Friday, November 24, 2006

"The real issue is whether we can have responsible adult discussions of issues..."

That's from this article by Thomas Sowell on the need for, well, real civility in D.C., instead of ongoing character assassination. He makes the point that while people can obviously differ on policies, there should be no doubt as to their sincerity, at least in the vast majority of instances.

I think that's something everyone, on all sides of our public debates, needs to remember.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


A belated post-election comment...

I saw the following at the Corner on the 8th, and agreed:
    A Little Self-Congratulation?

    [Jonah Goldberg]

    From a reader:

    Rush often talks about one of the main differences between Liberals and Conservatives being the prevailing Liberal attitude of pessimism and anger versus us Republicans and our overwhelming sense of optomism. And as I read The Corner this morning I am seeing life immitate Rush. I recall in 2004 when Bush won again and when the Rs were in charge of everything Democrats flying off the handle and the liberal blogosphere lighting up like a profanity-laden pinball machine. People screaming for recalls and blaming everyone under the sun because of how stunned they were that they could lose. But today, the morning after a rather telling loss, I am drowning in conservative literature and television with pundits and politicians alike focusing inward on how we can change ourselves to recapture the American heart rather than spewing vitriol at the Democratic victors. Our guys lost, fair and square. And they realize that they need to make things better from within before they can expect Americans to vote for them again. And they're already working on it.

    Love your work,
This seems pretty obviously true, at least if you compare the respective blogdom reactions to the '04 and '06 elections.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Few kids = sign of better education = good Christian stewardship!

So says the new presiding bishop of the Episcopalian Church, trying to explain (justify?) why her church is dwindling in size.

And along the way she manages to insult Catholics and others.

See more from a terrific Episcopalian blogger here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The first intuition

The latest book of Msgr. Luigi Giussani -- the founder of the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation, who passed away last year shortly before John Paul the Great -- to be translated into english is The Journey to Truth is an Experience. In the introduction, he notes the first intuition of what would become CL:
    ... this was a matter of re-launching the announcement of Christianity as a present event of human interest and suitable for anyone who does not want to renounce the fulfillment of his or her hopes and expectations, as well as the use, without diminishment, of the gift of reason.
Amen. Beautiful. This is was attracts/attracted me -- a "being simply Catholic is good enough" kind of guy -- to CL.

[P.S. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since my last post: the election; the failure of SD's ban on abortion; and most importantly, the ordination and installation of our new bishop, Paul Swain. I simply haven't felt inspired to post. Sorry.]

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Moral Status of the Human Embryo

Readers in my neighborhood of the blogosphere might be familiar with the discussion over the last several weeks at Mirror of Justice regarding the moral status of the human embryo (you can go to September's archive page and scroll up from the bottom -- beginning with this post on embryonic stem cells -- and continue into October's page, where it really gets going).

The issue has more recently surfaced in the media, in the aftermath of Michael J. Fox's unintentional support of a proposed amendment in Missouri that would establish the right to clone [sic] as part of the Show Me state's constitution (Fox and others think the amendment would just strengthen the legality of embryonic stem cell research [ESCR]).

Trying to make a dispassionate case in recognition of the inherent dignity of the human embryo, I offered the following comment at a liberal blog:

    One of the things that amazes me about the discussion of embryonic stem cell research is the inability to find any common ground whatsoever, as well as the inability to agree on certain basic facts.

    The anti-ESCR position is fairly simple.

    It begins by recognizing that embryos are human organisms. Now, if there is going to be any rational and civil debate on ESCR, this has to be acknowledged from the get-go. This is neither philosophy nor religion: it’s a fact of embryology.

    The anti-ESCR position goes on to assert that every human organism possesses inherent dignity, and hence cannot be killed and its cells harvested for ESCR. NB: the key term is “organism”: we’re not talking about oocytes or any other simply human cell (which, in some sense at least, has human life); we’re talking about a human organism, which—again, according to science—an embryo is.

    The only coherent way, then, to argue in favor of ESCR is to posit that not some human organisms do not possess inherent dignity. This argument, however, presents a new difficulty, in that that ESCR proponent must now develop a criterion by which to determine which human organisms possess human dignity and which do not. And presumably (Peter Singer et al. excepted), most ESCR proponents are going to try to tailor this criterion in a manner that does not exclude other classes from that which possess inherent dignity. But doing so in a non-arbitrary fashion is difficult as well.

    What I find appealing about the anti-ESCR position is that it simply identifies dignity with being a human organism. It doesn’t tread down that well-worn path which seeks to grant dignity to some but not others; rather, it is all-inclusive: if you are a human organism, you possess dignity, not because I grant it to you, but simply because you are a human being.

    My $.04.

If you go to the link to my comment and scroll down, you'll find replies made by those who (apparently) deny that embryos have the same dignity as other human beings.

I've decided to reply to a number of these comments in a series of posts. I do this not so much with the expectation that I'll convince my interlocutors at that blog, but with the hope that undecided parties might weigh my arguments and either find them convincing or help me see my erroneous argumentation. But I welcome and encourage thoughtful interaction with anyone, be they my interlocutors, those who agree with them, or anyone else.

NB: I've published these posts in opposite order of when they were written... while normally, the newest post is at the top of the page, for this series of posts, the newer ones are the lower ones, so the first post below responds to the first comment made to me, the second post below responds to the second comment made to me, and so on. There is a "bookend" post at the end to indicate the final post in this series.
Response to Pb's comment

Pb commented:
    if you are a human organism, you possess dignity, not because I grant it to you, but simply because you are a human being

    And therein lies the problem—the claim that embryos are equivalent to human beings at any or every other development stage—a claim which I and many others find to be simply laughable.

    All pro-life conclusions are based on the foundational belief that a human life begins at the time of fertilization of the ovum. Thus, an embryo is viewed as a human being with all of the rights of an adult. Experiments which subject an ovum to any significant risk are the ethical equivalent of the infamous medical experiments that were inflicted on unwilling and uninformed victims in Nazi death camps. Ends do not justify the means. Thus, no matter how helpful to mankind embryo research might potentially be, it cannot be done if the embryo is eventually killed or subjected to a significant risk.

    Their bizarre interpretations would also raise all sorts of other problems, such as with fertility clinics and the hundreds of thousands of embryos they create, or with taxation and claiming dependents—you name it. But their arguments are really just faith-based, and grounded in ignorance, not science, like most of their positions. On the other side:

    At this early stage of development (before 14 days) the embryo does not have human form or genetic uniqueness. It is a growing collection of cells which can divide into two and naturally produce identical twins. It is unable to survive outside of the womb, does not have any organ structures including even a primitive brain and it has no degree cognitive development. After conception following intercourse some 60 percent of human embryos are discarded by nature at this stage of development, before the mother ever realizes that she was pregnant. It would be difficult for society to ascribe “rights” to something that has such a high natural mortality.

