wisdom of the builders.

    Moreover, people have a right to make legal challenges if they like. It doesn’t mean they will succeed, and they may even be charged with the court cost if their case turns out to be frivolous.

    Finally, some suspect that the mosque is funded by a man with ties to terrorism.

    “2. Islamic terrorists are being conflated with all Muslims.”

    No, I think it is more accurate to say that Islamic terrorists are being portrayed as consistent Muslims, while the “moderate” Muslim is being portrayed as inconsistent, given the clear teachings of the Koran on the relations between Muslims and infidels. You won’t find anything like that in the New Testament.

    “3. It’s being proposed that Islam really isn’t a religion.”

    Yes, I don’t see the point in that. It isn’t a religion like others, to be sure, but in the West we tend to think of religion as something different (though not entirely unrelated) from politics, and from science, a legacy we can thank the Church for. These distinctions are what enabled Western society to advance far beyond others, I believe.

    Then again, I believe communism is a religion, just a secular one. Environmentalism is also fast becoming a religion, neo-pagan for some, secular for others.

    “challenges our national narratives (e.g., we’re a Christian nation)”

    We are a Christian nation, if for no other reason than that the majority of Americans are Christians. If you mean in the substance of our policies, well they rest upon a Christian legacy anyway.

    In Lebanon, Islam “challenged the national narrative” of a Christian nation by repeatedly attempting to slaughter all of the Christians. Only God and the impenetrability of the mountains of Northern Lebanon saved them from that fate.

    Now I’m not saying that the Muslims who live here now either desire such a thing for the United States, or that they could do it if they did. I do wonder however how the picture will change if/when they become 20% of the population or more. This isn’t an observation limited to Islam either: ANY group with ANY ideas will seek to impose them more and more as their numbers grow. That’s just rational human political behavior, it is universal.

    Perhaps looking at Europe’s experience we would be wise to take certain precautions sooner, rather than later.

  • To dismiss the importance of symbolism in the manner you have seems rather crudely materialistic to me. Symbols are generally representations of real things.

    Symbols can be important, but they can also be ambiguous or frivolous. I wasn’t categorically rejecting arguments about symbolism; just saying that this particular one wasn’t particularly fruitful given that there are very few repercussions for public policy.

    And yet here we are, in a free society, in which people don’t need reasons deemed acceptable by others to engage in public discourse. Don’t let it burn you up too much

    This is silly, Joe. Saying that I don’t think a particular controversy is very valuable is hardly the same as saying I am upset that people are free to have it. I’m consistently on the side of freedom here – whether it be of religion or speech.

  • A commenter on a friend’s facebook page remarks that Muslims have the right to practice their religion in their own countries, but not in ours. I’d say that qualifies as denying the religious freedom of Muslims in the U.S. Teresamerica asserts that the sensitivity of the 9/11 families is grounds to refuse the building of the “ground zero” mosque. She’s not just questioning the wisdom of the building planners, but their legal right to build in that location. I can also point to the opposition the president has received in response to his statement that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as we all have. As for lawsuits: Exhibit A.

  • Cordova House: Why don’t we start a $100,000,000 fund to build a cathedral dedicated to St. Perfecto, a Spanish martyr murdered for the faith in Cordova during the 700 years the mass murderers held Spain?

    You geniuses will see how this plays out in November.

    Meanwhile, you will see a representative sample of 80% of US at 2PM on 11 September.

    You insensitive America-hating geniuses . . .

    Practicing their religion . . . flying large airplanes into tall buildings.

  • Regarding jihad, Adams states in his essay series,

    “…he [Muhammad] declared undistinguishing and exterminating war, as a part of his religion, against all the rest of mankind…The precept of the Koran is, perpetual war against all who deny, that Mahomet is the prophet of God.”

    Confirming Adams’ assessment, the late Muslim scholar, Professor Majid Khadduri, wrote the following in his authoritative 1955 treatise on jihad, War and Peace in the Law of Islam :

    “Thus the jihad may be regarded as Islam’s instrument for carrying out its ultimate objective by turning all people into believers, if not in the prophethood of Muhammad (as in the case of the dhimmis), at least in the belief of God. The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have declared ‘some of my people will continue to fight victoriously for the sake of the truth until the last one of them will combat the anti-Christ’. Until that moment is reached the jihad, in one form or another will remain as a permanent obligation upon the entire Muslim community. It follows that the existence of a dar al-harb is ultimately outlawed under the Islamic jural order; that the dar al-Islam permanently under jihad obligation until the dar al-harb is reduced to non-existence; and that any community accepting certain disabilities- must submit to Islamic rule and reside in the dar al-Islam or be bound as clients to the Muslim community. The universality of Islam, in its all embracing creed, is imposed on the believers as a continuous process of warfare, psychological and political if not strictly military.”3

  • Kyle,

    Well, frankly, the cited examples all strike me as fairly marginal views. Your Facebook friend isn’t in favor of the First Amendment (and likely hasn’t really thought much about the history of Catholics in the United States); Teresaamerica is proposing manipulation of a city zoning requirement protecting landmarks to prevent the construction of the mosque, which is a rather startling example of using a facially neutral requirement for discriminatory purposes. As to lawsuits, they are unlikely to make it past summary judgment, if they even make it that far. As I said, there are important questions connected with this controversy, but for the most part these conversations involve issues more significant than – and distinct from – whether or not New York has another mosque.

    I should add, though, that I appreciate you taking the time to provide examples. It may be that I’m wrong about the significance of this particular controversy, or have chosen a poor example to illustrate the point I was trying to make.

  • T. Shaw – the purpose of this thread is not to debate the place of jihad within Islam; please try to provide comments that relate more directly to the topic of the post.

  • Right.

    “Taste”: I would use “sensitivity” or “sensibilities.” I know where your “head” is on this.

    Of course, the media actively magnified the immaterial, tragic events of 11 September 2001 (the boring History Channel mini-series they air each September need to cease and desist, too), so widows and other survivors have their evil bowels in an uproar over the religion of peace building a pacifist training camp two blocks away from where their little eichmann’s got it for liberating Kuwait from Saudi Arabian bases and supporting Israel.

  • “Muslims have the right to practice their religion in their own countries, but not in ours. I’d say that qualifies as denying the religious freedom of Muslims in the U.S.”

    This is one of the most laughable statements posted here in quite some time.

    All over the Muslim world, Muslims are denied the right to practice as they see fit. No whirling Dervishes if you are in Saudi Arabia. Want to wear a burqa in Turkey? Have fun in jail. Surely the hundreds of thousands of Muslims arrested each year on charges of “crimes against Islam” reveal the claim as absurd?

    And, with regards to Muslims not being able to practice in the US, what could your Facebook friend POSSIBLY mean by THAT allegation? Is she suggesting that opposing the building of a mosque at Ground Zero represents an absolute bar to the practicing of Islam in New York City or the United States as a whole? If so, she has lost her furry little mind.

    Whether one agrees or disagrees with opposing the building of Cordoba House at Ground Zero, we shouldn’t jump on the victimized bandwagon just yet. Lets face it, Cordoba House isn’t the first mosque to be built to praise Allah for a great victory… The Blue Mosque in Constantinople is.

  • John,

    “I wasn’t categorically rejecting arguments about symbolism”

    That wasn’t very clear originally. I thank you for the clarification.


    Your link is just a link to people who want to stop the construction of one mosque. That is a far cry from arguing that “Muslims don’t have a right to practice their religion.”

    You know, we deny a lot of different religious groups the right to certain practices. We prosecute Christian “scientists” who refuse to give their children medicine when they are sick, for instance. So this idea of absolute religious freedom is as detached from history and reality as those who proclaim an absolute right to free speech. I don’t claim that there are grounds at the moment to deny certain aspects of Islam, but they could well arise at some point.

    My compromise would be this: today, right now, before 10% of our population is Muslim, we pass state or even federal constitutional amendments forever barring the implementation of Sharia law at any level. We make resolutions to avoid what has happened in Europe and some of the commonwealth countries, in which “culture” or “religion” has been used in courts of law to defend honor killers and rapists. We subject Islam to the same scrutiny that Christianity is subjected to in the public school system, and we stop these ridiculous charades in which children are forced to act like Muslims for a week as part of “cultural awareness.” It’s absurd.

  • G-Veg, I think your comment reflects a misunderstanding. Kyle’s FB friend was expressing their view of what should be rather than what is. Obviously, there are a lot of problems with his friend’s desired state of affairs and that (fortunately) is not currently the state of things in the U.S.

  • The constant invocation of Cordoba itself reeks of mealy-mouting of Catholics and the Christian faith in general. The legends of Al-Andalus and the alleged tolerance of Muslims for other religions have been amplified beyond caricature by Jews who couldn’t forgive Catholics for the expulsions and fabulists such as Borges and Fuentas who projected their fantasies onto a mideaval past. The strange thing is, Muslims themselves never cared for the comity of Cordoba, one can hardly find references to that aspect in their earlier writings; bin Laden wasn’t rueing for the Cordoba of fantastic memory. The remaking of Cordoba into some kind of wonderland was the work of (a few) Jews, thus it is no surprise that Bloomberg is taken in. I look forward to the day when the very same boosters, complain when some Sheikh or other compares Jews to monkeys at Cordoba House.

  • Pauli’s link makes my point in an indirect way. What was the need for that anti-Catholic bigot Foxman to invoke the Auschwitz nuns to frighten off CAIR, when the salient comparison to the destruction of the WTC is in fact Pearl Harbour? It seems as though he wants us to forget that Catholic Poles in their hundreds of thousands perished in that camp. Is McGurn a Catholic? If so, he needs to stop drinking the ADL Kool-Aid.

  • I agree that symbolism is important. That’s why I think the efforts to stop the building project are so awful.

  • I wouldn’t try to stop them through the courts, but I would impress upon them how much they will rightfully be resented for failing to respect the wishes of the people. To do something simply because one can is hardly a persuasive argument.

    There are a thousand and one good ways to foster better relations between Muslims who wish to disavow the violent teachings of the Koran, and Christians in the United States. This is not one of them.

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  • I would impress upon them how much they will rightfully be resented for failing to respect the wishes of the people. To do something simply because one can is hardly a persuasive argument.

    I agree. Muslims don’t “do” persuasive argument. Never have. Why should they? They like their methods better. From passive aggressiveness all the way up to not-so-passive, that’s where they excel.

    In many ways I’m glad they are building this at ground zero to show their absolute smugness and insensitivity. It will further expose their nature.

  • Pauli,

    I think such generalizations are unfair, dangerous, and inaccurate when applied to a group of 1 billion people. A disturbing pattern is found in many long-running feuds/persecutions: 1) a group of individuals is lumped together on the basis of a distinguishing feature (whether it be race/religion/nationality/etc.) and identified as ‘the other’; 2) that group is then accused of having various negative characteristics to an unusual degree (e.g. greed, stupidity, or guilt for certain crimes); 3) these negative characteristics are then used as a pretext for denying rights to this group that other citizens enjoy. I am concerned about the implications of your comments.

  • I should have written “Muslim leaders” rather than merely “Muslims”. That’s my point. Islam doesn’t have one billion leaders. One billion people are not building a mosque. I can “generalize” about these leaders based on their past and present behavior. They don’t show the kind of sensitivity of the Holy Father in the link I posted.

    John Henry was wise to delete his former comment where he compared me to a Klan member and a jihadist.

