Saturday, May 31, 2003

Pro-lifers win in the PCUSA

Pro-lifers in the Presbyterian Church-USA managed to win a victory... they got their church to express concern for the victims of late-term abortions. Unfortunately, they failed to get their church to actually oppose the procedure: the PCUSA continues to support abortion rights across the board, including partial-birth abortions.

Read more about it here.
Homeschoolers do well again in Bees

This CNS story is about homeschoolers today, especially in the national spelling and geography bees. Homeschoolers took first in the geography bee and second in the spelling bee.

It's a pretty good story... check it out.
I'm really getting annoyed

See the posts below on C-FAM? There are two posts because blogger gave me an "http request" error when I tried to post the whole thing at once... again.

For goodness sake, it's only a page and a half post in a Word document! I once saw something about blogger not being able to handle posts bigger than 100k... looks like that number is considerably lower, now.

I use blogger and blogspot, well, because it's free and easy. If anyone knows of a handy alternative, please let me know.
C-FAM attracts attention

The Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute is an international organization watchdog, observing the UN, UNPFA, WHO, and similar organizations to make sure that these groups maintain proper respect for human dignity, especially concerning the unborn. They have been very successful in raising the awareness level of a variety of people, including politicians, regarding the actions these groups occasionally take.

Now, some bureaucrats in the EU are taking action. You can read all about in the most recent Friday Fax:
    EU opens office to counter US pro-life groups, including C-FAM

    The European Union has established a special office of the European Commission to combat US pro-life groups --- including the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and the International Organizations Research Group --- which EU officials believe have become too influential within the European Parliament.

    In an internal memo obtained by the Friday Fax, Poul Nielson, European Commissioner for Overseas Development and Humanitarian Aid, deplored the efforts of this "small group of extremists." Nielson continued, "The US anti-choice groups are powerful, well-funded and determined. They hold extreme views on religion and sexuality.Several of the US groups (Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, International Organizations Research Group, Population Research Institute) have opened branches or have affiliates in Europe." [International Organizations Research Group is the research arm of C-FAM.]

    The European Union will now monitor and respond to these groups. According to Nielson, "Within the Commission, we need to be aware and alert for new campaigns to undermine the work of the EC [European Commission] and its partners in addressing reproductive health and we need to respond swiftly. A focal point to gather information and to coordinate a coherent rebuttal.has been established." There was no immediate information on the location of this "focal point," or how much EU money would be spent on the project.

C-FAM cont’d

    Nielson justifies this seemingly unprecedented move to spend public funds to counter lawful political advocacy by citing the success of these groups. For instance, Nielson believes that "the shift in US policy," specifically the US decision to defund the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) because of its support for coercive abortion in China, is the result of "effective lobbying" by these "anti-choice groups" who, "under the present US administration," have gained "legitimacy and credibility."

    Now, Nielson worries that the groups have struck a chord with EU politicians. In the memo, Nielson describes a growing European movement against UNFPA, said, "The stealth and speed at which this campaign was mobilized was remarkable." Nielson also worries that the groups may be convincing MEPs to interfere with the expansion of European support for abortion in the developing world, saying, "Several amendments.sought to ban abortion and sterilization from being included in the regulation [on reproductive health]. This time the amendments to ban abortion were rejected but 181 MEPs voted to accept them."

    According to Peter Smith, a lobbyist for the London-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), the EU initiative is in direct response to a C-FAM/IORG White Paper on UNFPA, which was presented by C-FAM Vice-President Douglas A. Sylva to the European Parliament in January. "I have taken quite a few of my American colleagues to Parliament," he says, "But this trip was most memorable. The White Paper on UNFPA has stirred up a hornets nest in the European Commission."

    In a press release, Irish MEP Dana Scallon called Nielson's actions "an insult to democracy" and an example of "Big Brother." Nielson is one of 19 unelected European Commissioners who make crucial EU funding decisions.
Scientism & Materialism

Although they may be on the way out, the ideologies of scientism (which posits that all real knowledge comes only from natural sciences) and materialism (which posits that only the material exists) still retain some degree of influence in Western culture. This influence is found in Daniel Dennett's recent book, Freedom Evolves. I picked up this book the other day at Barnes & Noble, and have requested it via interlibrary loan, so that I can give it a more in-depth treatment.

In the meantime, though, I do recall a couple of things. Literally within the first two pages, Dennett repeatedly asserts (as opposed to argues) that the immaterial soul has been disproven by modern physics, or that it is incompatible with the findings of modern physics.

Such an assertion is patently ridiculous... physics by definition is concerned with material reality, while the soul is immaterial per se. There is simply no way for physics to offer any opinion viz. the soul, because its "tools" deal with another realm of reality. A similar assertion might be something like this: modern psychology demonstrates that 2+2=3. Not only is the assertion wrong, but it is incomprehensible, in that psychology has no bearing on mathematics.