    I find all of that to be entirely reasonable and rational, which is probably why the pro-life crowd doesn’t want anyone talking about it in the first place.

Pb doesn't really substantiate his (or her) objections to my position... he posits that morally equating an embryonic human being with an adult human being is laughable, but doesn't elaborate. He also says that such an equation would create all sorts of practical problems, but considering the fact that most abortions were illegal until 1973 and none of these problems were present, that seems a fairly hollow objection.

He also states that pro-embryo arguments are faith-based, not science-based, but offers no proof this assertion. He does attempt to provide an argument in defense of his position in the last citation. That citation, however, is flawed in many ways. First, it posits that the embryo prior to 14 days does not have human form. Of course it does: it has the form of a 10-day old human being. Does it have limbs or organ systems? Obviously not; but the citation does not explain why limbs or organ systems are essential to being human (more on this argument in subsequent posts).

Second, the citation posits that because the very young embryonic human being can twin. But this does not prove that the embryo is not a human being. The fact that an identical twin can originate from a pre-existing embryo does not mean that that embryo wasn't a human being. While most human beings originate when a sperm fertilizes an ovum, some human beings originate later, in the process of twinning. Again, there is nothing here which demonstrates that an embro prior to 14 days of age is not a human being.

The citation then offers some standard objections to the humanity of the embryo: it cannot survive outside the womb; it doesn't have any organ structures; it doesn't have a brain; it has no cognitive development. None of these ultimately holds water. The fact that an embryonic human requires a particular environment to survive is no different than the fact that an adult human requires a particular environment to survive. If you put me in under water without a breathing apparatus, I will die. Does that mean I wasn't human? Of course not.

Regarding organ structures: why are they essential to what it means to be human? There are obviously some of us who lack certain organs... are we not human? What is it about organs that make there existence essential to being recognized as a human being? In fact, our organ systems serve to keep us (the individual human being) alive; that is their purpose. The youngest human beings -- embyros -- do not yet require complex organ systems to sustain themselves.

A similar argument demonstrates the irrelevance of the presence of the brain. The fundamental purpose of the human brain is to coordinate and integrate the various organ systems of the human being, such that the human being is a single, integrated organism. Again, the human being at the embryo stage is not yet so complex that he requires a brain to integrate himself.

Cognitive development could plausibly be proferred as a criterion for personhood, but it has no bearing on the fundamental fact that human embryos are human organisms. The author cited by Pb apparently believes that being a human organism is insufficient, and that some cognitive development is necessary to be deemed morally worthy, but -- once again -- no argument for this position is presented.

Finally, the citation asserts (without reference) that 60% of human embryos die at this early stage, and posits that therefore the embryo must not have rights. Even if the statistic is accurate, the error of this position is easily seen by noting that the mortality rate of adult human beings is 100%, yet we do not deny that they have rights.

So in this comment and its citations, we seem to have a number of unproven assertions. Perhaps Pb or someone else who agrees with him could prove some of these assertions in the comments.
Reply to Bruce Moomaw

Bruce comments:

    Chris, a brain-dead human being is a “human organism”, and he is most certainly alive. But no one with any sanity objects to turning off his life support machines and thus killing him, because everyone recognizes that he has no consciousness and is therefore not—by any conceivable stretch—a person. In fact, he is far less of a person than a conscious animal is. And the same thing is true of an embryo—or an early-stage fetus—which has not yet developed any functioning brain cells, or has not yet started growing the interconnections between them in its cerebral cortex (which doesn’t even begin to happen until the 5th month). Therefore it is not only wrong, but downright ridiculous, to claim that there is ANY risk that we are killing a human person when we kill an embryo, or a first-trimester fetus. Not a one-in-a-million risk, or a one-in-a-billion risk. NO risk. And this is not fancy logic-chopping to try to justify abortions; it is plain, simple, common-sense physical fact.

    Anti-abortionists and opponents of stem-cell research sometimes argue that, by killing embryos or first-trimester fetuses, we are keeping “potential” human persons from coming into existence. But by that same reasoning, any woman who doesn’t stay constantly pregnant is immoral—just think how many potential people SHE’S keeping from coming into existence!

First, I have to note that Bruce was one of the more polite and reasonable commentors; I thank you for that, Bruce.

Bruce begins with the example of a brain-dead human being. I obliquely addressed this issue in my reply to Pb: a brain becomes necessarily for life at a certain point because the complexity of the developing human requires integration and coordination, which the brain provides; without the brain, you do not have an integrated, self-directed organism. And so if you have a person who is completely brain-dead, you in fact do not have an organism, in the scientific sense of the term (an integrated, self-directed biological entity). The life-support systems are merely keeping the various organs alive, but the human being is already dead.

But this is not Bruce's position; instead, he argues that the brain-dead human being is dead because s/he is is not conscious. I imagine that Bruce would probably reconsider, if he noted that there are all sorts of people who are unconscious yet not dead: the comatose (reversible or not), as well as the sleeping! Lack of consciousness -- temporary or permanent -- therefore cannot be the criterion for human dignity and its concommitant rights.

In the remainder of Bruce's first paragraph lies a somewhat-hidden distinction, between a human organism and a human person. Bruce apparently holds that not all (living) human organisms are human persons, and this is a fairly common position among those who deny the dignity of the embryonic human being. But the criteria which he offers are problematic, as seen above: the brain simply isn't necessary in the very young human being (the function it provides is already present), and consciousness is obviously not required for human dignity.

In his concluding paragraph, Bruce makes a claim which is also very common, and frankly, demonstrates to me that those who deny the dignity of the embryonic human do not read opposing materials very closely. Bruce thinks that people like me hold that killing a human embryo kills a potential person (he actually says that he thinks we hold that killing an embryo prevents a potential person from coming into existence, but I think he meant it as I stated it here). This is not so: the "pro-life" position holds that killing an embryo kills an actual person, not a potential person. An actual person came to exist at the moment of conception (or twinning or cloning), when the human organism came to exist. While I grant the distinction between human organism and human person, I also recognize that there is no human organism that is not a human person. And hence Bruce's attempt at an argument ad absurdum is rendered invalid: I oppose abortion and embryonic stem cell research because they entail the killing of a human being, which is not the case if a woman does not become pregnant.
Reply to Steve

Steve commented:
    What I find appealing about the anti-ESCR position is that it simply identifies dignity with being a human organism. It doesn’t tread down that well-worn path which seeks to grant dignity to some but not others; rather, it is all-inclusive: if you are a human organism, you possess dignity, not because I grant it to you, but simply because you are a human being.

