Thursday, August 29, 2002

My latest absence

FYI, my wife and I are enroute to South Dakota for my new job; as you can imagine, packing has occupied my time of late, leaving little room for blogging.

I hope to get back into the swing of things some time next week.

Have a great Labor Day weekend!

Wednesday, August 21, 2002


There's an interesting discussion about Mormonism and Christianity going on over at the Theology Department; your's truly has made a comment or two. Check it out.
No threat from Objectivists?

One of my commenters in my brief link-post on Ayn Rand below argues that while Communists killed millions upon millions of people in the 20th century, Objectivists committed no such atrocities, and ergo, they are not even close to Commies on the Baddie Scale.

He (of course) does have a point: no government/organization espousing Objectivism has killed on such a vast scale. However... I would argue that Objectivism (and libertarianism in general) has contributed to the overly-individualistic mentality that supports abortion -- apart from the fact that the vast majority of people who espouse these positions support abortion rights -- and so has some guilt in the death of millions upon millions of human beings (go read the stuff at Libertarians for Life before ranting at me on this point). Have such people "pulled the trigger"? Of course not. But the ideologue does bear responsibility for those who listen to him and follow his thought out.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Back soon...

Just a quick FYI... I'm out of town now, visiting family, which is why I haven't posted anything in a day or two. I'll be back this weekend...

Monday, August 12, 2002

Ayn Rand

A hard-hitting, succinct post at Mere Comments Monday on the all too often unrecognized threat Rand's philosophy presents to the fabric of society.

Contrary to Rush's view, rugged, unfettered individualism is not the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's the worst thing since communism. Well, before that, too.
An Ecumenist! Run for your lives!

In the July-August issue of New Oxford Review, I found a couple of pages devoted by the editors to parsing Fr. Richard John Neuhaus' account of his conversion as found in April's First Things under the title How I Became the Catholic I Was. The second-to-last paragraph runs thus:

We know that many Catholics see Fr. Neuhaus as a champion of orthodox Catholicism---and his outspoken political conservativism may have something to do with that---but we doubt that many orthodox Catholics would find his words here to be those of a champion of Catholic orthodoxy. For sure, they're the words of a dyed-in-the-wool ecumenist.

A dyed-in-the-wool ecumenist?? I don't think the editors meant it as a compliment, but I'm at a loss to understand why it shouldn't be one. After all, Vatican II stated clearly that "the restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council" (Decree on Ecumenism, 1). If I've read that Council's texts and those of John Paul II correctly, then every Catholic is called to be a "dyed-in-the-wool ecumenist." It's not to be a compliment (or epithet) for Fr. Neuhaus alone.
Faith as a work: responses

There have been a couple of responses to my post at the Theo Dept regarding Faith as a work. Mark Byron made a couple remarks in the comments, as did others, and Mark later made a longer response (and David Heddle agreed with Mark in the comments of Mark's post). Separately, Peter Sean Bradley provided a Catholic take on the question.

I posed the question because the Theo Dept was in the midst of a discussion over baptism, and the relation between faith and baptism is an important question among Christians. My concern in asking my question was to get people to think about the source of faith: does it come from us, or from God? Or perhaps, both, in some way? This line of thinking actually came about while I was reading Lutheran theologian Carl E. Braaten's Justification: the Article by which the Church Stands or Falls. Writing about the divine and human roles in the order of salvation as Luther understood it, Braaten states the following:

On the one hand, Luther could say that faith is a work which must be done by a human being, and on teh other, that faith is not a human work at all, but a gift of the Holy Spirit. Both statements are true when seen from the right perspective. In any case, faith is a work. It is an act. But how is it related to justification---as a means to an end or as the effect of a cause? In other words, how is faith correlated with justification in Luther's mind? If faith is described as a work which justifies, it could be mistakenly understood to mean that God forgives my sin because I do something, because I believe or feel sufficiently miserable about my sin and guilt. The remission of sins is something I can get if only I fulfill certain requirements. I have only to be told what they are, and with proper persuasion I may even choose to fulfill them. This, Luther perceived, is the essential element in all false religion: "If I do thus, God will be merciful to me." [...] The quid pro quo type of connection between faith and justification was certainly not what Luther meant to affirm by his assertion that faith makes righteous, or faith justifies. [...] Justification is objectively prior to faith. Faith is subjectively the result of the creative impact upon the sinner of God's acceptance. [...] Faith is by all means not a cause of forgiveness and not a prior condition of justification which can possibly be fulfilled by a human will in bondage.