It is apparent that Dennett assumes and presumes a materialistic worldview in his book. Perhaps his "proves" this assumption and presumption later in the text, but in the opening pages, he merely asserts them and makes all sorts of erroneous statements based on them.

Too bad.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Why Are Christians Good?

According to an atheist who names him/herself bodysaffa, replying to this post by Theist, Christians are good "because 'Jesus said'".

Huh? While that answer is certainly a legitimate answer, it is by no means the only one, no is it an answer that most adult theologically-literate Christians would give were they asked the question. Instead, they might say something like, "because being 'good' fulfills our nature as human beings, and hence results in true happiness."
Human Integration

Some people who deny that the human fetus is the subject of human rights try to make their case by pointing to brain death. They argue that the end of life is defined by the lack of brain activity, and hence the beginning of life requires brain activity, which de facto requires the presence of a brain, which is obviously not the case for the human embryo in the first weeks of its existence.

Neurobiology and anatomy professor Dr. Maureen Condic superbly dissects this argument in her article, "Life: Defining the Beginning by the End." She demonstrates that what is relevant in brain death is the dis-integration of the human being. That is, with the onset of brain death, the human organism is no longer a single, unified, self-directed, integrated organism, but simply a number of organs and organ systems co-habitating. It is not the loss of brain activity per se which is crucial, but rather the implication of that loss for the integration of the human. Death, Condic shows, is defined by the loss of integration; brain death merely indicates this disintegration.

Turning to the embryo, Condic demonstrates that although there is no brain, the embryo is in fact a single, unified, self-directed, integrated organism, and as such is morally and ontologically equivalent to an adult human being. The lack of a brain is irrevelant, in that the function of the brain -- to integrate various biological systems into a whole (human) being -- is found in the early embryo.

This really is a great article.
The Population of Hell

That's the title of this article in May's First Things by Avery Cardinal Dulles. Dulles' piece, which was discussed and summarized on a number of blogs when this issue appeared a month ago, essentially provides an overview of the question of whether or not any human beings are in hell. Of course, Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar's thesis that we can hope (as opposed to know) that no human being actually ends up in hell is discussed, and the cardinal basically agrees with von Balthasar, as do I, as I have indicated on numerous occasions on this and other blogs.

Tangentially, this issue is mentioned by Mario Derksen, who introduces a discussion on the question by stating, "Could Hell Be Empty? Not a chance! But believe it or not, some people actually propose this as an acceptable theory, most notably the infamous modernist Hans Urs von Balthasar, whom John Paul II tried to make a cardinal, but who died just before he got the red hat."

Mario and I briefly discussed von Balthasar in the context of the same question when Fr. Regis Scanlon wrote an article in New Oxford Review in 1999, criticizing von B's view. In my discussion with Mario, I tried to get him to define precisely what a modernist is, in light of his contention that von B falls under the category. Mario didn't then, and he still does not. Too bad.
Evangelical dissent on the Holy Land

James Kennedy's Knox Theological Seminary recently released an open letter Evangelicals and others on "The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel," signed by a large number of Evangelical leaders and scholars. The opening paragraph explains the reason for the letter:
    Recently a number of leaders in the Protestant community of the United States have urged the endorsement of far-reaching and unilateral political commitments to the people and land of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, citing Holy Scripture as the basis for those commitments. To strengthen their endorsement, several of these leaders have also insisted that they speak on behalf of the seventy million people who constitute the American evangelical community.
The signatories of this, letter, however, do not agree with this prior statement, and they are compelled to write this open letter:
    At the heart of the political commitments in question are two fatally flawed propositions. First, some are teaching that God's alleged favor toward Israel today is based upon ethnic descent rather than upon the grace of Christ alone, as proclaimed in the Gospel. Second, others are teaching that the Bible's promises concerning the land are fulfilled in a special political region or "Holy Land," perpetually set apart by God for one ethnic group alone. As a result of these false claims, large segments of the evangelical community, our fellow citizens, and our government are being misled with regard to the Bible's teachings regarding the people of God, the land of Israel, and the impartiality of the Gospel.
The letter makes for interesting reading. I, for one, erroneously believed that most Evangelicals were of the same mind on the political question of Israel, but this letter demonstrates my error.
Animal Rights

I've been reading some books of late which deal with philosophical anthropology (what is man, from a philosophical perspective), with the issue of animal rights in the background. One of the more interesting and technical discussions is found in Evolution, Animal 'Rights,' and the Environment by James B. Reichmann, SJ. Reichmann, who wrote a more general Philosophy of the Human Person in the 80's, devotes this volume to a consideration of what makes human beings different from other creatures. In the process he treats the question of whether we differ from other animals in kind or in degree; that is, whether other animals share the same things we do, but only to a lesser degree, or whether we are essentially and different from other creatures.