    Yeah, but doesn’t it bug you a little bit, believing that every single day there’s a massive embryo Holocaust as the fertility clinics take out the trash? If you could somehow know that you had successfully fertilized your wife’s egg, but the egg had failed to implant in the uterine wall (which happens about half the time), would you really mourn the loss of that embryo the way you’d mourn a baby, or even a miscarriage?

    Really, this “you have to draw the line somewhere!” argument might have scored points in college debate class, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that it actually proves anything. You’re drawing a line too, you know – the fact that we have a word like “organism” to neatly describe where your line is drawn doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a line. Somewhere out there, someone is disgusted that you won’t stick up for the inherent dignity of every sperm cell.

    For my part, I wouldn’t presume to know exactly where the line is drawn, but I’m pretty confident that you and I are way the f*** on one side of the line, and embryos in a Petri dish are way the f*** on the other side of the line. If you want to believe that embryos should be treated as if they’re actually little persons, then be my guest, it’s a free country. But the reason you take that position should be because you truly believe it, not because “it’s impossible to draw the line otherwise,” which is just a rhetorical jibe.

Steve's opening paragraph addresses the fact that people -- like myself -- who hold that the embryo has inherent dignity (apparently) do not mourn the destruction of human embryos in fertility clinics or miscarriages. In fact, plenty of women mourn when their pregnancy ends in a miscarriage. That aside, though, Steve seems to hold that we are to determine ethical truths on the basis of emotional responses. Supposedly, the fact that I don't weep over the killing of embryos in a fertility clinic somehow proves (in fact, it does not) that embryos are not morally equivalent to older human beings. Such a position is extremely vacuous. Prof. Robert George of Princeton does an excellent job of demonstrating this vacuity in this (lengthy) post.

I have to admit, I'm not sure what Steve's point is in the second paragraph, with his references to line-drawing. I agree, I do draw a line: human dignity is found in a human organism at the very beginning of that organism's existence. The line is at the first moment of that existence. I'd also challenge Steve, incidently, to find someone who holds that a sperm or ovum cell has the inherent dignity proper to human beings.

Finally, I do hold the position because I truly believe it, and I believe it because it's the only coherent stance. To "draw the line" later than the beginning of the human organism's existence (i.e. to assert that dignity is not possessed by the organism from the first moment of its existence) is either arbitrary or results in denying the dignity of human beings whose dignity is recognized by people on both sides of this issue (e.g. the severely mentally handicapped or the comatose).
Reply to scarshapedstar

scarshapedstar comments:
    Well, gang, it’s time for Chris to answer everyone’s favorite question.

    For whatever reason, you suddenly find yourself in a burning fertility clinic. One one side of the room is a crying toddler. On the other side is a petri dish with one hundred zygotes (or, as you call them, “human organisms”). You only have time to grab one of them and escape. Which do you choose, and why?

First of all, it's not me who calls zygotes (and embryos) "human organisms"... it's embryologists and the textbooks they write (and yes, I can get the citations if you'd like; just ask in the comments).

Again, we have here a hidden premise that ethical truth is found by examining emotional reactions. I refer the reader to the link to Prof. George's thoughts as found in the reply to Steve, above.
Reply to lard lad

In a fairly crude and adolescent comment, this fellow mockingly claims that masturbation must result in the death of trillions upon trillions of innocent souls. I'm only responding here because I'm making an attempt to reply to every response to my original post, no matter how assinine.

Obviously -- as I've already said -- a sperm cell is not a human organism, therefore not a human person, and therefore does not possess inherent human dignity. But I'm sure the reader knows that.
Reply to jcricket

jcricket commented:

    Shorter Chris:

    There’s no way to argue in favor of ESC research because there’s no way to argue with my unassailable logic that if I lump everything within the “organism” label, everything done to each organism is now morally equivalent.

    Congratulations Chris, you’ve failed your high school logic class and I’m kicking you out of debate club. For one you’ve committed a couple of basic logical fallacies, including what’s known as “false dilemma“. I’m sure there are others, why don’t you go to this site and find out?

    Push your logic even a teensy bit further and the other posters and the Monty Python song isn’t far fetched. Masturbating is destroying 1/2 of a human organism and millions of potential human lives. Using condoms is a cruel joke on those 1/2 human organisms. Taking the birth control pill can keep fertilized eggs that would otherwise implant and grow into babies, making them even more of a human organism (they’re in a womb), so it should be outlawed too, right?

    Anyone who seriously thinks that there’s no room for a logical, rational support of the other sides position is fooling themselves. Even on this issue.

    Despite the fact that I am strongly pro ESC research I can can see a possible logic within the arguments of some ESC opponents. But only for those that also oppose IVF, because they are also as irate about the ongoing embryo holocaust occurring every year within IVF clinics. It’s the same destruction, and it’s been going on without complaint for the most part.

    So, while there is a group of supporters who can claim logical opposition to ESC research, I doubt Chris is in it. The only people who are in it must also oppose IVF, contraception and probably masturbation.

    The poll done around the Michael J Fox ad shows that the public largely supports ESC research (something like 70-75%) and doesn’t oppose federal funding when it understands that federal funding is the only source for this type of work. When you see the potential people who could benefit from ESC research up close, it appears that support goes even higher (83% after the MJF ad). It would appear that most people are quite comfortable with this issue and don’t buy the line of reasoning that makes 5-cell clumps in a vat the equivalent of living human beings.

First of all, I'm not the one who claims that embryos (and zygotes, and blastocysts) are human organisms; as I noted previously, embryologists and their textbooks do that (cf. the references provided by Prof. Robert George in the footnotes of this article and by Dianne Irving, M.A., Ph. D. in this article).

Second, j doesn't demonstrate how I've actually committed any relevant logical fallacies; he merely claims that I have. Obviously, that's insufficient and hardly constitutes a valid argument against my position.

There are numerous errors in j's second paragraph. My logic on this is hardly complex: every human organism and only human organisms possess the intrinsic dignity proper to human beings. For a being to possess human dignity, it must be human, and it must be an organism. That's all there is to it. But the things which j thinks follow from my logic simply do not. Oocytes (sperm and egg cells), for instance, are human, but they are not organisms (there is no such living thing as "1/2 of an organism", human or otherwise). And as I've said in a prior post, the issue is not the destruction of "potential human lives", but the destruction of actual human lives, something which occurs in abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

j goes on to make the same argument others have made: the lack of outrage against fertility clinics somehow invalidates the claim that all human organisms have inherent dignity. Again, I've addressed this issue previously.