For the most part, I agree with Braaten's take, especially in the final sentence. I think it is terribly important that we always remember (as my Protestant friends in blogland have) that faith is a gift, not something that first originates within us. Yes we believe, we have faith. But before we have faith, it is given to us by God, given (normally) in baptism. With the Lutheran tradition (and others), the Catholic Church clearly teaches that we receive faith when we are baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The distinction between belief and faith (referred to in Dominus Iesus 7) is important to remember: the former is a completely human work; the latter is a gift of God to man, which man then "does".
Scalia: radicalist!

According to an editorial in today's Washington Post, Justice Scalia's article in First Things titled God's Justice and Ours. Now, while I disagree with Scalia's take in this article, I do not do so with the contempt and mis-reading which the WaPost's editors do.

My major bone of contention is the Post's apparent assertion that Scalia argues that the source of the government's power is a divine right to rule. This assertion is made in reaction to this statement by Scalia: ""The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible."

However, an honest and objective reading of this passage in context returns no hint of sinister motives and/or intentions on Scalia's part. Instead, Scalia argues that the authority of the government is more than the sum of the wills of the people who authorize the government to act. And I think he's right.

The editorial makes other claims and arguments about Scalia's article, but the best thing (as always) is to read both for yourself. You be the judge.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Delta Force

I'm currently reading Inside Delta Force, by founding member Eric Haney. Very interesting reading. If you're at all interested in the process by which a member of the armed forces becomes an Operator, and what life in the counterterrorist unit is like, check it out.

Saturday, August 10, 2002

Evangelization and Ecumenism

As anyone who has read my blog since I started it back at Eastertime probably knows, ecumenism (visible unity among Christians) is one my major interests. I'd like to take a moment to explain why, or at least give some of the reasons why.

The modern ecumenical movement got its start in the late nineteenth century, when missionaries from a variety of Protestant communities found that their own differences where constituting an obstacle to missionary activity among people of other beliefs. This led to meetings of various communities, the goal of which was to reconcile the differences among them.

The Catholic Church, having (as always) approached this new development among Christians slowly (or at least more slowly than some would have liked), eventually gave its full approval and support to the drive for Christian unity at Vatican II.

That's a brief history. Now, as for myself, my own interest in ecumenism derives also from my own evangelical and missionary nature. With all Christians, I truly believe that the world needs Christianity, because it is within the Gospel that the world will be fulfilled. For instance, as I stated a while back, Christian morality is not an arbitrary imposition by an external authority, but is instead the means to true human happiness, to authentic fulfillment. So too with all aspects of divine revelation... it is the means to be what we ought and ultimately really want to be. We need to show the modern world -- so overrun with various forms of secularism and inauthentic humanism -- that it will find its "story", itself, in the message the Father has communicated to us through His Son and in the Holy Spirit.

Having said that, it is a fact that our own disagreements as Christians present a difficulty in evangelization. Instead of presenting basically one coherent and symphonic message, the World is presented with a multitude of messages, each (usually) stating that it is the true message which the Father seeks to communicate to humanity. Clearly, this makes our task of presenting the Gospel more difficult.

Therefore, it is imperative that all Christians seek unity with one another. Not a false unity, based on emotive desires and wishful thinking, but a true unity grounded in the Truth, which is a person: Jesus Christ. We need to be in communion with one another, because (among other reasons) our world today needs us. Desperately. And while we are able to present the Gospel in the current circumstances of disunity, a visible communion of all Christians rooted in truth and love would multiply our ability to present the Gospel in ways we can't imagine.
Fr. Bryce Sibley

As many of you know, my friend Fr. Bryce Sibley has been instructed to make no comments in the public forum for six months, as a result of some prior comments he made about the Louvain seminary. With Todd Reitmeyer -- one of Fr. Bryce's fellow NACers -- I'm suggesting prayer as out best course of action. Fr. Bryce is a good man... I have absolutely no doubt that he's handling this with no problem.

Anyone seen a Jehovah's Witnesses blog yet? For that matter, anyone seen anything in terms of apologetics from a JW that isn't anonymous? I wonder if JWs are prohibited from engaging in this sort of "dialogue".

Anyway, let me know if you find something out there by an individual JW.
CEDAW and abortion

Contrary to what its supporters have been saying lately, the UN treaty CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) does have something to do with abortion. Go read the latest Friday Fax from the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, and then call your senators and ask them to vote against ratification. (C-Fam has more on CEDAW... browse the prior Friday Faxes.)
Faith as a Work?