In order to treat this issue in the depth he desires, Reichmann necessarily enters into an extended discussion of evolutionary theory. He does so because many of those who argue that we do not differ essentially from other animals base their case on the "fact" that we descended from other animals, and hence we logically cannot differ in essence from other creatures. (I put "fact" in quotes only because I am currently agnostic on the origins of our bodies.) Or rather, he demonstrates how strict Darwinistic evolutionary theory requires that one view humans and other animals as essentially the same, thus meaning that we humans possess no rights which can be denied to at least some other creatures.

Even more, Reichmann refers to the views of some ethicists and philosophers who argue that nonsentient and inanimate beings (i.e. plants and trees) may have rights! Taking up the work of Tom Regan, Reichmann states,
    After meticulously developing his case for animal rights, and grounding it on what he chooses to call "the inherent value of the animal," and initially limiting his argument to include only those animals that might be said to be subjects-of-a-life, Regan now grants the possibility that other living things, including animals who are not-subjects-of-a-life, and even some nonliving things, might truly possess rights.
Unbelieveable, no? Yet we cannot flippantly dismiss such notions; if we do, we risk discovering later that they have gained stature in our society, precisely they were so casually dismissed.

Fr. Reichmann's text is a work devoted to demonstrating the intellectual case against such ridiculous arguments. If this is a topic which interests you, I'd highly recommend this book.
new journal

There's a new journal out from the Ethics and Public Policy Center, called The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society. Here's its mission:
    The New Atlantis is an effort to clarify the nation’s moral and political understanding of all areas of technology—from stem cells to hydrogen cells to weapons of mass destruction. We hope to make sense of the larger questions surrounding technology and human nature, and the practical questions of governing and regulating science—especially where the moral stakes are high and the political divides are deep.

    We also hope to stir things up—to challenge policymakers who know too little about science, and to push scientists who often fail to think seriously or deeply about the ethical and social implications of their work.

    The magazine has two basic sections: a series of critical essays and in-depth reporting pieces, and an ongoing survey of technology and society that provides brief commentary on the major scientific advances and political debates as they happen.

    This much seems clear: Technology will be central to the future of American life and American politics. It will create new political divides and new moral quandaries. It will force liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, to rethink their guiding principles and political vision. The New Atlantis hopes to be at the center of redefining politics for the technological age—by helping scientists, policymakers, and citizens deal more wisely and more creatively with the promise and perils of our nation’s future.
The lead article in the premier issue is by Leon Kass, president of the National Bio-Ethics Council, entitled "Ageless Bodies, Happy Souls," and it is one of many excellent articles.

This is a journal which has great promise, and happily, it is available online.
I can't believe this

According to this Zenit story, there is already a good deal of controversy developing over Mel Gibson's movie on the Passion of Jesus Christ. The story refers to a column by Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, who defends Gibson and the movie, noting that critics should want until the movie is actually made before they criticize it.

The controversy concerns the portrayal of Christ's passion viz. Jews. Apparently, some scholars and others are worried that "stereotypical" anti-Semitic elements will be present in the film. The Zenit story even tells of an 18-page paper put out by a group of Catholic and Jewish scholars who complain that "a graphic movie presentation of the crucifixion could reawaken the very anti-Semitic attitudes that we have devoted our careers to combating."

Please. Gibson has made it clear that he is being faithful to the Gospel accounts of the Passion. If that is the case, and the movie is little more than a visual version of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, then maybe these scholars should request that the gospels not be read, for fear of reawakening those anti-Semitic attitudes.

By the way, this is the same group of scholars who issued a paper last summer stating that it was inappropriate to seek the conversion of Jews to Christianity.

I recently (finally) finished reading the Holy Father's letter on the Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, which he promulgated last October at the beginning of the 25th year of his pontificate.

I have to say, it is a terrific document... JPII demonstrates the Christocentric nature of the Rosary, showing how the Rosary is a prayer by which we come closer to Jesus.

I have to confess, my use of the Rosary in my prayer life is very, very inconsistent. But this letter made clear to me how the Rosary can help my conform myself to Jesus Christ, and as such, I'm going to make a greater effort to make it a part of my prayer life.

I'd highly recommend reading this document, regardless of what Christian community you belong to.
sorry about the delay...

I've been out of town, and I've also been struggling a bit with what direction I want to take this blog... there are plenty of people out there who provide "instant punditry" (see my links to the left), and I want to provide something a bit different.

I hope to post more frequently now... we'll see what happens.
This is getting very tiresome...