He also erroneously asserts that someone who holds that all human organisms have inherent dignity must also oppose contraception and masturbation. This does not follow; as already noted, masturbation does not destroy human organisms; nor do contraceptives (except in the case of abortifacients). He is correct, though, that such a position entails the opposition to IVF, at least insofar as IVF commonly results in the destruction of embryonic human beings. If, however, IVF did not have that result, there would be no contradiction in supporting it while supporting the position that all human beings have inherent dignity. (I'm using human being and human organism synonymously.)

Finally, j points to polling data which supposedly demonstrates broad public support for embryonic stem cell research and for its federal funding. Polls, though, are tricky things... it all depends on how the questions are phrased. For instance, if I didn't know that what exactly ESCR entails, and someone said to me, "many scientists believe that ESCR holds great potential for curing dozens of painful and grave illnesses; would you support federal funding for ESCR?", of course I'd support it. But if I was told the ESCR requires the destruction of human embryos, I'd oppose it, and according to a 2004 poll, more Americans oppose ESCR than support it when they're told such. But even if that were the case, would that prove that embryos do not have inherent dignity? I think our nation's history -- and indeed the history of humankind in general -- demonstrates that dignity is not dependent upon what people -- even most people -- think.
Reply to demimondian

demimondian commented:

    A human fetus—much less a human embryo—is, in fact, not an organism. Wiki has a nice suymmary of the definition:

    In biology and ecology, an organism (in Greek organon = instrument) is a living complex adaptive system of organs that influence each other in such a way that they function in some way as a stable whole.

    An organism is in a non-equilibrium thermodynamic state, maintaining a homeostatic internal environment, and a continuous input of energy is required to maintain this state.

    The key word is “stable”—neither an embryo, or a human fetus before a certain stage of development, is capable of functioning as a stable whole. The “mother + zygote” pair is an organism, but the zygote itself is emphatically not.

    Your core hypothesis is, therefore, not true. That doesn’t invalidate your conclusion, but it does rubbish your argument.

This is the easiest to refute: according to embryology -- and what field of science is more relevant? -- the conceptus at every stage is a human organism. Consult the texts cited by Prof. George as found in the previous post.

Apart from that, demimondian errs in stating that the the fetus and embryo are not stable: the human being at both stages is an integrated, self-directed entity. Can it survive outside a particular environment, in which it finds sustinance? Of course not, but neither can any organism. I think he's misunderstanding the contextual meaning of stability.
Reply to Punchy

Punchy commented:

    A human fetus—much less a human embryo—is, in fact, not an organism

    Oh boy, here we go. By every biological definition, a embryo/zygote/fetus prior to the gestation period of 6 months (when it could theoretically live on it’s own) is a parasite. Yes, it robs the host of nutrients, it robs the host of oxygen, and it produces toxic waste withing the host. Most importantly, it cannot survive on it’s own—it’s wholly dependant on a host to live. By every biological aspect, it’s a parasite.

Punchy needs to reconsult his biology and parasitology. Biology and parasitology professor Thomas L. Johnson demonstrated some thirty years ago that the embryonic and fetal stages of human development are not parasitic.

End of replies to comments regarding embryonic human life

This post just serves as a bookend to indicate the end of my short series of posts responding to some rejoinders made to my comment at this post on a liberal blog regarding the moral status of the human embryo.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Prairie Rome Companion

Time for a plug for goings-on at work...

As many of you know, I'm the Director of Adult Faith Formation for the Diocese of Sioux Falls (in South Dakota). One of the things I'm working on is developing a regular podcast which will explain Church teaching, give a Catholic perspective on issues of the day, etc. etc. The name of the podcast is that found in the title of this post: Prairie Rome Companion (PRC).

While the formal episodes haven't been produced yet, the feed for the podcast is now active, and does have content. For the last two years or so, the audio of the Sioux Falls Theology on Tap presentations have been available via webstream at our diocesan website (see the second link under the Audio/Video Media heading in the right hand column). Those presentations are now also available via the PRC feed.

So, if you use iTunes or some similar program for podcasting, you can enter the web address for the feed, and it'll give you the available presentations, plus update it when I upload more Theology on Tap presentations, PRC episodes, and other presentations. (I've submitted the podcast to iTunes, so once it's approved, people will be able to find it via the iTunes Podcast Directory.)

If you don't use a program like iTunes but you'd still like to listen to or download the presentations, go to the feed's webpage and click "Play Now" under the presentation you'd like to listen to, or right-click on that "Play Now" link, select "Save As", and chose where you'd like to save the presentation on your computer; you'll then have a copy of the presentation to listen to whenever you'd like. Warning: while the regular PRC episodes will be smaller, the Theology on Tap presentations are almost all at least 50 MBs, so if you have dialup, it'll take a bit to download a presentation.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me (you can use my personal email address: chris.burgwald-at- And I'd appreciate it if fellow bloggers could spread the word.

Update: As those of you who read this post over the weekend know, the name of the podcast as already (but for the last time) changed; St. Blog's wizard of witticisms, Jeff Miller (a/k/a The Curt Jester) proposed the new name, and I could hardly pass it up, especially considering that originally hail from Minnesota (the home of the Prairie Home Companion radio show), as well as the fact that I am a member of Minnesota Public Radio (for the classical music, mind you). So a hearty thanks to Jeff! (Oh, one more note: the feed has not changed.)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Yunus and Usury

Last week Bangladesh economist Muhammed Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneered the idea of "micro-credit" -- giving small loans to help poor people start a business. He shared the prize with the Grameen Bank he created for the purpose. Some 100 million people have been helped by these efforts.

Reaction among conservative commentators has been generally positive... as one Cornerite put it, "I am glad the Grameen Bank won; they have done real work rather than just posturing. And, unlike Jimmy Carter, Muhammad Yunus has empowered democrats rather than dictators." Sounds good to me.

Then I came across this post, which points out that the Yunus' bank give these small loans at a twenty percent interest rate! The blogger notes, "I can't believe we live in an age where we are rewarding a man with a $1.4 million peace prize for usury. If he wants to help the poor give them loans with no interest or maybe up to 5%, but 20%?" and continues, "People can argue his banks have helped millions of people. Fine, that's great, I'm glad there are borrowers in India who can manage small amounts of credit. But it is a slippery slope and when it comes to usury, something the Church has always spoke against, things tend to head downhill fast."

This is compelling to me... how is a 20% interest rate not guilty of the sin of usury?