Is Christian Faith a mental work?

I asked that question in an entry at Blogistan's Theology Dept. I look forward to hearing what my fellow faculty and others have to say, both there and here.

Friday, August 09, 2002

New Blogs

Here are a few of the latest new members of St. Blog's...

Vita Brevis by Gregg the Obscure

My Daily Crumbs by Karl Kohlhase

Flos Carmeli by Steven Riddle

and this veteran multi-blog, which I haven't linked to yet (and which most of my readers probably already read)...

Heart, Mind & Strength (aka HMS Blog) (This is where Emily Stimpson (formerly of Fool's Folly) is now writing from.)

Check 'em out!

How about this?

According to this story, China is about to enact a new law which gives husbands "veto authority" over their wives' decision to abort their child.

Dare I say that China is thereby becoming -- on one aspect of the abortion issue -- more pro-life than Western democracies?
Red Rabbit

Has anyone read Clancy's Red Rabbit yet? I know... it just came out Monday. But some of you are surely fast readers, and this book is shorter than Clancy's last few works.

I ask because I'm a little "iffy" about the premise of the novel (I'm going to read a library copy before I buy it to keep my Clancy collection complete); as you may know, this book is set in 1983, when Jack Ryan is a new consultant at CIA, and he uncovers a Soviet plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II. Since this is a historical reality (well, the assassination attempt, at least), I'm wondering how Clancy does in weaving his fiction into the true events.
Kids' Questions and Adults' Questions

Yesterday, Mark at Minute Particulars commented on the sorts of questions materialists and atheists ask, e.g. "Does God exist?" or "Is there such a thing as a soul?". Mark proposes that such questions are usually sorted out by people as children, but that -- for some reason -- atheists and materialists never did so. He goes on to (rightly) point out that assertions like "God does not exist" are ultimately non-sensical and irrational, because to assert them implies that there is no necessary existant, which is rationally impossible.

He makes some other thought-provoking comments, but rather than trying to summarize them, let me recommend that you simply go read the post. As always, Mark has solid stuff to say.
Woody on War

Foreign policy guru Woody Harrelson has courageously sounded off on the War on Terrorism, George Michael's brave opposition to it, and the London cab driver whose taxi he trashed.

Woody says that G. Micheal is "incredibly brave to have done that song. Especially when doing something like that could be considered very dangerous in today's world."

Ah yes, Woody... disagreement with world leaders surely is taboo in modern society. I'm sure that the FBI and CIA have already put together a portfolio on Mr. Michael, and are only waiting for the opportunity to dispatch him.

Woody goes on: "I can't believe he got so criticised in America for it. It's so unfair."

So, it's "fair" to criticize Bush and Blair, but when the critic himself gets criticized, that's unfair? Okay. Sure, Woody.

Woody then proceeds to praise the paper that's interviewing him: "The war against terrorism is terrorism. The whole thing is just bullsh*t. What you guys have done is very brave."

Once again, the argumentation Harrelson brings to bear is nothing short of brilliant.

I do have to thank the Mirror for reminding us of this little adventure, though: In June Woody was wrestled to the ground by policemen and arrested after he went berserk in the back of Les's taxi. The cabbie said the star acted like a "caged animal". Within minutes of Les picking the actor up from Chinawhite at 2am, Woody had trashed the cab. He then booted the door open and made a run for it. Les dropped the charges after Woody paid him £542.96 and the two men shook hands after the play. "He said, 'No hard feelings'," said Woody. "He seemed like a nice guy. It's just one of those terrible circumstances."

"Just one of those terrible circumstances"??? Woody, you trashed the guy's taxi!!! Jeesh.... he makes it sound like the whole thing was a minor, unavoidable fender-bender, when the fact is, he lost it!

Thanks for the display of intellectual acumen, Woody.
WaPost on Leahy

Today's Washington Post has an editorial surprisingly critical of Leahy's tenure as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, specifically how quickly (or better, slowly) he has been dealing with Bush's judicial nominees.
Game on!

Another great column by the WaPost's William Arkin on the Pentagon's ongoing wargame which seeks to test new concepts of warfare. (As Arkin notes, this wargame was in the planning stages well before 9/11).