Joel Engel writes today about Danny Glover and a threatened boycott of MCI because Glover -- the pitchman for the company -- supports Fidel Castro. Engel refers to an AP story in which Glover indicates that "the outcry directed at outspoken celebrities like himself and Sean Penn indicates that the country is teetering on the precipice of McCarthyism" (Engel's words).

Come onnnn, Glover... give me a break. If I, as a citizen and consumer in this country, decide that I don't want to do business with MCI -- for whatever reason -- that's my right as a citizen! How can the free actions of citizens in any way be called McCarthyism or censorship, for heaven's sake? Those things are imposed by the government not citizens or groups of citizens! Talk about stupid... if I think Glover has his head up is rear-end on politics, I can demonstrate that by chosing whom I do business with. That's America, helloooo!

Allow me to quote Wallace Shawn's character, Vizzini, in The Princess Bride: "Morons."

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?

That's the title of Carl Olson's new book, which I'm reading right now.

Olson goes into serious detail in exploring the theological sources of the doctrine of the Rapture, and in so doing, he's really opening my eyes to things about Fundamentalism which I've never understood before, things like their particularly strong view of separating oneself from the world, their strong stance in favor of Israel on theological bases, and their view of the Rapture, of course. He does a great job of explaning dispensationalism and millenarianism along the way.

Truly a great book, which goes beyond the norm in terms of apologetics texts available today.
Project Aims to Promote Dialogue Between Faith and Science

That's the title of this Zenit story, which explains a new initiative undertaken by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Templeton Foundation, and three pontifical universities (the Lateran University, the Gregorian University and the Regina Apostolorum Athenaeum) to promote dialogue between faith and science. Paul Cardinal Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, spoke of the project in a press conference today, according to the article:
    "The Church needs science, and science needs religion," the cardinal added. "Science can purify religion of the error of superstition. As a way of knowing the truth, the Church cannot do without science."

    "Religion, for its part, can purify science of the idolatry of the scientific spirit and false absolutes," he added. What is more, science needs to "recover its sapiential dimension."
Hmm... interesting...
You know who started Islam?

No, it wasn't Muhammad, at least not ultimately. It was....

the Vatican! Yes, the Vatican!

You see, since the end of the third century, the Vatican has been pining for control of Jerusalem. In order to take over the Holy City, the pontiffs devised a nefarious plan to use Arab manpower to form an army to crush the Jews and conquer Jerusalem. Besides that, these armies were used to slaughter the real Christians who were living in small communities in Africa.

Don't believe me? Hey, I've got a reputable source... Jack Chick! You see, I just read Jack's special message from the May/June 2003 issue of "Battle Cry," in which our scholar explains the great influence of that "tiny little speck" that is Vatican City. In this message, he writes,
    One afternoon in my office, ex-Jesuit Alberto Rivera told me how Jesuit General Augustine Bea, father confessor to Pope Pius XII, explained how the Vatican started Islam. Bea was briefing a group of Jesuits like Dr. Rivera, who were under Extreme Oath and Induction. It was such a fascinating story that we published it in the Crusaders Comic, "The Prophet".
So, being the inquisitive sort I am, I read "The Prophet," and was astounded by the history it details, a history hidden and unknown to most of humanity.

But now it has been laid bare! And the Whore of Babylon that is the Vatican is revealed for the satanic creation that it is! Read... if you dare!
He's on again

Bill Cork had a terrific post recently on the relationship between Catholics and Evangelicals, and how a sloppy form of Catholic apologetics does more harm than good in this relationship.

Check it out.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Church offers free medical care to needy Muslims in Indonesia

That's the title of this EWTNews story, which tells how poors Muslims in the eastern Indonesia diocese of Manado "will be given free medical treatment at hospitals and health centers run by local Christians, both Catholic and Protestant."

I'd love to post something from the other direction (i.e. Muslims doing something similar for Christians). Does anyone have any examples?
Some questions

Joel Engel asks some questions from the back of the class. They are all good, but there are three near the end that are excellent:
    With the Dixie Chicks posing nude on a magazine cover to atone for their intemperate remarks, don't we wish that Shania Twain had opened her mouth instead?
Okay, so maybe it's off-color, but it still got a chuckle out of me.
    Why is a plausible link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda invisible to the same people who can quickly connect the dots between the president and a worldwide conspiracy of oil and defense interests?
Great question.
    Aren't critics of the speed with which Iraq's multilateral government is progressing forgetting that our own Constitutional Convention came years after the fighting ended; that it was preceded by weeks of jockeying over the seating of delegates; and that it took months of fractious debate before the long ratification process began? Don't they know that if George Washington hadn't rejected the kingship suggested to him years before, there wouldn't now be a First Amendment to misinterpret?
Yes, Joel, they are forgetting, because their memory doesn't go back beyond the sixties.