(HT: C-L-S)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

September 26, 1983: The day WWIII almost began

Thanks to a Soviet military officer who rejected was his computers told him -- that the US had launched half a dozen missiles at his country -- a nuclear holocaust was averted.
"The Mythological Conflict Between Christianity and Science"

An interview with physicist Dr. Stephen Barr at Ignatius Insight.

Check it out.
Do the media want popes to speak out or shut up? Which is it?

Columnist Dennis Prager (who is Jewish, not Catholic) writes a column comparing the reaction of the media to Pope Pius XII's alleged silence in the face on Nazism to their reaction to what Pope Benedict has said of late regarding Islam. He writes:
    If the same people who attack Pope Pius XII for his silence regarding the greatest evil of his time are largely the same people who attack Pope Benedict XVI for confronting the greatest evil of his time, maybe it isn't a pope's confronting evil that concerns Pius's critics, but simply defaming the Church.

    After all, has not Benedict done precisely what Pius's critics argue that Pius, and presumably any pope, should have done -- be a courageous moral voice and condemn the greatest evil and greatest manifestation of anti-Semitism of his time?

Read the whole thing.

HT: Carl Olson.

Who's responsible?

An interesting column at TechCentralStation regarding Pope Benedict's Regensburg address and the aftermath. The author -- Lee Harris -- critiques the critiques, and uses a parallel example to show their true nature.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Robert George on why it's impossible for pro-lifers to support Democrats today

Hint: it's got to do with more than abortion:
    I find no cause for joy in this. I wish that it were possible for pro-life citizens legitimately to support Democratic candidates. I wish that the party of my parents and grandparents had not placed itself on the wrong side of the most profound human rights issue of our contemporary domestic politics. I wish that the killing of embryonic and fetal human beings by abortion and in biomedical research were resolutely opposed by both parties so that we could cast our votes based on our assessments of the candidates’ and parties’ competing positions on taxation, immigration, education, welfare, health-care reform, national security, and foreign policy. It is hardly satisfactory that pro-life citizens—representing a variety of views on the range of issues in economic, social, and foreign policy—find themselves bound to the Republicans because the only viable alternative is a party that has abandoned its commitment to the weakest and most vulnerable members of the human family by embracing abortion and embryo-destructive research.
Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Blog Hijack!

This is Chris' wife - hee, hee. Today is Chris' birthday for those who read this on Saturday. He doesn't know this is posted...yet. Happy Birthday!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Too clever by half

Timothy Noah of Slate e-zine thinks he's caught the Vatican modifying Pope Benedict's speech after the fact (see the fourth of Noah's footnotes to the address) in an attempt to "mollify critics".

Um, no.

As Stuart Buck expertly explains, the english translation of Pope Benedict's speech (which is the text Noah annotates) does not reflect the speech as it was delivered. Noah thinks that the english translation he cites is the speech as it was given, but in fact it appears that it was the prepared text, which Benedict deviated from. As anyone who's devoted some closer attention to this pontificate knows, Pope Benedict regularly deviates from the written text and offers extemporaneous remarks, sometimes ditching it completely. Such was the case here, as the German recording demonstrates (see Buck's post): in the speech as delivered, Pope Benedict used stronger language than the speech as it was written.

So Mr. Noah: nice try. Try again. In the meantime, perhaps you might withdraw your claims, somewhat sheepishly, I imagine.

HT: Amy Welborn.

And this is another instance in which I thank God for the Internet.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

You know what the Pope's real motive was?

I'd seen this in a comment at a liberal blog, but today found a link to an op-ed...

Pope Benedict's real motive in inciting Muslim fury (because he really intended to do so, you know) was obvious: he did it to help Bush and the Republicans in the mid-term elections.

The guys at The Onion couldn't come up with stuff like this.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Journey to Truth is an Experience

That's the title of the Luigi Giussani text which the Schools of Community of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation will be reading this coming year.

If your Italian is decent, you can read more about the text here; the english translation won't be out until late October or November.
"Local" is the new organic

Interesting article on organic farming and small-scale farms from the Christian review Books & Culture.

Of course, it's nothing of relevance to those who see efficiency and low prices as the only important things in matters economic.
Pope Benedict and Muslims

Those of you who read this blog probably know the places to go online to read excellent commentary and analysis on the outrageous response to Pope Benedict's Regensburg address (which you should read sometime yourself). But for the reader's who aren't familiar with some of these resources, I thought I'd recommend some.

First, Amy Welborn has had a number of excellent posts (with her own comments and links to others) at her blog. I'd recommend this post in particular, as it links and excerpts a number of excellent commentaries.

Another terrific blog is Christopher Blosser's Against the Grain. He's got a number of posts the last few days documenting the reaction to Benedict's comments, as well as a must-read post, "So What Does Pope Benedict XVI Think About Islam?", in which he quotes from the Holy Father's address to Muslims in Cologne during World Youth Day last year.

I also recommend perusing the posts at the First Things blog, and at Ignatius Press' Insight Scoop... there are excellent comments to be found in both places.

Hope that helps.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Yesterday in History

(I missed them, but they're too important to let go...)

9/12/2006 was the 323rd anniversary of the Battle of Vienna, in which the Polish King Jan III Sobieski led the Holy League forces in victory over the Ottoman army, which had beseiged Vienna that July. (The battle actually began on 9/11/1683, a fact which has been noted by numerous commentators in the wake of the events of 9/11/2001.)

It was on yesterday's date in 1933 that Hungarian physicist Leó Szilárd, waiting for a red light in
Bloomsbury, England, conceived of the idea of the nuclear chain reaction.

A couple interesting articles I came across the other day:

How Bacteria Nearly Destroyed All Life

Extinction-Level Event (remember the movie Deep Impact? I liked it more than its contemporary, Armageddon... the latter was a bit more superficial than the former)

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Il Santo Padre Benedetto XVI ha nominato... Vescovo di Sioux Falls (U.S.A.) il Mons. Paul Joseph Swain, finora Vicario Generale di Madison. Mons. Paul Joseph Swain

Mons. Swain è nato il 12 settembre 1943, da una famiglia di confessione Metodista. Dopo aver seguito le scuole elementari e medie, ha continuato la sua educazione superiore prima nella Ohio Northern University, dove nel 1965 è diventato Bachelor of Arts in History; poi, all’University of Wisconsin-Madison, dove nel 1967 ha conseguito il Master of Arts in Political Science; e successivamente, presso l’University of Wisconsin Law School, dove ha conseguito il titolo di Juris Doctor, nel 1974. Nel frattempo ha partecipato alla Guerra in Vietnam (1967-1971), come Air Intelligence Officer. Per i suoi meriti ha ottenuto l’onorificenza di Vietnam Veteran Bronze Star. Laureatosi in Diritto Civile, ha seguito la pratica giuridica: prima come Assistant Legal Counsel, League of Wisconsin Municipalities (1975-1976); poi come Avvocato (1976-1979); e successivamente come Legal Counsel del Governatore dello Stato di Wisconsin, Sig. Lee Sherman Dryfus (1979-1983).