Arkin makes a few references to how this wargame exemplifies the ongoing battle between the Old School and New School of warfare in the Pentagon. For instance:

Mlitary sources also point out that war games begin with a non-negotiable commitment to "jointness" -- that is, that all of the services play equally and at the same time in exercises and in wars. These sources say this requirement means the pace of warfare is actually slowed down to give lumbering ground forces a chance to catch up with airpower and cyber warfare. The important point for the MC 02 is that RDO (and its conceptual cousin, Effects-Based Operations) are concepts for future warfare. They are by no means the "dominant" view in the Pentagon, particularly not in Central Command (CENTCOM), the Tampa-based Middle East command that is dominated by the Army.


Those who argue for military transformation and prosletyze on behalf of future warfare concepts worry about the bias -- still rampant not just in the Army but in the media and public mind -- that real war is merely an updated model of World War II's mechanized battles. They believe that such outmoded thinking is responsible for recent news reports which envision U.S. ground troops marching on Baghdad with great physical destruction and unacceptable costs in human lives. These military thinkers argue that warfare has already changed. They point to the first precision war in Desert Storm in 1991 and the victory in Kosovo's 1999 air war as evidence that there is a better way to approach battle, even against a mechanized foe like Iraq. Millennium Challenge will not resolve this conflict, but it goes a long way to introducing concepts other than physical destruction and attrition warfare to a military still dominated by conventional ground forces.

Supporters of the newer theories have a tough task on their hands. Emphasis on physical destruction and attrition have been a part of the American conception of warfare for a long time, well beyond WWII. For more on this, see Robert Leonhard's The Art of Maneuver: Maneuver-Warfare Theory and Airland Battle. Although this book was written with the an armored clash between the Warsaw Pact and NATO in mind, the general principles and critiques still apply.
I need a vacation! (name that Schwarzenegger film!)

Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post looks at the non-issue which is the Prez's August vacation. As he points out, everyone else in DC is off, why shouldn't the President take some time off?

I'd add this, to anyone out there who is concerned that W isn't sitting in the Oval Office for the next few weeks (if such person exists): can't you run your life without the President? Is the role of the President that crucial to our daily lives that we worry when he's out of DC for an extending period of time?

Limbaugh had a great slam on this view on Wednesday; as he pointed out, Bush has access to this amazing device known as the T-E-L-E-P-H-O-N-E. Unlike most of us on our vacation, the President is always well within reach, if he is direly needed.

Relax, people. Enjoy the last month of summer.
NFP... not just for Catholics

Kathryn Lopez of NRO (and on occasion, Crisis) has an article this morning on an Evangelical Protestant couple and their book in favor of Natural Family Planning as a moral and healthy (in multiple senses) alternative to contraception.

She also has a Q&A with them.

Check them out.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Chris' Top Ten

One of my readers wanted to know who the other members of my "Top Ten Catholic Theologians of the 20th Century" are (I mentioned Cardinal Ratzinger as one of them below).

In no particular order...

1. Henri de Lubac
2. Hans Urs von Balthasar
3. Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II)
4. Karl Rahner (before he went cookoo)
5. Yves Congar

Actually, I'm going to stop there... there are several other eminent theologians I might mention, but none of them have quite the stature that these do. Again, IMHO.

Also, it's very possible that I've inadvertently forgotten someone who is a must for such a list. If I have, by all means, email me or make a comment.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002


I (hopefully) just added a comments function. If it's working, let me know any thoughts about my posts.
Cardinal Ratzinger Meets the Press. Again.

According to an email from Ignatius Press, Cardinal Ratzinger's third and latest book-length interview will soon be available.

The title is "God and the World"; this is the second interview-book done by Cardinal Ratzinger with german journalist Peter Seewald. Apparently the previous discussion had a lot to do with Seewald's return to the faith after a number of years of "inactivity".

Here's the Ignatius Press blurb:

During his years as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, well-known Vatican prelate Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has given three in-depth interviews. The first two interviews have become best selling books: The Ratzinger Report and Salt of the Earth. Because of the tremendous reception those books received, the Cardinal agreed to do another interview with journalist Peter Seewald, who had done the very popular Salt of the Earth interview. This third in-depth interview addresses deep questions of faith and the living of that faith in the modern world.

The interview took place over three full days spent at the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino in a setting of the silence, prayer, and hospitality of the monks. For this meeting with the highly regarded Churchman, theologian, and author, the seasoned journalist, who had fallen away from the faith but eventually returned to the Church, once again provided a very stimulating, well-prepared series of
wide-ranging questions on profound issues. The Cardinal responds with candor, frankness and deep insight, giving answers that are sometimes surprising and always thought provoking.