  • John Henry was wise to delete his former comment where he compared me to a Klan member and a jihadist.

    My point was about language and the structure of your argument; to say language is similar is not to say the people are similar. Substitute Catholics/blacks/Israelis for Muslims in your comment above, and the similarities in language are quite striking. Btw, I frequently re-write my comments multiple times to try and make them clearer within the first few minutes after they post.

  • I frequently re-write my comments multiple times to try and make them clearer within the first few minutes after they post.

    Mmmmm, I see. That also provides a benefit that those subscribed to the comment thread get to see what you really think before your discretion kicks in and you self-censor. Maybe you should just write your comments down on scratch paper first and read them out loud to yourself. That’s what I do.

    Let me clarify my views further WRT the smugness and insensitivity of the Muslim leaders behind the building of the ground zero Mosque. I don’t think I would say the same about black leaders in general, Israeli leaders in general or Catholic leaders in general, and my proof for the third is in the link I provided earlier. This rules me out as a Klansman if there was any further question.

  • Pauli – you seem to be missing the point. I wasn’t saying that you feel similarly about Catholics/blacks/Israelis, etc. I was observing that your comment above about Muslims is very similar to the type of statements that the Klansmen of yore made about Catholics and Blacks, and radical Muslim groups today make about Israelis. You’ve said now that you were only speaking about ‘Muslim leaders,’ but I think, again, your statement still reflects a disturbing prejudice.

  • John Henry, here’s a question. Can you think of other comparable situations involving different religions other than Islam? Keep in mind that this project will be large costing millions of dollars. If I am prejudiced against Islam, then I have overlooked all the other times a different religion has done something comparable.

    Prejudice means to prejudge, to judge someone before you see any of there actions. For example, I see a black person and I think, “That person is probably a lazy bum, because blacks are lazy.” If I think this, then I am prejudiced. But what if I am able to observe a black person for several months and note many instances of laziness? Then I can state “He is lazy” without prejudice, can I not? This would only appear to be prejudice to a third person who didn’t know that I had many occasions to observe the laziness and who then made an assumption that the reason for my judgment was my own prejudice against blacks. This third person would himself be guilty of prejudging me.

    So give me some comparable situations throughout history to the ground zero mosque. Otherwise this word substitution exercise you are proposing smells like a red herring.

  • I really see our country at a crossroads right now. The increased presence of Muslims challenges our national narratives (e.g., we’re a Christian nation) and the extent to which we value are willing to extend religious liberty. This controversy is forcing us to ask ourselves who we are, and that question is as serious as anything.

    There are some disputes about the proportion of the population which is Muslim. (Robert Spencer offers that the most valid estimates appear to place that population at 3,000,000, or 1% of the whole). I do not think a minority that size ‘challenges national narratives’. (The appellate judiciary and the public interest bar have insisted on the adoption of enforced secularization, because that is the preferred policy in the social circles in which they run).

    Both you and John Henry might consider the possibility that past is not prologue, and that a muslim minority might eventually prove tragically incompatible with the general population, and that such an outcome is more likely if elite policy rewards rather than ignores (or penalizes) aggressive postures on the part of novel minorities.

  • The remaking of Cordoba into some kind of wonderland was the work of (a few) Jews

    “Owing to the peace which the Christians of Cordova then enjoyed, some knowledge of their condition has been preserved, among other things the name of their bishop, Joannes, also the fact that, at that period, the citizens of Cordova, Arabs, Christians, and Jews, enjoyed so high a degree of literary culture that the city was known as the New Athens. From all quarters came students eager to drink at its founts of knowledge. Among the men afterwards famous who studied at Cordova were the scholarly monk Gerbert, destined to sit on the Chair of Peter as Sylvester II (999-1003)”

    I suppose it’s possible Jews infiltrated the Catholic Encyclopedia’s editorial board.

  • Yeah, those silly martyrs didn’t know when they had it good!

  • restrainedcatholic, the article you linked to in its entirety, shows that Catholic scholars were not among those going gaga over Cordoba. The quote does not accurately convey the thrust of the article. By the sheer dance of things, there is bound to be a period when Christians and Jews enjoyed a measure of peace living among Muslims. This by itself is not sufficient to inspire the paens to Cordoba. Where for example is the equivalent Christian city? We know that there were Christian monarchs in the Iberian peninsula who were tolerant by the standards of that era. Yet no one is concerned to inflict their saga on us.

  • sorry I should have addressed the above to restrainedradical..

  • Donald, you should substitute the phrase “female African slaves” for “martyrs” in your sarcastic remark. How’s it sound then? Answer: very disturbing.

  • Let us assume that those financing Cordoba House are sincere in their desire to present the most tolerant face of Islam possible and that harkening back to an enlightened period of the Cordoban princes is meant to be a signal of the kind of tolerance they seek in America. Let us further accept the claim that the proximity to Ground Zero is meant to give voice to moderate and modern Islam – as an answer to the kind of religious extremism that brought the towers down and the world’s economic Goliath to his knees.

    It was surely possible to be a practicing Christian or Jew in Cordoba at various points. We have fairly modern examples to suggest that a calm, judicious application of the Koran and the Hadith to the interactions between religions leads to some degree of stability and freedom of worship. However, at its very best, this isn’t anything approximating Freedom of Religion. This is because Sharia law absolutely requires Theocracy. It presumes that Islam is right on a host of human interactions that allow for no deviation. However “tolerant” of other religious teachings an Islamic state seeks to be it cannot permit deviation on critical issues such as the nature of God, the duty of man to his family and to the community, and how work is organized. In even the most tolerant of Islamic states (indeed, I would argue that this is true of ALL theocratic states and that we are concentrating on Islamic states because they are the last of this old order), no Christian can be allowed to evangelize because, at its core, tolerant Islam nonetheless requires absolute adherence to basic Koranic doctrine as expressed through the Hadith. This is to say that the Spanish Caliphates may have been “tolerant” but only so long as the other faiths knew and stayed in their place. (This shouldn’t be surprising. There was a reason for the brutality and vindictiveness of the Spanish Inquisition and I doubt it was “payback” for six centuries of Islamic FAIR treatment.)

    Bringing my point back to Cordoba House: even IF those financing the project intend to signal the kind of “tolerance” that was supposedly exhibited under Muslim rule in Cordoba, that kind of “tolerance” is nothing akin to Freedom of Religion. Further, it “feels like” building a mosque so close to the place where the American economic model of a hundred years was destroyed is a sort of “victory dance” or, at least, a shrine to thank Allah for victory. My guess is that our ancestors felt the same way about the conversion of the Basilica at Constantinople into the Blue Mosque.

    If this is not what is intended… if the Cordoba House builders are honest in their desire to forge bonds and further understanding, they have picked a damn awful way to do it. Appearances DO matter.

    One final note: please do not interpret my writing to suggest that I believe that the engines of law ought to be brought to bear to prevent the building of the mosque. Indeed, even if it were called the “Usama Bin Laden Victory Mosque” and have individual shrines to the 911 “martyrs,” I would not want the state to act in an unconstitutional way. However, I take great exception to those who suggest that protesting the building of the mosque is un-American. Nothing is more democratic than to stand up for one’s views and to speak for oneself – not expecting the government to intervene

  • G-Veg: If this is not what is intended… if the Cordoba House builders are honest in their desire to forge bonds and further understanding, they have picked a damn awful way to do it. Appearances DO matter.

    Yeah, this is pretty much how Michael Medved phrased it today on his show. Either it’s a victory dance which means it’s horrible, or it’s an extremely poor and insensitive attempt at reconciliation.

  • Should you be glad that it’s named after a place that became exclusively Catholic?

  • Wow, why didn’t I think of that? Cordoba as a backhand compliment to Ferdinand and Isabelle; tell the hardhats its alright, they must get to work. Expedite the construction.

  • Good Morning restrainedradical,

    I’m not sure I follow you because I didn’t think we were talking about what I would do if I were going to sponsor a religious community in a place that would deeply offend. For this conversation, it is enough to articulate why I am offended and how the decision to build this mosque in a place where it appears to glory in misery is inappropriate.

    I’ll range farther though to say that I understand the impulse of the victor to raise monuments – to celebrate victory in a way that visits new injury on the defeated every time they are forced to accept and contemplate their impotency. It is a basic and base impulse. I mentioned the Blue Mosque as an example but there are many others such as the obelisk at the Vatican (doubly so if Wiki is right in noting that the obelisk was the center-point of the Circus Maximus).

    Monuments are built to channel human vision such as the Smithsonian and to inspire the way the Statue of Liberty does. They are built to control the divine (Stonehenge) or to refocus culture such as St. Petersburg. Sometimes they are merely the extension of man’s feeble attempt to control what happens after death (Pyramids at Giza). Often they are build to “immortalize” conquest such as Trafalgar Square and to put a face on a particular victory such as Admiral Nelson’s monument at Trafalgar. There are a lot of reasons to put mortar to stone and not all of them are base and mean.

    It is a fair question as to why those who seek to build Cordoba House at Ground Zero choose that location. The explanation given – that they seek to put a moderate face on Islam and to answer the extremism of September 11th with the understanding and tolerance of a thoroughly modern and moderate Islam – is difficult for many people to accept. I am one of them.

    I look at the speeches of its lead spokesman, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and wonder how a man who believes that America invited the 911 attacks through its policies over the previous century can simultaneously believe that the building of a mosque on the site of those attacks would be perceived as other than a victory monument by extremists. The questions about funding further alarm me since our culture is accustomed to look with skepticism upon projects whose funding is hidden. I admit to looking with jaded eye on attempts to present the Koran and Hadith as purely religious – i.e. having no pre-requisite political, legal, and economic structure – strictures.

    Cast against this backdrop, calling the project “Cordoba House” and then withdrawing that name when confronted about its implications appears to me to be revealing. It suggests that the name choice was more illuminating about the hidden agenda of those building the center than they wished it to be.

    In many ways, the rise of Islam in the Americas presents a unique challenge to both Muslims and the broader society. Primary in the challenges is recasting the political, social, and economic structures inherent in the Koran and, particularly, in the Hadith as idealized analogies rather than divine order. Stated more simply, the Koran and the Hadith are incredibly specific as to how society as a whole, family life in particular, and the daily lives of individuals are to be organized. While it is true that the burqa and other such trappings of modern Islam are not ordained in the written word, it is fair to note that the vast majority of religious, economic, and political obligations are spelled out.

    In a modern, constitutionalist state such as the United States, there is an assumption that the duties of man to man and man to the broader society are limited by law maintained by virtually universal suffrage. The framework is set by the democratic institutions. The individual actions inside of that framework are set by our personal codes. Religion, in one sense, must accept the overall legal framework in order to be practiced freely. Stated differently, lest I be misunderstood to be saying that religion is subordinate to the State, the modern, diverse culture, the State guarantees a field of contest on which the worldviews can compete without being oppressed by organs of government. So long as those worldviews accept the framework, virtually any can operate freely (Scientology for example) without damaging the State.

    It remains to be seen whether Islam can exist within a constitutional state.

  • G-Veg, similar things can be said of Judaism yet they developed doctrines that allow them to integrate into a pluralistic society. Christianity went through a similar transformation. Even if the Bible doesn’t command certain public policies, it became conventional wisdom that, for example, heresy should be a capital offense. Freedom of conscience didn’t hold as high a place as it does today.