Dopo la sua conversione, è stato ricevuto nella Chiesa Cattolica nel 1982. Nel 1983 ha iniziato la sua formazione per il sacerdozio, presso il Pope John XXIII National Seminary a Weston, Massachusetts. Ha concluso nel 1988 conseguendo il titolo di Master of Divinity.È stato ordinato sacerdote il 27 maggio 1988 dal Vescovo Cletus F. O’Donnell. Ha poi ricoperto i seguenti incarichi: 1988-1993: Vicario cooperatore di Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary a Sun Prairie. 1993: Segretario di S.E. Bullock, Moderatore della Curia e Vice-Cancelliere. 1994-1997: Parroco di St. Mary of Pine Bluff. 1997-1999: Rettore della Cattedrale di St. Raphael di Madison. 1997-2000: Vicario Generale. 2002: Parroco di St. Bernard a Middleton. È Prelato d’Onore di sua Santità dal 14 giugno 1997 e membro dell’Ordine Equestre del Santo Sepolcro di Gerusalemme. Attualmente è Vicario Generale della diocesi di Madison e Rettore della Cattedrale di San Raffaele.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

New SF, SD blog

Greg Belfrage is a local talk-show host as well as a fellow parishioner at my Catholic parish, and he now has a blog: Prairie Conservative. Check it out!

(He's added to the blogroll to the left as well.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bainbridge on Wal-mart again

Another good post on Wal-mart by conservative law professor Stephen Bainbridge.

As I've noted before with regard to the professor's view, there is a conservative case against Wal-mart, and it's a serious one.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

First jet plane flew today

The first turbojet-powered airplane flew on August 27th, 19XX.

Any guesses as to the year, and the country of origin?

Put your guesses in the comments, and then go here to get the answers.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

More permalinks

I've added a few more blogs that I regularly visit to the blogroll:

Professor Bainbridge
Hugh Hewitt

I know there's a lot of cleaning up to do in the blogroll, with inactive, dead, and moved blogs... all in good time, my pretties. :-)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Speaking of carnivals...

I recommend the Carnival of Personal Finance; archives can be found here.

On the topic, I also recommend Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover and Eric Tyson's Personal Finance for Dummies.

Wish I would have read both about ten years ago.
An Elementary [sic] Christian Metaphysics

One of my friends from my time in Rome is Fr. Dan Gallagher, a priest of the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan, who is currently "on loan" to Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

In a recent conversation, Father mentioned that he's going to be teaching metaphysics this fall at the seminary, and said that the text he's assigning is An Elementary Christian Metaphysics by Fr. Joseph Owens. I'm just a few chapters into the work, and while it isn't the easiest read, it is worthwhile, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the topic.

For an idea of where Owens comes from, here's a line from the backcover blurb:
    Using original Thomistic texts and Etienne Gilson's interpretation of St. Thomas Aquinas, Owens examines the application of metaphysical principles to the issues that arise in a specifically Christian environment.
Again, a good introduction to metaphysics.
Comments switched over

As mentioned last week, I've moved from YACCS for comments to Blogger; after leaving both up for a few days, I've taken the YACCS comments offline.

Latest CC is up!

You can read the latest Catholic Carnival here.
New issue of The New Atlantis now online

The editors of The New Atlantis -- a Journal of Technology and Society are kind enough to make each new issue available online a few weeks after it's available for purchase (back issues are also online).

The latest issue is now up, and as always, there are some very interesting articles, including one on the first fourteen days of human life coauthored by my friend, Pat Lee, and Robert George.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Moral utilitarianism among the American left and right

At the First Things blog, Ross Douthat has a terrific post on the prevelance of moral utilitarianism among Americans of all political stripes, offering examples of tactitly approving the torture terrorists to get information that might stop an attack (the right) and approving of embronic stem cell research if it might cure disease (the left).

He then draws the following conclusion:
    This reality, I think, offers the umpteenth example of why the Victorian project (which persists to this day) of doing away with Christian dogma but trying to keep Christian morality intact is doomed to failure. Not because Christian morality can’t be approached rationally by nonbelievers of good will, but because without the lived experience of a religious tradition it will never be anything more than an abstraction, an arid intellectualism, something that gets followed when following it is easy to follow and abandoned as soon as the going gets tough.
I agree, wholeheartedly.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Programming note: Switching Comments

YACCS comments have served me well for a few years now, but YACCS is also often the source of delays in loading the blog and individual posts. So I'm transitioning to Blogger's commenting system...

For the time being, I'm leaving the YACCS comments up (the link tha follows "Not here:"), so that people can read recent comments made to the blog. But for new comments, please use the Blogger comments (where it says "Comment here:").

Gates praises ABC, gets booed by activists

Bill Gates spoke at the 16th annual International AIDS conference, held this year in Toronto. He spoke of the "ABC" approach to fighting AIDS used in some African countries, like Uganda ("ABC" means abstinence, be faithful, and condoms for specific populations that refuse "A" and "B").

When Gates said, "This approach has saved many lives, and we should expand it," he was booed, according to FRC, Lifesite, and a blog by AIDS activists at the conference. Abstinence, after all, is unrealistic... who can really expect people to exercise self-discipline and virtue?
ComprehensiveContraceptive Sex Education = more teen sex

According to a story in yesterday's Washington Post (free registration required), a Philadelphia study found that (black) teens who had a comprehensivecontraceptive sex education curriculum were more likely to engage in sexual intercourse than students whose curriculum took an abstinence-only approach.

The study also found that the teens in the absistence-only curriculum who did have sex were just as likely to know about condoms and how to use them as those in the comprehensivecontraceptive sex education curriculum.
Blogroll updates

I finally updated by blogroll... I use the personalized Google homepage to check a number of blogs, and I've been tardy in getting some of them on the blogroll. So over on the left you'll find new links to:

Whispers in the Loggia
The New Liturgical Movement
Cosmos - Liturgy - Sex
Looking Closer Journal

Happy Feast of the Assumption!

(Find a beautiful painting along with a meditation on the Assumption at Pontifications.)
New Catholic Carnival!

Find it at just another day of Catholic pondering.