"When Cardinal Ratzinger, one of the Church's great wise men, sat opposite me in the Abbey and patiently recounted to me the Gospel and the belief of Christendom from the beginning of the world to its end, something of the mystery that holds the world together became more tangible. 'Creation itself', he said, 'bears within itself an ordered pattern from which we can understand the ideas of God—and even the right way to live.' "

--- Peter Seewald

Also, the book is 460 pages long (!!). Should be good reading, whenever it comes out (Ignatius' website says its out of stock, while amazon shows it being published in October).

Among the twentieth century Catholic theologians, Ratzinger stands out in my mind as one of the best. Although God has called him to serve the Church in a way which precludes him from writing as much as he'd like, the work he did prior to becoming Cardinal-Archbishop of Munich in the 70's and Prefect of the CDF in the early 80's -- as well as that which he's put out "on the side" since then -- establishes him as one of the ten greatest Catholic theologians in the last one hundred years. IMHO.
Philosophy has got Soul

A week or two ago there was a discussion between Mark at Minute Particulars and Rand Simberg over the legitimacy of cyronics (freezing humans in liquid nitrogen or some similarly chilly substance with the hope of reviving them in the future when cures for their ailments are available).

In the course of the discussion, Simberg stated that any discussion of the soul was religious in nature, and therefore not worth discussion. Mark's protestations that Aristotle discussed the soul from a strictly-philosophical perspective were to no avail; according to Simberg, anything which he can't see, touch, or in some similar way quantitatively analyze is religious in nature.

To be honest, I was surprised by these kinds of comments. I thought strict materialism was well on its way out the door, but alas... apparently not. At least not in some circles in the blogosphere. The following articles are helpful in a discussion of scientific materialism: particle physicist Stephen Barr's review essay The Atheism of the Gaps and Phillip Johnson's The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism. Check them out.

For those of you in blogland who enjoy sinking your teeth into good philosophical and theological issues, I'd (once again) recommend Joel Garver's Sacra Doctrina. The topics which can be found on his "current" blog page are nominalism, Thomism, and an explanation of the Reformed doctrine of the limited atonement (see James Akin's A Tiptoe Through Tulip for an example of how the limited atonement can be positively understood from the Catholic perspective).

Make sure you've got your favorite beverage at hand, and dig in.
Democracy in Iraq

An invasion of Iraq continues to be a hot topic in pundit land, both on the Net in in the mainstream media. Much of the argumentation in favor of kicking Saddam out goes like this: if we can remove Saddam and establish a democratic regime in Iraq, this could serve as a catalyst for democratic reform throughout the Middle East, especially in Iraq's neighbor (and our ostensible ally) to the south, Saudi Arabia (see this Tom Rick's article in the Washington Post on a Pentagon briefing last month which outlined why the Saudis are our enemies, and what we should do about it).

By and large, I accept this line of reasoning. I whole-heartedly support W's intention to boot Saddam before he is able to develop and deploy WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction).

Having said that, I'd like to discuss one aspect of this argument, that being the idea of establishing a democratic regime in Iraq.

Most of those who make the argument laid out above believe that people have a natural, quasi-instinctive yearning for self-government, and I agree. At the same time, it seems clear to me that the ground must be made fertile for democracy to flourish... the idea that a totalitarian regime can be replaced immediately with a democratic form of government seems unlikely to me. Now, most of those who argue for such a course of action in Iraq would no doubt affirm that it takes time to establish self-governance. At the same time, the sense I get from many of these pundits and commentators is that the preparation required for such action is relatively short; after all, people desire this, and so it shouldn't take too long to make ready the ground for democracy.

I'm not so sure. I don't know if people are sufficiently aware of the importance of the West's Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman heritage vis. our modern democratic forms of government. I think it can be argued that the preparation for our own modern republics was laid over the course of not months, years, or even decades, but centuries.

Therefore, I think we need to examine a bit more closely how readily the Iraqi people would embrace democracy. After all, the Russian people are much closer to the culture of the West than Iraqis, yet look at the trouble they're having in transitioning to democracy.

Having said that... I wonder if the Japanese example might be a counter-example to my line of questioning. After all, the Japanese culture up through 1945 was hardly akin to Western culture, yet that nation has fairly successfully embraced the concept and practice of self-government. So maybe it wouldn't be as difficult in Iraq as I think it may be.