    I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibilities that Islam can develop doctrines that can allow them to deemphasize teachings that prevent them from integrating. There will still be fundamentalists but they may become a tiny fringe minority with no mainstream support.

    We can aid in this process by supporting the moderates within Islam who are willing to abandon the more radical teachings.

  • It remains to be seen whether Islam can exist within a constitutional state.

    Constitutional monarchy has functioned in Morocco for most the the last 50-odd years. Malaysia has always been a parliamentary state, if an illiberal one. There are several West African countries which have had elected governments for the last 20 to 35 years. The Arab world is peculiarly resistant to electoral and deliberative institutions; outside of that, it is doubtful that muslim societies are more prone to tyranny than other societies at similar levels of economic development.

    A better statement of the question is whether a muslim minority can be amicably incorporated in a society where the judiciary, the social services apparat, the educational apparat, and much of the political class considers the vernacular society of the natives something which needs to be contained and leavened, and makes use of (often rude) immigrant populations in its battles with that vernacular society.

  • Bernard Lewis in his book The Jews in Islam writes,

    “The claim to tolerance, now much heard from Muslim apologists and more especially from apologists for Islam, is also new and of alien origin. It is only very recently that some defenders of Islam have begun to assert that their society in the past accorded equal status to non-Muslims. No such claim is made by spokesmen for resurgent Islam, and historically there is no doubt that they are right. Traditional Islamic societies neither accorded such equality nor pretended that they were so doing. Indeed, in the old order, this would have been regarded not as a merit but as a dereliction of duty. How could one accord the same treatment to those who follow the true faith and those who willfully reject it? This would be a theological as well as a logical absurdity.”

  • Art Deco,

    The Arab world is peculiarly resistant to electoral and deliberative institutions.

    Isn’t there a whole history of colonial (mis)administration here that is being calmly passed over–as though we can leap from the time of the caliphate to contemporary world politics without addressing the serious harms imposed upon the middle east and northern africa by various european powers.

    Even the case of Iran (not Arab, but Muslim country) complicates the situation. We did depose their legitimately elected government and instituted a dictator in his place, as we’ve done several other times in various places.

    My point is that an awful lot of this analysis passes over modern history as though it didn’t have any effect on how Islam first encountered representative systems of government.

  • Most of the Arab world was under colonial rule by Europe for a very brief period from shortly after World War I to shortly after World War II. The pathologies that afflict the Arab world are homegrown. It is representative institutions and the Western concept of human rights which are the legacy from Europe.

    In regard to Iran it is more accurate to say that we deposed a dictator, Mossadegh, and restored the Shah. The Shah was a squalid tyrant, but he gleams as positively enlightened compared to the rulers thrown up by the Shia Revolution.

  • Isn’t there a whole history of colonial (mis)administration here that is being calmly passed over–as though we can leap from the time of the caliphate to contemporary world politics without addressing the serious harms imposed upon the middle east and northern africa by various european powers.

    Even the case of Iran (not Arab, but Muslim country) complicates the situation. We did depose their legitimately elected government and instituted a dictator in his place, as we’ve done several other times in various places.

    I keep having this argument with Maclin Horton’s troublesome blogging partner. I offer you the following inventory.

    European colonization in the Near East, North Africa, and Central Asia was limited to the Maghreb and to a small knock of Levantine territory (the Valley of Jezreel and a portion of the coastal plain running between Gaza and Haifa) difficult to see in an atlas of ordinary scale. In Morocco (and I believe in Tunisia as well), the French agricultural colonies were small (the total number of households being under 10,000), although a good deal of common land was enclosed and delivered to them. Demographically obtrusive colonization was found in Algeria (state supported and enforced) and in the Levant (as private and voluntary immigration financed by the Jewish National Fund, etc). I have seen some figures I do not quite trust that there was quite a bit of settlement in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica as well.

    Egypt, the Sudan, Aden, the south Arabian sheikhdoms, the Trucial sheikhdoms, Bahrain, Kuwait, the Transjordan, and Iraq were all dependencies of Britain or France for periods ranging from 14 years to 72 years. Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Syria were dependencies of France for periods ranging from 26 years to 75 years. You had a rotating population of civil servants and soldiers and a foreign resident population there for business or missionary work (e.g. the founders of the American University of Beirut). There were, however, no colonists other than the aforementioned population of farmers. Morocco’s agricultural colonies were founded around 1928 and fully liquidated by about 1971.

    You may have noticed that Indonesia has had an elected government for the last 11 years, that elected administration has been modal in South Asia since 1947, and that elected governments are (at this point in time) rather more prevalent in Tropical and Southern Africa than they have been in the Arab world at any time in the last 50 years. The encounter between Europeans and natives was a good deal more durable, intrusive, and coercive in these loci than it ever was with regard to the Arab world.

    You may have noticed the United States had scant involvement in this enterprise of collecting overseas dependencies, and none at all in the Muslim world.

    You may also have noticed that the 9/11 crew were recruited not from Algeria (which did feel the French boot rather severely), but from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Egypt was a dependency of Britain in a juridically odd arrangement from 1881 to 1922; any complaints about this are not exactly topical. Neither the Hijaz nor the Nejd (united now as ‘Saudi Arabia’) was ever a dependency of any European power. Britain and Russia established some concessionary arrangements with Persia for a period of time (1907-25) in the early 20th century, but it was never a dependency of any European power.

    The four Arab countries which have had the most extensive experience with constitutional government (Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, and Kuwait) are all over the map as regards the duration and features of their encounter with Europe.

    As for the ‘legitimately elected government’ of Iran, parliamentary executives are generally dependent on the pleasure of the head of state, most especially when they have arbitrarily prorogued the country’s legislature (as Iran’s had been in 1953). Mohammed Mossadegh was no more entitled to rule by decree and disestablish the Persian monarchy (his ambitions) than was the Shah to run a royal dictatorship, but you win some and you lose some. Now, run down the list of states in the Near East, North Africa, and Central Asia which were sovereign for some time during the period running from 1953 to 1978 and identify those which had some measure of competitive electoral politics and public deliberation more often than not. That is a low bar that about 2/3 of the Latin American states could have met. The list will read as follows: Morocco, Kuwait, Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, Pakistan, Libya (perhaps), and Jordan (perhaps). That would be 6 or 8 of the 25 states of the region. It is just not fertile ground for parliamentary government, and a multi-ethnic state with a literacy rate of 8% is not promising material for a durable constitutional order in any case.

    I do not care what bilge Noam Chomsky or John Prados are pushing. The machinations of the CIA are not the reason competitive electoral politics has often been a transient state of affairs here there and the next place in this world (as it was prior to the CIA’s formation in 1947). The only good example of something resembling a democratic political order iced by the CIA would be Jacobo Arbenz’ government in Guatemala in 1954. Personally, I think Arbenz bears more resemblance to Juan Domingo Peron and Salvador Allende than he does to Latin America’s authentic constitutionalists, but it is difficult to find trustworthy histories of his life and times.

  • Muslims don’t “do” persuasive argument. Never have.

    Clarification. I would like to take my second phrase back: “Never have,” which I wrote in ignorance. (Never say never, right?) It turns out that for a time, Muslim thinkers were at one time more reasonable and more at home with the use of reason. I learned that from this excellent piece interviewing Robert Reilly on his new book, the title of which is “Closing of the Muslim Mind”. It’s particularly germane to this discussion and sheds quite a bit of light on the B16/Regensberg thing as well.

    I believe my larger point stands, i.e., currently Muslims do not so much engage in apologetics as they do in a certain type of assertiveness about their beliefs, which is possibly a more useful word than aggressiveness for describing the particular tendency I wish to describe for purposes of this discussion.

C.S. Lewis on Anscombe, France, and Meritocracy

Saturday, June 5, AD 2010

Perusing the local used bookstore last weekend, I came across a copy of the Third Volume of the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. On the whole (or, rather, through the first hundred pages or so), they make an enjoyable light read, at least for Lewis fans. He is always readable and often insightful. Moreover, the letters offer an interesting window into life in mid-twentieth century England. It’s rather striking that six years after the end of the Second World War, common items like envelopes and certain foods were still either rationed or unavailable (many of the letters are expressions of thanks to sympathetic American friends who have sent Lewis one package or another). Here, in no particular order, are a few passages I found either amusing or interesting:

Writing to a U.S. Friend About the Korean War

“Seriously, though, we all sympathize with you in the position into which you have been forced; it’s all very well to call it a UNO war, but so far as I can gather, it is a USA war. Have you noticed the French contribution? One gunboat!”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose….

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3 Responses to C.S. Lewis on Anscombe, France, and Meritocracy

Is Arguing About Politics a Waste of Time?

Friday, April 30, AD 2010

This study suggests an interesting reason why that may be the case:

The investigators used functional neuroimaging (fMRI) to study a sample of committed Democrats and Republicans during the three months prior to the U.S. Presidential election of 2004. The Democrats and Republicans were given a reasoning task in which they had to evaluate threatening information about their own candidate. During the task, the subjects underwent fMRI to see what parts of their brain were active. What the researchers found was striking.

“We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning,” says Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory who led the study. “What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts.” Westen and his colleagues will present their findings at the Annual Conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Jan. 28.

Once partisans had come to completely biased conclusions — essentially finding ways to ignore information that could not be rationally discounted — not only did circuits that mediate negative emotions like sadness and disgust turn off, but subjects got a blast of activation in circuits involved in reward — similar to what addicts receive when they get their fix, Westen explains.

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16 Responses to Is Arguing About Politics a Waste of Time?

  • Thanks for sharing this. The findings of this study seems to correspond very well with reality.

  • Studies such as this are indeed interesting.

    I caution against an extreme over-reliance on cold calculation and equally extreme disavowals of the validity and legitimacy of human emotions.

    We have emotions and instincts for a reason – survival. They alert us to threats and dangers and they provide incentives to avoid bad situations.

    Of course reason is a higher function, one unique to man, and so we should always strive for rational analysis. What I see so often, though, are claims that these two ways of analyzing and experiencing things are mutually exclusive. They are not.

    In the modern world I believe the tension between the two stems from what I would call an information overload. In past societies, and this is just a hypothesis, people had limited and often highly trusted sources of information – the church, their local leaders, etc.

    Now there is a deluge of data, and even people with above average intelligence and education can’t be sure who to trust, especially in politics, especially in the social sciences. How can we know that the methodologies used are sound? That their creators aren’t ideologically biased? Climategate shows we cannot be sure, that the science is not settled, and that the person who claims to bring you “the facts” could be bringing you falsehoods.

    What positions we take in politics, I believe, comes down to a few things – and one of them is who we put our trust in for an accurate picture of reality.

    We also have a legitimate desire to pick a side and stick with it. Once we do that, we just want to go about our business, we want our side to prevail.

    I’ve changed teams more than once in my life and it gets old. Not only that, but when you do it, people question your stability and resolve. Consistency is so highly valued among people of all educational and intelligence levels that people will forgo changing their opinion in the face of clear evidence so that they don’t appear to have been wrong. There is massive pressure to be consistent, and less pressure to simply be right.

    Of course, oftentimes, people aren’t mentally agile enough to understand that things they believe are contradictions are only really antagonisms. So they will embrace contradiction instead of exploring the possibility that the two premises are both true.

  • “At the same time, it is somewhat troubling that people are (paradoxically) the least rational about the subjects in which they are the most emotionally invested.”