Monday, August 14, 2006

It is better to be than to not-be

At Mass this Sunday, Father Al began his homily with a few comments on Jesus' words in John 6:44: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (the Gospel reading was John 6:41-51). Father noted (and I'm paraphrasing here) that at this point in his life, he understands most "mysterious" things, with a few things excepted. One of those exceptions was this: if God knows from all eternity those souls who will finally refuse his gift of grace and salvation and choose eternal separation from Him instead, why did He create them?

Here is my meager attempt at a possible response.

Taking Genesis 1 as the point of departure ("and God saw that it was good"), it is a basic principle of Catholic theology and philosophy that God created all things good, and this fundamental goodness remains, despite the effects of the Fall of humanity in the garden. (Philosophically, this notion is expressed in the axiom that being and good are convertible.)

In other words, insofar as something exists (i.e. has being), it is good.

Consider, then, those who are damned (who count among their number the fallen angels and any human beings who persist in refusing God at the moment of their death). On a moral level, they are rightly described as evil. But on a metaphysical level, the fact that they continue to exist in some way, however diminished, means that they are good, and hence that their being adds some goodness to the cosmos.

And here lays my possible answer to Father's query: by the sheer fact of their being, the existence of even the damned "adds" some measure of goodness to creation. In other words, the universe is better off with them than it would have been without them.

It's not all about "No"

Pope Benedict recently gave a television interview to a panel of four German journalists in anticipation of his visit to his homeland in a few weeks. The english translation of the transcript can be found here. Right now, there's one passage I want to call attention to:
    And when you have so little time you can't say everything you want to say about "no." Firstly you have to know what we really want, right? Christianity, Catholicism, isn't a collection of prohibitions: it's a positive option. It's very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We've heard so much about what is not allowed that now it's time to say: we have a positive idea to offer
Right on!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Wright on von Balthasar on Protestants and Catholics

Nazarene pastor John Wright has a nice post up on twentieth century theologians Hans Urs von Balthasar (Catholic) and Karl Barth (Reformed Protestant). Wright comments on some passages in von Balthasar's book examining Barth's thought, and a couple of those passages express something I've been trying to get some Net pals to understand.

Here's a key section of Pastor Wright's post:

    Yet Balthasar says important things that accurately, and negatively, define Protestants relationship to Roman Catholics, even after over 50 years that he has written. He writes, 'Protestants are convinced that they have seen through Catholicism once and for all; and if it should so happen that they discover a presentation of Catholic views that they do not find absurd, this must surely be due to the Catholic habit of countenancying "Jesuitical' arguments, hiding the Church's true esoteric features behind politically shrewd and seductive masks" (p. 17). He concludes his observations, "And the result is that, if sloth and inattention hinder conversations on the Catholic side, mistrust and suspicion cripple it on the Protestant" (p. 18).

    Yet Balthasar states that "perhaps today we are beginning to move beyond the era of stale antithese -- Reformation and Counter-Reformation -- with Catholics trying to be more catholic and not 'anti-Protestant' and the Protestants more biblical and 'evangelical' and not 'protesters'" (p. 19).
Let's hope so.
Hey Al: practice what you preach.

Here's an article detailing how Al Gore doesn't live the eco-friendly lifestyle he's been telling the rest of us we need to live.

Big surprise there.

(HT: American Papist)

Friday, August 11, 2006

What, precisely, is Thomism?

Just over two years ago I blogged on a book I'd just read: Dr. Tracey Rowland's Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II. As I blogged then, it's an outstanding book, and I encourage anyone remotely interested in the issues it addresses to read it.

Since then, I've kept my eyes open for reviews of the book, and as I've read those, one criticism is found in multiple reviews, that being that Rowland seems to stretch the definition of Thomism beyond legitimate bounds. The review in Modern Theology by Joseph Wawrykow of Notre Dame posited that Rowland's definition of Thomism "is in fact too broad, so loose that it covers anyone who has been associated with classical Christianity, not simply those who would identify with Aquinas and his particular approach to Christian truth." He proceeds to wonder "why Rowland does not refer simply to ‘creedal Christianity’ or ‘classical Christianity’" instead of "Thomism".

Now, I consider myself a Thomist, and I recognized Rowland as such as well. So this criticism of her work led me to wonder: what, exactly, makes one a Thomist, and what, exactly, constitutes Thomism, beyond the tautology that these terms refer to one who "follows" the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, and to his thought, respectively. In other words, what is the definition of Thomist/m? Clearly, if Scholar A argues that Scholar B is not a Thomist, Scholar A has some operative definition of Thomist/m. So what is that definition?

This question turns out to be somewhat difficult to answer. The best answer I've seen comes from the Dominican priest and scholar, Fr. Romanus Cessario, in his book, A Short History of Thomism. In that book, he offers a short list of what constitutes a Thomist perspective, but like others, he also notes that the doctrinal content of Thomism is not exactly well-defined... his list functions more as a lowest common denominator than as an attempt at a comprehensive definition.

Having said that, I'd be curious to hear what others think about this, and how they might answer the question, "What does it mean to be a Thomist and to subscribe to Thomism?"

Update: only after publishing this post did I check Wikipedia and the resources it links. While the Wikipedia entry on "Thomism" falls prey to the common trend to view Thomism more as a philosophical than a theological school, its list of philosophical positions distinctively Thomistic was helpful. More helpful, though, was the link provided to the 1907-12 Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on Thomism. Again, there are some assertions which could be questioned in light of more recent scholarship, which rightly tends to wonder if neo-Thomism incorrectly distilled Thomas' thought, but the lists (both philosophical and theological, and of both Thomism and the Thomist school) remain somewhat helpful.

I remain curious as to the thoughts of readers on this question, though.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Scientists aren't intrinsically objective

One of the hallmarks of the Enlightenment worldview is a belief (an act of faith?) that science is the (only) path to true, objective knowledge, and scientists are likewise objective in their reporting of the facts they discover. For this mentality, science functions as a de facto religion, and scientists are the priests, prophets, and oracles of said religion. (NB: this is not a critique of science or scientists per se, but of a mentality which regards them erroneously.)

In fact, scientists are fallible human beings just like the rest of us, and they are no more impervious to allowing their biases and subjectivities to cloud their judgment and reasoning than anyone else.

Pat Lee and Robert George offer an example of this in their recent critique of a letter in the journal Science and the reasons for which the letter was hurriedly published. I encourage you to read it.
Hawkish Gloom

A sobering analysis of the geo-political situation by Stanley Kurtz of NRO (and now of the Ethics and Public Policy Center -- home of George Weigel -- as well).
Happy Feast of St. Dominic!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Two Catholic "movements" I love:

The Dominicans

Communion and Liberation

That is all.