    I don’t see the paradox. I expect this all the time, especially in myself.

    Aren’t dispassion and “apatheia” normally considered virtues that correct emotionalism?

    How many partisans are actually familiar with the basic rules of logic and non-contradiction? Their basic failure is they forget that only God is above criticism.

  • One must be careful with such studies. First, no one really knows how the brain works. We have a good sense of what parts of the brain do, but some areas of the brain such as the frontal lobes are still unclear. Also how neural networks interact to aid thought is quite another thing.

    Then there are concerns about fMRI actually proving what it sets out to do. Many questions here especially about other stimuli during the test interfering etc. Also questions about statistical methods. See here:

    Bottom line. In 100 years this study might be in the medical library next to phrenology.

  • “and politically neutral male control figures such as actor Tom Hanks”

    An odd choice considering that Hanks is a left wing activist and appeared in the Dan Brown Catholic bashing Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

    Color me unimpressed by the study. We are in our infancy in understanding the human brain and I think we will never truly comprehend the human mind. Political beliefs can change swiftly depending upon the circumstances: Reagan Democrats, Obama Republicans, etc, and I believe most people are always susceptible to a convincing argument. It may not convince them today, but it may give food for thought that will cause a modification in belief down the road combined with other factors.

    “In 100 years this study might be in the medical library next to phrenology.”

    Words to live by Phillip in regard to much of cutting edge science.

  • I take your point that our understanding of brain functioning is incomplete. At the same time, even if the observations about the specific areas of the brain incorrect, the study still provides strong evidence about the behavior of partisans. We may be wrong about the mechanism, but not the behavior. The specific criticisms you raise relate to behavior.

    An odd choice considering that Hanks is a left wing activist and appeared in the Dan Brown Catholic bashing Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

    The study was conducted in 2004. The Da Vinci Code came out in 2006; Hanks has never been a particularly controversial figure. Additionally, the study found that people were able to identify hypocritical statements when made by Mr. Hanks and the opposing candidate; just not when made by their preferred candidate. This suggests Mr. Hanks was not closely identified by the respondents with either party.

    Political beliefs can change swiftly depending upon the circumstances: Reagan Democrats, Obama Republicans, etc, and I believe most people are always susceptible to a convincing argument.

    Of course, people can change their minds. What this study highlights is that committed partisans – not the sort of people who change their minds every election – appear to be unable to process new information effectively. Again, this is true whether you accept the posited physical mechanisms or not; confirmation bias is a widely recognized and studied phenomenon.

  • Actually John Henry, I think committed partisans are often able to process new information quite effectively in support of their position. Rather like scientists who get a grant to run an experiment and, mirabile dictu, the data from the experiment supports the thesis they had before the experiment was run.

    There are many more things in Heaven and in Earth when it comes to human reasoning than are dreamt of by Westen and his brain scanners.

    Oh, and Mr. Westen is a partisan Democrat and a pretty silly one to boot. He believes that Democrats lose elections because they make rational arguments while Republicans rely upon emotional arguments:

    “In the last forty-five years, the American people have elected only three Democratic residents of the United States. Democrats—from the grassroots on up to the party leadership—are befuddled, confused, and angry. What led me to write this book was exactly what leads people to do everything they do, including vote: strong emotions. And that’s the central message of the book. Everything we know about mind, brain, and politics tells us that there are three things that determine how people vote, in this order: their feelings toward the parties, their feelings toward the candidates, and, if they haven’t decided by then, their feelings toward the candidates’ policy positions. Democrats have insisted on starting at the bottom of this hierarchy, practicing “trickle up” politics—the theory that voting decisions trickle up from voters’ rational assessments of candidates’ policy positions. Trickle up politics turns out to be as valid as trickle down economics. The proof is in the White House, the Congress, and the federal judiciary. The antidote lies not in familiar prescriptions of moving to the center or the left but simply in moving the electorate. The way to win elections, particularly against a party that understands how to move people, is to understand the political brain—how it evolved, how it works, and how central emotion is to it.”

    Democrats don’t lose elections in the view of Mr. Westen because their policies stink. They lose elections because they are too rational! This is the junkiest of junk science.

  • Drew Westen is a regular columnist at the Huffington Post and here is a link to a column where he tells Democrats how to sell the pro-abort message:

    “Obama wasn’t going to win over the majority of Warren’s parishioners, but he could have spoken to them in their own language while winning the hearts and minds of the majority who were listening on television. He might have begun by acknowledging the obvious, that he knew he wasn’t going to convince most of Pastor Rick’s flock, but that he was nonetheless one of them, with a comment like, “Well, I knew at some point I was going to be in there with the lions. I know many of you won’t agree with me, but I hope my answer at least leaves you with as much respect for me and my beliefs as I have for you and yours.” He could then have continued, once again drawing them in while addressing concerns about him that had been raised in recent weeks, “The Bible says that pride is a sin, and I’d be showing more pride than even John McCain thinks I have, with those celebrity and Moses ads, if I told you that I know with certainty when life begins. I wish I did, because then this would be an easy question. But here’s where I stand”:

    No one truly knows what’s in the mind of God, and I just don’t like the idea of government telling a woman or couple when they should or shouldn’t start their family based on somebody else’s interpretation of Scripture. We need to find the common ground on abortion, reflecting our shared moral beliefs, not the beliefs that divide us. We are all united in the belief that we should do everything we can to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, teen pregnancies, and abortions, starting with instilling in our children both the values and the knowledge to make good choices. And we all agree that abortion shouldn’t be used as a form of birth control and shouldn’t be an option late in pregnancy except when the mother’s life or health is in danger. I could go on and talk about how misguided I think our currently policies are that deny access to birth control to women and teenagers in our inner cities, which does nothing but perpetuate the cycle of poverty, stop young people from getting an education and fulfilling their God-given potential, and make it more likely that they’ll have children before they’re ready to be good parents. But the main point I want to make is that in this country, we don’t force one person to live by another person’s faith. This should be a personal and moral issue, not a political one.

    This is a variation of one of the messages we tested, although it is considerably longer than those messages, which we kept to about 45 seconds. I revised it here to fit both the audience and the central narrative of Obama’s campaign (the theme of focusing on what unites and not what divides us).

    I’m not claiming that this is the best or only narrative Obama could have offered on abortion. Central to Obama’s appeal is his genuineness, and the only messages he should offer voters are those that fit his values and style. But this way of talking about abortion has several features that render it a strong, principled message. It isn’t hard to come away with the central theme, because it’s offered in both the opening sentence and at the end: That as long as we do not all share the same religious beliefs, the government has no business forcing one person to live by another person’s faith. It speaks to religious freedom and government intrusion, two themes usually associated with narratives on the right but that should be central to a progressive narrative on abortion. It recognizes, as Obama did in his actual answer, that this is a moral issue, and it builds on common ground, emphasizing themes like reducing teen pregnancies and instilling values that are shared by both the left and right and hence are likely to be compelling to people in the center. And it re-enfranchises males by reminding men that they have a stake in this, too: that although ultimately the decision to abort or not to abort resides with the mother, women usually make these decisions together with their husbands or boyfriends, and that a woman or couple, not the government, should make these kinds of intensely personal decisions.”

    Gee, I wonder if Westen is one of those partisans who are unable to process new information effectively?

  • Don,

    I’d think his basic assessment about the way people vote, generally speaking, is quite true. The argument about Democrats offering “rational” policies and Republicans offering “emotionally-based” appeals is false. I think it goes both ways and on different issues.

    But his general assessment that how the electorate feels at the moment usually does decide elections.

  • In any election Eric you are going to have hard core partisans who will not be moved from their position, and to this extent the analysis is correct, although we needed no “scientific” explanation for that. That bit of wisdom is, I suspect, about as old as elections. What is also as old as elections is that hard core partisans are usually not sufficient, certainly beyond the Congressional district level, to win a majority and that political parties have to hone their messages to attract a majority. How that is done, and how it shifts from election cycle to election cycle, has always been one of the more interesting aspects of politics for me.

  • Pingback: Round Up – April 2, 2010 « Restrained Radical
  • In any election Eric you are going to have hard core partisans who will not be moved from their position, and to this extent the analysis is correct, although we needed no “scientific” explanation for that. That bit of wisdom is, I suspect, about as old as elections. What is also as old as elections is that hard core partisans are usually not sufficient, certainly beyond the Congressional district level, to win a majority and that political parties have to hone their messages to attract a majority. How that is done, and how it shifts from election cycle to election cycle, has always been one of the more interesting aspects of politics for me.

    I get the sense that you are hostile to the study, but I’m not clear on why. Mr. Westen can make inaccurate and superficial political diagnoses; that does not mean he is inaccurately reporting the results of a study that describes partisans of both parties as bad at processing information running contrary to their ideologies. He is hardly the first person to notice this, and, as you’ve acknowledged, there are plenty of voters who will never be persuaded from one election to the next (probably most of the people in the study meet that description).

    I agree that studying the Independents who move back and forth and determine most elections is interesting; but that does not mean the study doesn’t tell us something useful about the rest of the population or about how people with deeply held commitments process new information. That, to me, is one of the most valid complaints about the MSM: when over 90% of the reporters are Democrats, there are bound to be striking differences in how information is processed and reported by these individuals, regardless of their intentions. The old joke about a Republican president seen walking across the Potomac River remains as true as ever: The Wall Street Journal headline will read: “Republican President Walks on Water”; The New York Times headline will read “Republican President Can’t Even Swim”. These types of studies highlight how flawed some of our thought processes can be; that’s a valuable thing to keep in mind for the sake of intellectual honesty.

  • I think my point was that this work may actually not actually show what it purports to show. The psychology may be what you point out. But the biology, at least as argued in the study, may be completely false. Again, fMRI data may one day be shown to be even more subject to flaws, including observer bias, that global warming data. 🙂

  • Again, fMRI data may one day be shown to be even more subject to flaws, including observer bias,

    Oh, right. As I said above, I concede that we may be wrong about the physical process in the brain (the mechanism); but I think the study is useful in describing behavior even if we’re wrong about that part. As it is, I still find the guesses about what’s happening in the brain interesting, even if incomplete at this point.

  • If one takes it as an argument from psychology and not neuroscience okay. But I have serious doubts about such studies ever being able to prove a link between our thoughts and neurobiological processes.

General Motors and "Repaid" Debt

Monday, April 26, AD 2010

I usually don’t go in for thought experiments, but for once I’ll make an exception. Let’s pretend for a moment that I need $50,000 to maintain a struggling business, and you, being the wealthy and charitable individual you are, provide me with $50,000 in the following manner:

1) $30,000 in ownership (a share in future profits, if any)
2) $13,000 for emergency cash (to be repaid at no interest)
3) $7,000 in debt (at an interest rate 7% lower than I could get elsewhere for accepting a similar risk)

Not too many angel investors, venture capital funds, or private equity funds would sign up for such an arrangement, and that, dear reader, is why I am relying on your generosity. After one year, the business still has not made a profit. However, I have managed to “pay back” the initial $7,000 in debt in the following manner:

1) I borrowed an additional $10,000 from you for environmentally friendly investments.
2) I used some of the $13,000 in emergency spending cash to pay back the $7,000.

In other words, at the beginning of the year, you provided me with $50,000. I now owe you $53,000 (plus the emergency spending cash I used and the interest you’ve lost), with no real prospects for paying the money back. However, I am confidently assuring my customers and you(!), of all people, that I have “repaid my loan in full,” by which I mean the $7,000 in debt, not, of course, the $53,000 you provided that has not yet been returned. Change the thousands in the thought experiment to billions and the debtor to

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2 Responses to General Motors and "Repaid" Debt

Krugman v. Levin on Climate Change

Thursday, April 22, AD 2010

Jim Manzi, a conservative expert on climate change, recently reviewed Mark Levin’s coverage of the subject in his book Liberty and Tyranny. Mr. Manzi was unimpressed:

I’m not expert on many topics the book addresses, so I flipped to its treatment of a subject that I’ve spent some time studying – global warming – in order to see how it treated a controversy for which I’m at least familiar with the various viewpoints and some of the technical detail.

It was awful. It was so bad that it was like the proverbial clock that chimes 13 times – not only is it obviously wrong, but it is so wrong that it leads you to question every other piece of information it has ever provided.

Levin argues that human-caused global warming is nothing to worry about, and merely an excuse for the Enviro-Statist (capitalization in the original) to seize more power. It reads like a bunch of pasted-together quotes and stories based on some quick Google searches by somebody who knows very little about the topic, and can’t be bothered to learn. After pages devoted to talking about prior global cooling fears, and some ridiculous or cynical comments by advocates for emissions restrictions (and one quote from Richard Lindzen, a very serious climate scientist who disputes the estimated magnitude of the greenhouse effect, but not its existence), he gets to the key question on page 184 (eBook edition):

[D]oes carbon dioxide actually affect temperature levels?

Levin does not attempt to answer this question by making a fundamental argument that proceeds from evidence available for common inspection through a defined line of logic to a scientific view. Instead, he argues from authority by citing experts who believe that the answer to this question is pretty much ‘no’. Who are they? – An associate professor of astrophysics, a geologist and an astronaut.

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48 Responses to Krugman v. Levin on Climate Change

  • It’s also worth noting that Manzi wrote his post on Levin in response to Ross Douthat’s point that “conservative domestic policy would be in better shape if conservative magazines and conservative columnists were more willing to call out Republican politicians (and, to a lesser extent, conservative entertainers) for offering bromides instead of substance, and for pandering instead of grappling with real policy questions.”

    Ross is right.

    Good post, John Henry.

  • The breach of trust between the scientific establishment and the public must be healed before any “policy questions” can be addressed.

    This is an opportunity for the scientific establishment to come to grips with living in a democratic society. It’s methods and data must be open to public scrutiny and review, skeptical and opposing points of view must be given a chance to prove themselves, or be disproved based on the evidence and not political intimidation.

    The “scientific consensus” argument is naive at best and dangerous at worst in a supposedly democratic society. Underneath it is the assumption that non-scientific laymen should shut up and blindly accept whatever it is “scientists” tell them. This is why conservatives such as Levin try to point out the skeptics and dissenters – to show that the “consensus” which we are all supposed to bow, never question, and goose-step to is more of an illusion than a reality.

    If “climate change” really is the great problem the majority of of climate scientists claim it is, then they need to change their methods of interacting with the public. Yes, I know – it would be easier, as Thomas Friedman argues, if we were like China, and had had a communist Central Committee to simply issue top-down decrees on climate change and any number of issues.

    Unfortunately we’re stuck here in the good old, bad old USA, where the people theoretically still have a right to a say in the laws they are to live by, and therefore ought to be able to choose between different points of view on the matter. Don’t worry though, I think that whole idea is on its way out the door anyway.

  • Ross Douthat’s point that “conservative domestic policy would be in better shape if conservative magazines and conservative columnists were more willing to call out Republican politicians (and, to a lesser extent, conservative entertainers) for offering bromides instead of substance, and for pandering instead of grappling with real policy questions.”

    Douthat was the author, along with Reihan Salam, of Sam’s Club Republicans. I’ve read a lot of political works in my life, ranging from the more polemical (like Levin) to the more philosophical. Out of all the things I have ever read in my life on politics none, zip, zilch, nada have been as inconsequential and devoid of any meaningful point as Douthat and Salam’s book. I even appreciated books that I strongly disagreed with much more because at least the author had a strong viewpoint and his convictions were clear for all the world to see. Sam’s Club Republicanism was a 200-page plus bit of meandering (and dubious ) history, the “substantive” policy offering essentially being “let’s offer more tax credits to the middle class.”

    The reason I bring this up is that it really strikes me as both aggravating and yet funny that the people who complain the most about the lack of substance in our political discourse are those who are themselves rather substance-less and rather mediocre both intellectually and stylistically.

  • Amen, Joe. Amen, Paul.

    As for Douthat’s point, he’s already admitted that he has a need to be liked by his liberal bosses, peers, and audience, and therefore shapes his writing accordingly to appeal to them:

    “I’m also acutely aware, from my own experience, of the way that peer effects – the desire to be perceived as the “reasonable conservative” by friends and peers, the positive reinforcement from liberal readers, etc. – can subtly influence the topics one chooses to write about and the tone one chooses to take. It’s not a matter of wanting a seat at the table in the Obama Administration, or anything absurd like that; it’s just a matter of being aware of your audience, and wanting to be taken seriously by people who don’t necessarily share your views, but who exert a significant influence over your professional success even so.”

    Attacking fellow conservatives is just what the house conservatives at liberal publications do to gain acceptance and be seen as “reasonable”.

  • That’s not to say that polemical conservatives like Levin and Coulter shouldn’t be called out when they go overboard rhetorically or just plain get their facts wrong or engage in shoddy scholarship.

    It’s just that when folks like Douthat (or David Frum) send out the clarion call for conservatives to take on the Levins of the world, I’m going to take it with a big ol’ fat grain of salt.

  • It is interesting that your first response to the post is an ad hominem against Douthat and Salaam. I, and nearly all of the reviewers as it relates to the history section, disagree with your characterization of the their book on the merits. But what’s striking to me is that you would describe Reihan Salaam – a far more subtle and detailed policy thinker than Mark Levin as any familiarity with his writing suggests– as substance-less. You can say what you want about the positions he takes, but about the only thing that you cannot say is that his writings lack substance. This suggests to me that you are either unfamiliar with his writing, or that you are mistaking ideological agreement for substance.

  • That’s not to say that polemical conservatives like Levin and Coulter shouldn’t be called out

    Yes, in practice, that appears to be exactly what you are saying. You frequently take that one blog post Douthat wrote years ago, and use it as a reason to dismiss everything he’s ever written that criticizes conservatives. It’s all a bit forced. I suppose we can add Ramesh Ponnurru to the list of insubstantial conservatives now? And Jim Manzi?

  • It is interesting that your first response to the post is an ad hominem against Douthat and Salaam.

    Umm, that wasn’t an ad homimen. It was my reaction to the book. And it’s interesting that your first response to my comment was to reflexively defend Douthat.

    I, and nearly all of the reviewers, disagree with your characterization of the their book on the merits. /i>

    Bully for you. What can I say, I guess I’m not as easily impressed by mediocre punditry.

    ut what’s striking to me is that you would describe Reihan Salaam – a far more subtle and detailed policy thinker than Mark Levin as any familiarity with his writing suggests- as substance-less. You can say what you want about the positions he takes, but about the only thing that you cannot say is that his writings lack substance. This suggests to me that you are either unfamiliar with his writing, or that you are mistaking ideological agreement for substance.

    First of all, note that my critique of Salam was centered very specifically on his work with Douthat on Sam’s Club Republicans. I made no general comment about Salam’s overall work, which is admittedly much better than that of Douthat. I was mainly concerned with Douthat, who I consider to be a highly overrated writer.

    I am also amused that here you are, approvingly linking to an article about the need to reject close-mindedness and for conservative writers to be able to freely critique other conservatives, and yet your reaction to my reaction to Douthat is to simply dismiss me as either ignorant or ideological. Not surprising, considering the source.

  • I read the book as well, Paul, and my take on it was completely different than yours. Douthat & Salaam’s point is that we need to address the real concerns of the middle class. You can obviously take issue with their specific policy proposals, but I don’t see how or why conservatives would disagree with the fundamental point of the book.

    Jay, if you’ve followed Ross’s column and blog over the last few weeks, it’s fairly apparent that he isn’t interested in currying favor with his liberal counterparts or the editors at the Times; consider his repeated defenses of the Holy Father.

    Joe, I’m sympathetic to your point regarding the scientific consensus argument… certainly there have been times that the consensus is wrong. And I agree that their communications methods need improving. But neither means that Levin’s approach is valid or appropriate, does it? The mere fact that there are dissenters doesn’t invalidate the hypothesis of AGW. (For the record, my point here isn’t to defend that hypothesis; I simply agree with Manzi’s critique of Levin’s approach.)

  • Whatever, John Henry. I don’t expect you to read my blog, but if you did, you’d know just how full of crap that last comment is. I criticize conservatives on at least a weekly, if not daily, basis (probably, in terms of frequency, a lot more than you do).

    And I don’t even like Levin or Coulter. Or Limbaugh. Or Beck. Or countless other ideological polemicists. I don’t watch them or listen to them. I’ve criticized them on my blog and others’ blogs. I think Levin and Coulter (especially Coulter) are detrimental to conservatism. But when I criticize them, its not a matter of self-aggrandizement the way it is for some.

    Yes, Douthat gets under my skin. So what? I think he revealed something about himself in that piece (which is actually only about a year-and-a-half old). I’ve said it before, substantively, on the issues, he’s probably one of the columnists who most closely fits my own ideology. But there’s something about him – this need to seem more “reasonable” than all those other conservatives – that makes me dislike his style.

    It’s one of my pet peaves, so, yes, I write about it fairly often. But this comment of yours …

    “It infrequently amazes me how little criticism conservatives deserve on your accounting.”

    … is an outright falsehood. Read my blog and you’ll see that I frequently criticize conservatives, including, most recently, a post on Arizona’s immigration law. Better yet, don’t read my blog. Just keep on with the pretense that I never, ever criticize conservatives or the ideology that often masquerades as conservatism in the GOP. I mean, my comments on this don’t have anything to do with my belief that Douthat is a poseur. No, it’s just that I’m a blind ideologue.

    I’m going to stop now before this turns into a flame war.

  • “conservative domestic policy would be in better shape if conservative magazines and conservative columnists were more willing to call out Republican politicians (and, to a lesser extent, conservative entertainers) for offering bromides instead of substance, and for pandering instead of grappling with real policy questions.” Ross is right.

    ‘Conservative’ domestic policy would be in better shape if the trustees and administrators of the American Enterprise Institute and other such agencies were very sparing about hiring anyone without a completed dissertation or years of professional experience in the field of endeavour about which they are expected to write and research. It would also be in better shape if Republican elected officials understood themselves to be in the midst of an interlude in their life between engagements in business or the professions, and if they had convictions to begin with. It would in addition be in better shape if there were employed academic talent to tap. Cloning messrs. Dreher and Friedersdorf is not likely to improve much.

  • Chris,

    “But neither means that Levin’s approach is valid or appropriate, does it?”

    Not necessarily.

    However, I think it bears reminding that for YEARS we were told that the sky was falling. First Gore tried to scare us all – a man who isn’t a scientist – with his video, which was declared by a British court to be full of inaccuracies. Then when the scare tactics weren’t having the desired political effect, they decided to run roughshod over the democratic process.

    The mere fact that there are dissenters that aren’t being given equal time before the public and who the supposedly mainstream scientists will not face in a public forum is enough to warrant some kind of serious response. I don’t know if Levin provides it (I don’t really like what I know about him), but someone has to. Someone like Lord Monckton. And preferably without the stupid, discredited lie of an ad homoniem that anyone who doubts AGW is “paid by the oil industry.” At this point, I wouldn’t even care if they were, since the IPCC and its work through the UN is supported by population reduction fanatics.

  • Joe, I *completely* agree that the apocalyptic tone of Gore et al. is wrong, period. First it was overpopulation, now it’s global warming; every decade there’s a new crisis which threatens to destroy us all. My concern is that we might throw the baby out with the bathwater and erroneously reject AGW because of the hysteria of some of its advocates and their proposed solutions.

  • Jay,

    But there’s something about him – this need to seem more “reasonable” than all those other conservatives – that makes me dislike his style.

    AS you note, it seems to come down to a question of Ross’s style and one’s preference (or not) for it. In my case, I happen to like it, but I certainly grant that it may not be to everyone’s liking.

  • Thanks, Chris.

    As for Douthat’s defense of the Holy Father that you mentioned in an earlier comment, I thought he was too equivocal even in that:

    Perhaps we can ask your co-blogger if my criticism of Douthat’s piece on Pope Benedict is just more evidence of my blindly ideological defense of yet another “conservative”.

  • Right below the excerpt Jay posted from Douthat’s article is this:

    Now of course similar incentives are also at work for people who make their living writing and talking to a more partisan audience: If you run, say, a right-wing talk radio show, or work for an explicitly conservative magazine, stoking partisan fervor is almost always in your professional interest

    It’s in the interests of conservatives to self-police. (And it’s true: some bloggers here like Jay do that.) No one has cornered the market on substance. There’s always the possibility that these “urbanite” conservatives are tempering their opinions not because they’re craven or sycophantic, but because they’re around people making strong counterarguments, and their moderation reflects that influence. Lord knows, I don’t like a lot of what the NY/DC corridor conservatives write, but I’d rather read their measured criticisms than the ravings of some moonbat.

  • O no, if global warming’s real, we are going to face the first natural paradoxical disaster in the history of man. The seas are going to rise, and the seas are going to fall, they’ll be monsoons, and they’ll be drought, it’s going to get very cold, and very hot at the same time! I’m very afraid of having to wear a heavy coat and clothes that are as light as possible at the same time; imagine handling a flood while dying from drought. We all have to take the threat more seriously, and stop making fun of it.

  • Jay, I’ve been away from my computer for the last hour or so. I agree that you criticize conservatives. But I don’t understand your criticism of Douthat. Douthat’s point was fairly innocuous – conservative intellectuals should call out the entertainers and politicians when they’re pandering. In response, you’ve (again) linked to a blog post that was an honest exploration of the pressures on conservatives in the MSM. It seems to me that you’re taking a post that show-cases introspection and intellectual honesty and saying that it proves a lack of both – and this in response to a point you claim to agree with. As Chris said, above, this may just be a matter of style. But I found your reaction to Douthat’s comments odd. It seems to me that you’re basing your criticism more on who makes the statement than the substance – and that’s what I meant by saying in practice you don’t approve of criticism of conservatives. You don’t mind making criticisms yourself, but if the non-approved people make them, you attack them even if you agree with the substance of what they’re saying. That is what I find off-putting, although I appologize for the sloppy and inaccurate way that was phrased above.

  • Yes,

    Lets all be good little boys and girls, always eat with the proper fork, and treat politics as if it we were all at Gollatz Cotillion.

    Some things are worth “raving” about. Some things are worth the slightest infusion of passion and emotion. Some things require more than the functions of an indifferent calculating machine. Some things are worth fighting for.

    I’ll rant and rave ’till the day I die, dag nabbit! ::whips out his dueling pistols and fires randomly into the air::

  • Joe,

    Yes, raving can be necessary. *But*, if the context is a discussion in which we are trying to *persuade* others that our course is the best, raving can often be counterproductive.

    If we’re trying to rally the troops or “speak truth to power”, raving is often appropriate. If I’m trying to *convince* someone that my way is the best way, it’s less effective. The context matters.

    An elementary point, obviously, but one worth making nonetheless.

  • I am not an art history major, but it would seem that the master artists of their time catered to the ruling houses of Europe. My bride, who has a degree in art history is one of those who can usually spot the family member or patron in the sacred art paintings of the masters. So the artists, though proud, matter-of-factly bent their art to flatter their benefactor’s good profile.

    Although supposedly the high priests of objective observation and reporting of facts, modern researchers are no less dependant today on reliable funding streams from foundations and other sources than their artistic forebears were on stipends and largesse of the great families.

    I am no more inclined to grant, without checking, the integrity of a scientist than I am to believe that the guy in the front rank kneeling before Jesus (or Peter, or an Angel) only coincidentally looks like a Medici.

  • That’s fine Chris – I’m just sick of the people who don’t make the subtle distinctions you do, and try to insist that any form of struggle in itself is some kind of insanity that ought to be replaced with servility.

  • Suffice it to say that I’m all for self-policing our own, but have issues with those who are “professional self-policers” like Douthat, Dreher, and Frum. They’re the conservative media equivalent of tattle-tales.

  • I agree Jay. They are lukewarm, and they will be spit out.

  • Jay,

    Yes. I love your way of dealing with the problems — hide it from view, and if anyone exposes it, call them “tattle-tales.” Why am I not surprised? Didn’t you learn from the child abuse crisis we are facing that a culture of secrecy is NOT what is needed?

  • Jay, given that the views of at least Douthat & Dreher aren’t exactly mainstream conservatism (no one would mistaken their brand of conservatism for Rush’s or Sarah’s), I’m not sure why you’d consider *them* “professional self-policers”.

  • Paul,
    I am also amused that here you are, approvingly linking to an article about the need to reject close-mindedness and for conservative writers to be able to freely critique other conservatives, and yet your reaction to my reaction to Douthat is to simply dismiss me as either ignorant or ideological. Not surprising, considering the source.

    Heh. Let’s clarify, here. The ignorant or ideological line was in response to your claim that Reihan Salaam’s writings lacked substance. You’ve clarified that you were not criticizing his writings as a whole, only his book. Ok, then we just disagree about the book.

    As to your criticism of my criticism of your criticism of the critique that conservatives need to criticize each other, I’m not sure what your point is. It seems to me that there is plenty of criticism going on, and my criticism of you was linked to a very specific point – namely, that characterizing Reihan as nonsubstantive is laughably, obviously wrong. You’ve conceded that point, more or less, so we’re left with disagreement about their book. But since you’ve acknowledged that the criticism of the book doesn’t necessarily apply to all of the writings of the authors, I don’t really know what to say. You don’t like Douthat. You tried to link the criticism of his book to all of his writings, but would not do the same for Salaam. Ok, that’s fine. Is Douthat right or not about the lack of and need for more debates (a la Manzi) in conservatism or not?

  • I hear you, Jay. Of the three “professional self-policers” on your list, Douthat is the only one I tend to like. So maybe it’s a stylistic approach.

    And Joe, I hope it wasn’t my comment about “raving” that set you off. I meant that I’d rather have someone *in the family* say “This is a bad argument of ours” rather than have some lefty nut screaming it at me. Again, style.

    (But feel free to shoot up the place, Yosemite Sam! It wouldn’t be the same if you didn’t!)

  • J,

    It’s all good. I understand now what you meant, and the point is taken.

  • I’m not sure why you’d consider *them* “professional self-policers”.

    That is what I find odd also. The assumption is that Douthat doesn’t really believe what he’s saying, but rather is just catering to his audience. That assumption just doesn’t bear much scrutiny; I’ve been reading he and Reihan since they were completely unknown independent bloggers (well before the Atlantic), and they have been remarkably consistent over time. To me (and this is just my impression – I may be wrong), it seems to me that Jay is confusing stylistic and occasional substantive differences with insincerity. Dreher I think is sincere, but overwrought. Frum I have no use for whatsoever.

  • I agree that self-appointed self-policers can get very annoying at times — though Douthat almost never bothers me in that respect. Dreher and Frum, on the other hand, I didn’t like even before the apostatized in their different ways, religious and political respectively.

    Looping back to the original point, however, I certainly understand and share Manzi’s frustration with a fair amount of science coverage from explicitly conservative authors. It’s not as if there aren’t important points to be made on scientific issues from a conservative point of view. Whether it’s new atheists trying to make expansive theological and socialogical claims based on mis-applying evolutionary history, or enviro-hucksters like Gore massively distorting real climate science, there are important rebuttals to be made. But unfortunately magazines like National Review don’t seem to have very good instincts in sorting real, solid criticism from polemics which fail to address the real evidence and issues.

    Some science coverage they run is good, but others is just execrable.

  • Right-liberalism (i.e. Mark Levin) is not properly conservative. It should be heavily criticized, especially when it tends towards the hackish and populist. Douthat does this effectively, as do Dreher and Frum. I support them (although Frum can be a real piece of work, as in his absurd “Unpatriotic Conservatives” NR piece).

    This is not to say that within the rightist coalitions (infused with the “freedom” of right-liberalism) that Levin et al. cannot be valuable. But “K-Lo’s” defense (the Corner last night) was hugely weak, and we need many more Jim Manzi’s.

  • Yes. I love your way of dealing with the problems — hide it from view, and if anyone exposes it, call them “tattle-tales.” Why am I not surprised? Didn’t you learn from the child abuse crisis we are facing that a culture of secrecy is NOT what is needed?

    Henry, I have a very open comment policy and so I approved this comment, but I think this attack by analogy is completely unfair; and, to compound the irony, you’ve managed an Anderson’s Law violation… while criticizing Jay Anderson! Please keep your future comments more civil.

  • John Henry: Anyone who uses “Godwin’s Law” or a variation of it is already falling for a modern, anti-analogical sensibility, and does not win anything just because they claim a win. So I don’t care if I “violated” Anderson’s law or not.

    The analogy IS apt. If someone complains about “those who are policing us” because “they are tattle tales” (though not necessarily so, could be an ad hominem if we want to play name that fallacy), this kind of mentality is juvenile and is used by people who have things they want to hide. And with the culture of secrecy within the Church, so it is within any political group. They benefit from, are not harmed by, such revelations; they help, not hinder, because they allow for metanoia. To hide error, to hide falsehood, to hide sin because it is not comfortable to expose it just the continuation of Adam’s error.

  • But unfortunately magazines like National Review don’t seem to have very good instincts in sorting real, solid criticism from polemics which fail to address the real evidence and issues. Some science coverage they run is good, but others is just execrable.

    Exactly right. The link post appeared at the Corner, but Manzi obviously knew when he wrote it that he would get completely unsubstantial comments like this in response. Conservatives need to raise their game.

  • Thanks, John Henry.

    And I apologize for the intemperate nature of my previous remarks (seems that I’m always having to do that when we have this discussion 😉 ). I think it is correct to conclude that my problem with 2 of the 3 individuals I mentioned is one of style; in the case of Frum, however, it is also about substance.

    As I said, I do think it is important for conservatives to police their own, and I hope that I have done so when the circumstances merit it (ironically, one of the instances where I did call out someone was when Frum questioned the patriotism of those conservatives who opposed the Iraq War).

    And, of course, Henry completely missed the point of the “tattle-tale” remark. The point was that no one likes the kid who goes around pointing fingers and tattling on his schoolmates, and I was likening those who are self-appointed policers to the tattle-tale. It’s a subtle point: self-policing is important; but those who are too dogmatic about it tend to be overbearing snots. We can agree to disagree on whether that description is applicable to Douthat.

  • Glad to see we are somewhat in agreement, Jay. And apologies again for the double-offense of being intemperate and unclear.

  • HK – I will be away from the blog for a while, so your comments may not get through, unless Darwin or someone else approves them. I think comparing cover-up of the sexual abuse of children with political disagreements is unwise and unnecessarily inflammatory if your purpose is to encourage discussion rather than a flame war. Or would it strike you as a good starting point for discussion, if I compared the moderation of comment threads at a certain blog with the abuse scandal cover-up? I would not do such a thing because it’s obvious it would offend you more than it would help resolve the disagreement. But a similar thing could be said about your comment.

  • “Henry completely missed the point”

    I heard the sun rose in the east this morning too.


  • “They are overbearing snots.” Or maybe they are the ones who call attention to a problem which no one wants to be made known. It is very common for bullies to denounce “tattle telling.” And that is exactly the issue. “They are snots.” That’s rich. Jay proves my point. This is exactly the attitude which is wrong, which trains people to ignore conscience, and indeed, helps keep evil in power.

  • John Henry

    If the political parties are doing evil, and the ones who expose the evil are called “tattle tales” it is quite similar to the way many people attack the media for exposing cover-ups against children. As long as the “don’t be a tattle tale” mentality prevails, metanoia will not.

  • If the political parties are doing evil, and the ones who expose the evil are called “tattle tales” it is quite similar to the way many people attack the media for exposing cover-ups against children. As long as the “don’t be a tattle tale” mentality prevails, metanoia will not.

    Jay didn’t say that if “the political parties are doing evil” people should not expose them, nor that those who did expose them would be “tattle tales”. What he did complain about is the phenomenon of people who consistently point out the faults of their own group (be it political, cultural, religious, etc.) in what appears to be an attempt to fit in with or curry favor with some other antagonistic group. Or simply in an attempt to seem “above it all”.

    This is, in fact, a real tendency which some people display, and it is one which causes unnecessary hurt and division. That doesn’t mean that no one should ever say anything negative about groups to which they belong, nor would Jay ever say such a thing.

    While it’s important to recognize, acknowledge, and repair the faults of one’s own “side”, constant harping on the faults of one’s own group (especially in a way which seems callibrated more to one’s own aggrandizement than to correcting faults) does not create metanoia, it just labels one as an annoy-a.

    Stretching someone’s statements beyond recognition in order to try to accuse them of being of the same mentality of those who covered up sexual abuse committed by priests falls much more in the annoy-a than the metanoia category.

  • “Stretching someone’s statements beyond recognition in order to try to accuse them of being of the same mentality of those who covered up sexual abuse committed by priests falls much more in the annoy-a than the metanoia category.”


  • DC

    In other words, “don’t be a voice of conscience.” I get it. I always got it. I was accused of being the “tattle tale” when I was young, too. Yes. Better to let abuse continue.

  • Ok, I’m going to ask that we not continue this line of conversation. It’s dull for anyone not involved, and it’s not going anywhere productive. Henry believes he is a voice of conscience. Others believe he is reading uncharitably, then making an inapposite and needlessly inflammatory analogy. I don’t think there’s much room for resolution of differences on the point, and I did not write this post with such a conversation in mind. Everyone has had their say.

  • You can mark me down as being on the Manzi/Douthat side of this dispute. I’ll confess I’ve not read the section on global warming in Levin’s book (or any other part of it). But I read his response to Manzi, as well as the responses of K-LO and Andy McCarthy on the Corner, and I’m somewhat familiar with Levin’s style of argument more generally. Needless to say I was not impressed. For what it’s worth, I’ll add that I thought Douthat’s book (which is actually titled Grand New Party; not Sam’s Club Republicans) was quite good.

    There is a natural tendency for political movements to grow lazy in their argumentation, which ultimately impairs their ability to be successful. Subjecting fellow conservatives to criticism when they are not living up to standards is one way to stave off this sort of deterioration, and I think Manzi’s post was a good example of that.

  • John Henry

    Yes, it is “dull” to people with a dull conscience to consider how our socialization with “don’t be a tattle tale” is actually the kind of practice needed to keep sin and evil from being exposed into the light and repented. The fact of the matter is — it’s not dull, it is to the point. The mob boss, the union boss, an institution with a culture of secrecy, political parties who are harboring evil, etc — all will call the “rat fink” out in one fashion or another. They are always the one no one likes. Why is it?

    [Ed. Note: Henry, I was serious. As I said, I very rarely delete comments, but I would ask – again – that you not submit any more comments in this vein. You have expressed your opinion, repeatedly. If this is a topic you wish to discuss, there are venues for that at your disposal. As a courtesy, I would ask that you not continue trying to change the topic of this thread. Best, JH]

  • Levin responds on The Corner here, and it seems to me at any rate basically reveals that the scientific cards are all on Manzi’s side on this one, while the noise is on Levin’s.

    I suspect one of the dynamics here is that most people are willing to give those on “their side” a pass when they figure their heart is in the right place and the issue doesn’t seem all that important. Since most conservatives are not in favor of taking drastic and expensive action to reduce carbon emmissions, there’s not necessarily a lot of practical pressure to sort good arguments from bad arguments.

    And yet, the fact remains that some arguments present very valid reasons why we shouldn’t rush to pass certain kinds of regulations in the name of “saving the planet”, while other arguments are very poor indeed.

The Timeline of Abuse

Sunday, April 18, AD 2010

One of the more oft-heard responses to the recent outbreak of coverage on the abuse scandals in the Church is the following: ‘when is the Church going to respond to this and protect children?’ This question is entirely sensible. We have heard about these scandals in the past, and yet fresh stories of abuse are appearing on a weekly basis. Moreover, the responses of many in the Vatican, as in several other incidents in the pontificate of Benedict XVI, has been disheartening. At the same time, I think it is important to point out for those concerned about the abuse of children (as opposed to the competency of the Vatican press office), that the crisis phase of the abuse scandal has been over for the better part of twenty years in the U.S. (and notice the recent reporting has focused on incidents at least that old). The following graph summarizes the annual reports of abuse by priests in the United States over the last fifty-five years (for those who are curious about post-2004, there were six reported incidents in 2009):

Source: the John Jay Report, h/t Ross Douthat.

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32 Responses to The Timeline of Abuse

  • Does this graph have a source?

  • “…in recent years, the bishops enacted… mandatory training for all individuals who deal with children in every diocese in the country.”

    Knowing the farce of past “training” schemes such as diversity training, I no longer care to volunteer for any such parish or diocesan activities.

  • The stats need to be adjusted for the decline in vocations (abuses per active priest is a better measure) but the decline in abuse probably remains even after an adjustment.

    Celibacy and other issues obviously were not the cause. And it’s possible to address problems like abuse without reform in these controversial areas. But they could help and the fact that priests don’t have children or motherly instincts can’t be ruled out as an ingredient in creating an environment ripe for abuse.

  • The stats are especially relevant since with all the publicity about abuse I believe victims of abuse are much more likely to come forward today than they did in the past.

  • Does this graph have a source?

    Apologies, Jason. The post has been updated to include the source.

  • The stats need to be adjusted for the decline in vocations (abuses per active priest is a better measure) but the decline in abuse probably remains even after an adjustment.

    The number of priests has declined by about a third since 1965. That is only of modest significance in explaining the above.

  • OK, this is probably a dumb question, but if the incidence of abuse peaked in 1980, why was 2002 such a crisis? Because it sounds like the Church was already handling the problem (or it was going away for other reasons). Was it just that there were some bad pockets and a need for uniform standards for bishops to follow?

    I’m having trouble putting together this graph with what I (fuzzily) remember from then.

  • I’ve taken the diocesan training, and although it’s difficult to sit through parts of it, it’s a worthwhile exercise. Much of the advice is common sense, but the insight into the mind of the abuser was particularly helpful. (The training I took used interviews with convicted abusers and victims.)

    The training, combined with everything else I’ve ever read about abusers, leads me to believe that there’s not much merit to restrainedradical’s conjecture above. Given that there are plenty of abusers with children and some molesters are women, it seems hard to lay the blame on the lack of children/motherly instincts.

  • Karen LH,

    Your question was basically the reason I wrote this post; everyone seems to be very confused about when the abuse took place because there was a significant lag between most of the abuse and the reporting on it. 2002 was a crisis primarily because that is when we finally found out about the abuse that occurred over the preceeding 40 years, and particularly the horrific actions of some bishops that moved abusive priests from one parish to another.

    In 2009-2010, there has been new coverage of scandals in Ireland and Germany (my understanding is that most of these cases are older also), but nothing has really happened in the U.S., aside from shaky attempts to argue Benedict (or his delegates) didn’t punish two abusive priests (who were already removed from active ministry) enough while he was at CDF. However, the abuse statistics above are almost never indcluded in the newspaper coverage of the scandal, and so many people are confused about the timeline.

  • Just to clarify, pedophile priests would exist regardless. But I think it might be possible that abuse cases would’ve been handled differently had parents and women had a say.

  • It’s possible, restrained. Counter-factuals are impossible to prove one way or the other, and so people generally rely on their prior intuitions when evaluating the plausibility of a suggestion. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other on this. On the one hand, certainly, women generally seem to be less likely to abuse children in this way; on the other hand, the higher rates of abuse in the public school system than Catholic institutions suggests that having a high percentage of women does not necessarily prevent abuse.

  • “Just to clarify, pedophile priests would exist regardless. But I think it might be possible that abuse cases would’ve been handled differently had parents and women had a say.”

    I rather doubt that. I was talking to Female Judge that grew up during this time period about this. SHe is a non Catholic. She told me that she quite understands why this happened. Sexual Abuse and scandal were viewed differently back then as to society as whole. He was kept quiet and yes woman were involved in that too.

    I see that in the black church where sadly this also rampant. Thught there is still male dominance black women are often the backbone and exert great power and influence. That attitude of “not airing our dirty laundrey in public” still prevails and it appears to me to be very accross the board as to genders

  • If a man would make a good, healthy husband and father, then he would make a good candidate for the priesthood IF that is his vocation. Also, a man should have had good, healthy personal relationships with both sexes, mature in quality…years ago, I don’t think it really mattered. New research shows that many young Priests involved in this sex scandal had been actively engaged in homosexual relationships before entering the seminary and even during their vacation time while in seminary…as far as pedophilia, although this was a very small percentage of the overall sexual abuse, it’s still way too much and hard to understand how these men made it to ordination…where was the discernment of other seminarians, teachers, superiors, etc? I think the requirements are stricter now…

  • Let’s remember that this graph likely does not represent a picture of the whole abuse story, but only reports gathered from victims alive at the time of the Jay Study. It is a snapshot from 2002-04. We would expect a bell curve in any event. I think we also get the downward trend from 1980 onward because of the application of psychological screening to seminary candidates. In other words, good for Vatican II.

    We have good reason to suspect that an important limitation of the Jay Study is the upcurve in reports prior to 1980. Many victims had died by 2002, and the culture, both church and secular, mitigated against children reporting abuse at the time and adults reporting later.

    We have no way of knowing, but I suspect that actual abuse was fairly high all through the ages. The horrific stories that do come to us prior to 1950 may well be the tip of the iceberg. No comfort to the victims, to be sure. But it is a feather in the cap of those who trumpet that the Church is doing a great deal to stamp out abuse. They are right, and in the US, we have a thirty-year track record to show it.

  • I am willing ot bet records were kept but it would be interesting to see the rate of abuse allegations involving Lay Catholics that had contact with children in this time period.

    Something the laity seems not to want to go into

  • So is your claim, Todd, that the graph represents a real fall-off in abuse since the 1980 high, but that appearance of an increase in abuse from 1960 to 1980 is an illusion?

    Certainly, it seems clear that there must always have been some amount to abuse in the Church — just as there has always been some about of abuse in families. It is a sin found in many places and times, and there’s nothing magical about the time before the 60s that would have prevented it entirely.

    However, it seems entirely believable that the slipping moral standards in the wider society, increasing prevalence of pornography, lax formation, lax discipline and a period that was unquestionably one of great uncertainty and turmoil in the Church would have increased the amount of abuse during those decades by a factor of five or ten, which is what the graph seems to indicate.

  • but only reports gathered from victims alive at the time of the Jay Study

    What, is everyone who was alive before 1950 dead now?

  • “However, it seems entirely believable that the slipping moral standards in the wider society …”

    Possibly. In my parents’ generation, the extremes of alcoholism and drug abuse were seen as immoral. By the time a person gets to be a drunk, I’d say the addiction has overtaken any attempt at abstinence.

    As for the abuse of children, we know it happens most often in families, and families are their own mini-cultures. We might say that there’s a certain moral domino effect: less respect for authority, and more sex, drugs and rock-n-roll leading to the rape of children.

    Maybe you have a point. It seems we also have increased slavery in the world these days, so maybe lots of sins are making comebacks.

    As for a five to tenfold increase because of a general permissiveness? I find it hard to believe. Sex predators still operate in secret. None of their “permissive” practices were accepted at all in society.

    If there had been a study commissioned in 1980, I suspect, we’d see a bell peak in 1960. And so on down the line.

    Bottom line I agree with you that the institutional management of clergy and seminary candidates was very poor prior to 1980. But given that some notable “moral” bishops have been implicated–cardinals like Brady and Law, I get the sense that this is more sex addiction than moral failing. Which isn’t to say that addicts shouldn’t take moral responsibility–that’s basic 12 Steps.

    A final thought experiment (which might be verified by someone with raw data): redo the Jay Study and eliminate the reports in which either the priest or victim has died since 2002. I suspect the peak would move a few years into the 80’s.

  • I suppose how much one is willing to believe abuse increased due to a lax and sex-saturated culture is widely open to conjecture. I’m hesitant to assume that simply be looking at the graph we have a much better ability to forecast a backward trend than the John Jay folks did.

    I could believe a pretty big increase because of a sex-saturated culture and chaos within the ranks of the Church. Clearly, abuse of children and teens is something which happens at the margins, among a small statistical minority. In this regard, a small change to the large majority might significantly increase or decrease the size of the tail. On the majority side, the difference between 94% of priests not abusing and 97% of priests not abusing isn’t that big, but it’s a large delta in the number of abusers.

  • “As for a five to tenfold increase because of a general permissiveness? I find it hard to believe. Sex predators still operate in secret. None of their “permissive” practices were accepted at all in society.”

    Roman Polanski seems to get a lot of respect for a guy who drugged and raped a 13-year old girl.

    Do you really believe that a group like NAMBLA could have had any type of public presence prior to 1960?

  • “I suppose how much one is willing to believe abuse increased due to a lax and sex-saturated culture is widely open to conjecture.”

    I think so. I would say that the instances of priests having sex with adults might be influenced more by social norms. Clergy preying on needy counselees is pretty creepy in its own right, but there you have, theoretically, consenting adults. The Jay Study didn’t touch clergy overstepping with anyone other than minors.

    The root of the abuse might center around this question: is sex with children primarily sexual or is it primarily about power and control? Rape and sexual abuse of women and children has long been the custom of victorious militaries–many centuries and many cultures, not just the modern day. Is this about soldiers who have been celibate during long campaigns, or is it more likely about the humiliation of the defeated?

    I don’t think there’s any single answer to any of this. Just count me as suspcious of all the ones trotted out a single easy answer: celibacy, the 60’s, homosexuality, power issues in the hierarchy, etc.

  • A sex-saturated culture is a problem, to be sure.

    Let’s not forget the underlying cause of that – a willful abandonment of Catholic teaching on sexuality, beginning with the angry revolt of progressive radicals against Humane Vitae.

    Paul VI said that the smoke of Satan had entered the Church. He specifically meant the corruption of the liturgy by subversives and rebels, but it is also related to the sex crisis – the degradation of tradition is what leads to a lax moral atmosphere, one of “experimentation”, i.e. carelessness, and in some cases, I believe a deliberate attempt to destroy the Church – a goal that her enemies have held since the beginning, through the Protestant deformation, the French Revolution, communism, and finally the “sexual revolution.”

  • On being presented with a “letter of dissent” to sign and send to the Vatican upon the publication of Humane Vitae, by Cardinal James Francis Stafford:

    “I could not sign it. My earlier letter to Cardinal Shehan came to mind. I remained convinced of the truth of my judgment and conclusions. Noting that my seat was last in the packed basement, I listened to each priest’s response, hoping for support. It didn’t materialize. Everyone agreed to sign. There were no abstentions. As the last called upon, I felt isolated. The basement became suffocating. By now it was night. The room was charged with tension. Something epochal was taking place. It became clear that the leaders’ strategy had been carefully mapped out beforehand. It was moving along without a hitch. Their rhetorical skills were having their anticipated effect. They had planned carefully how to exert what amounted to emotional and intellectual coercion. Violence by overt manipulation was new to the Baltimore presbyterate.”

  • The graph comports with what I’ve noted about local stories about abusers. My archbishop made the statement to me that “In my day [in the seminary], if you did your studies and folded your hands in chapel, you were going to get ordained. It’s not that way anymore.”
    Has every last abuser been eliminated? No. That’s not possible, any more than it is possible to eliminate sin. Schools, whether Catholic, public or otherwise, have what paedophiles seek, i.e. children and teenagers, and they are naturally going to try to be there to satisfy their sinful desires. The institutional barriers are now in place to try to eliminate them before they get to the kids, but some will still slip through. The anti-Catholic media continues to headline the (alleged) cases that do occur, while burying short stories about accused public school teachers on the back pages of the third section. If there isn’t a new accusation, they can always write up a story about how the victims reject any efforts to apologize and make sure it doesn’t happen again as “too little, too late.”

  • Re “smoke of Satan”: it is too simplistic to apply this to dissenting theologians only; Marciel Maciel was the very embodiment of Satans smoke if anyone was, and certain high ranking cardinals too willing to take his money (and Dzieswz as well) give off a waft of burning flesh, no?

  • WJ,

    “Smoke of Satan” is Paul VI’s phrase, and a cardinal close to him told us exactly what it meant. It’s not “too simplistic.” It’s just what he said.

  • I wish that more parents had believed those children who came home and did say what was happening, but many parents did not. At that time, it was common to tell a child who complained at all about Priests (or Nuns) “oh, no, Father (Sister) wouldn’t do that” or if the the child was believed, “you better not tell anyone!” So many issues that are vebalized today were never discussed years ago. But if those parents had believed their children or defended them if they did believe what their child said, had stepped forward, the individual Priests would have been stopped sooner and fewer children would have suffered! But there were and still are, people who are afraid of Clergy and/or how things “look” and worry if they will somehow be blamed or their child may be blamed and people who like the Priest will turn against them and their child. It’s all so sad but we need to be wary of all Media Reports and defend our Catholic Church while admitting we, as a whole, are not perfect, we love our Church.

  • I get the feeling that many commenters forget or do not know that sexual predators tend to be arrogant, clever, extremely manipulative people, especially those who successfully abused many victims over long periods of time. I am not surprised that such people can conceal their tendencies and activities, or justify what comes to light, or convince friends and superiors that they “have changed their ways,” whatever lie is necessary. There is a reason they are called predators. Think of a predator in nature, the skill, the patience, the perseverance. Think of a skilled hunter. I think too many look on these criminals and members of NAMBLA as merely sickos or something like sexual geeks, and that is a mistake. They are dangerous, clever deviant criminals.

  • How much could these trends be explained by changes in the total number of children under the supervision of priests? In 1980, the tail end of the Baby Boomers were in high school. The *number* of students in Catholic schools would have still been very high, even though the *percentage* had declined since 1965. Whatever those numbers may look like, one should certainly keep them in mind when observing trends like those seen in the above chart.

  • Pingback: Was Something Different in the 60s and 70s? « The American Catholic
  • These statistics, which appear to date the abuse events, not their reports, are comforting to those of us wishing to put the problem behind us. In my (local) experience, however, these data are hard to believe. Anecdotal evidence, of course, is of limited validity. But I remember MY PASTOR in 2002 or so reading us a letter from our Ordinary (Maida) to the effect that the problem had been solved many years before, here in the Archdiocese of Detroit. The irony: the priest who read this to us was later convicted of raping boys in our parish AT THAT TIME. Also a similar event occurred at a neighboring parish in the intervening years. Further, a visiting priest from the Philippines, who was ordained there after being convicted of rape during Seminary here in Detroit, has been preaching in my current parish within the past year. So in my area the problem does NOT appear to be behind us.

    Now to my point: As I watch the current media feeding frenzy, unjust as it appears toward the Holy Father, it strikes me that it presents some rare opportunities to the Church. First, while the NYTimes authors themselves may never be appeased, they can influence untold numbers, and the Church could take the opportunity to make a much more compelling case.

    She could take this opportunity to make it clear to every reasonable bystander that she has taken this problem seriously, and has responded with justice to the perpetrators and enablers, and also that she has put sufficient countermeasures in place to prevent and correct future episodes.

    In her defensiveness, I don’t think that she has made her case. If abusive priests have met justice, this may or may not be clear in the press. But in the case of episcopal enablers, I think it’s clear that NO justice has been served. Without such justice, I don’t Holy Church will ever appear to have taken this matter seriously.

    Finally, this would also be an opportune time for Holy Church to make its case to an over-sexualized culture, that mandatory commitments of lifelong celibacy actually enhances personal holiness in any way, let alone that it benefits the Church. We all know that this claim is seen as absurd by innocent bystanders, and that it is highly counter-intuitive. Unenlightened people think it is obvious that this is a source of the problem, and wonder how the value it adds could possibly offset the ‘seven demons’ that it seems to have let into the Church.

    Clearly, now is the time for the Church to step up and make its case to a skeptical world. Can she rise to the occasion?

    Roamin’ Catholic

  • The decline in numbers does seem comforting to me. However, what if later on we find out of other cases that occured in our times? It seems like in several of these cases the abusers threatened the victims to keep it all a secret. It was only decades later that many of them were revealed, and i think the lag in time has to do with shame over such secrecy (though by the time several cases popped up and the media got involved in it, people found it much easier to speak out against the priests, whether falsely or in truth). Could such a thing happen? could much more abuses be going on now that we do not know of? I hope this is not the case, but I worry that it might be.