Thank you.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Catholic teaching and Philosophy

Josh is a new LCMS seminarian with recently-completed grad degree on mathematics. He's had a blog for years, and enjoys poking a little fun and his fellow Christians who don't happen to be Lutherans. Some might confuse his style as mean-spirited, but I'm pretty confident that it's usually just light-hearted jabbing.

Josh has read some Catholic theology (e.g. Ratzinger's Spirit of the Liturgy), but he still has some, erroneous ideas about the Catholic distinctives. For example (do a Find for what follows):
    I think the conversation with the Roman Catholics is kind of useless since they keep avoiding bringing divine judgment into the language of morality. It's all just natural philosophy (and which natural philosophy is the right one is sufficiently obvious that they don't feel obligated to defend it). I want to know how God thinks about it.
Josh seems convinced that Catholic theology is all too often based (solely?) upon philosophical reasoning. On the one hand, I can somewhat understand that: there certainly have been theologians and theological schools whose language (and in some cases, even substance) tended to be very philosophical.

On the other hand, Catholic doctrine is completely theological, and the employment of philosophical terminology and concepts serve only to explain or elaborate the theological doctrine (usually because it's under attack). Now, it might take some study to see how a particular Catholic teaching is more than mere human philosophical discourse, but such a study will be fruitful.

Josh's particular favorite kicking boy on this is the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Josh thinks it's an unbiblical, Aristotelian attempt to explain the Real Presence. To some degree, that's true (minus the "unbiblical" part). But as I've noted in conversations with Josh, there's little difference between the employment Greek philosophy to "explain" the Real Presence and the employment of Greek philosophy to "explain" the Trinity. Some object here, that in the latter case (that of Trinitarian doctrine) philosophy is only employed to explain what God is, while in the case of transubstantiation, philosophy is employed to explain how the Real Presence occurs. According to this line of thinking, a doctrine which employs philosophy to explain how is illicit, while a doctrine which employs philosophy to explain that is licit.

I don't accept that. It seems to me that every doctrine in some what is both a that and a how doctrine, even though it might be more clearly one or the other in some cases. For instance, it could rightly be argued that transubstantiation is necessary to explain in as full and complete manner as possible the truth that Jesus is really, truly present in the Eucharist. And it could also be rightly argued that Nicaea's trinitarian doctrine explains how we can speak of God as three an one simultaneously.

While the following is essentially a bald assertion, it's worth making it: Catholic doctrine is fundamentally and essentially biblical (and hence theological), and those who argue otherwise will see the error of their ways if they are able to postively engage Catholic teaching without an a priori hermeneutic of suspicion.

Parenthetically, this whole misunderstanding is a macrocosm of the stereotypical view held by many (Catholic and others alike) of St. Thomas Aquinas: he is seen as a philosopher who employs Aristotle to create useless and meaningless distinctions about the faith. In fact, Thomas was first and foremost a biblical theologian, who spent a significant chunk of his lectures and writings in commenting on Sacred Scripture. In other words, the same misapprehension is made regarding Catholic doctrine as a whole as is made regarding the Common Doctor.
Watch out for the Inquisition!

There's an ex-Catholic fundamentalist who emailed a bunch of us at the diocesan offices out of the blue back in January or so, with an anti-Eucharist rant.

I engaged the guy in civil dialogue, and found out that he attended the local Catholic high school back in the day, and he even -- you guessed it -- thought about becoming a priest. It turned out though, that he'd never heard the Gospel preached until one day a few years later, when he was listening to a preacher on the radio. He accepted Jesus at that moment, and left the Romanist, papist heresy (my words, but his sentiment).

Our conversation was all across the board, but there was one thing I kept trying: to find out his name, so that we could pray for one another. He ignored my requests continually.

When the twins came along in February, this convo got put on the burner farthest in the back. A couple weeks back, he (still anonymous) sent another mass email to the offices, but I ignored it.

Then yesterday, I found an anti-Catholic tract (from Mike Gendron's "ministry") in our Cathedral's beautiful adoration chapel, with this guy's email address. I contacted him again, and asked him a couple questions. First, though, I stressed that his anonymous approach was rather unlike that of Jesus', and I implored him to share just his first name, that we might pray for one another.

It was his response to that request that, well, floored me. I'll reproduce it here:
    No, I dare not tell you my name, as I am familiar with the history of the inquisition and the current office of The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces." Matthew 7:6
So what the heck do you say to that? This guy is under the delusion that if he reveals his name, I'm going to sic the Inquisition on him! Because, you know, that's what happens to all the anti-Catholic people out there these days!

I'm still in shock.

Friday, July 28, 2006

the one book

This meme is making it's way around the blogosphere and I've been tagged. So here goes:

1. One book that changed your life:
Henri de Lubac, The Splendor of the Church.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
Tom Clancy, Red Storm Rising.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
The Roman Missal.

4. One book that made you laugh:
Janet Evanovich, One for the Money.

5. One book that made you cry:
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (I'm with Joel on this.)

6. One book that you wish had been written:
A comprehensive examination of the Catholic worldview.

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code.

8. One book you’re currently reading:
Benedict Ashley, OP, The Way toward Wisdom.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
John Milbank & Catherine Pickstock, Truth in Aquinas.

10. Tag five others:
Carl Olson
The Curt Jester
Lex Communis
Endlessly Rocking

Friday, May 26, 2006

LCMS "vs" ELCA Confessional Lutherans re: Catholicism

In my personal experience as well as my theological research, I've generally found that among confessional Lutherans (i.e. those who accept the Book of Concord), LCMSers tend (there are plenty of exceptions, of course) to be more aggressive toward (Roman) Catholicism, and I'm really not sure why that is. It's not that they're anymore "really Lutheran", because as I noted, there are ELCAers who confess the BOC just as fervently. The latter tend to be more interested in figuring out exactly why we Catholics do and believe the things we do, while the former seem to prefer the polemical style of judging from afar (again, these are general tendencies, not across the board stereotypes). This is in no way to question the theological acumen of either camp, nor their good will... it's simply something I've observed.

So what's the deal, guys?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Al Gore's global-warming movie

A nice primer here.
Why Fred loves Hans Urs von Balthasar

He expresses sentiments I heartily echo.
Katrina and an Inept Press

We've heard plenty about the ineptitude of the feds with regard to Katrina, but who's watching the watchers? Some one is, and it looks like it's a good thing.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Opus Dei spokesman dissects Ron Howard's hysterics

If you have any interest in the Catholic Church, Opus Dei, and The Da Vinci Code, you've got to read this tour-de-force of a response to Ron Howard from the international spokesman for Opus Dei.

In responding to the "it's just fiction" canard, he states the following:

    Imagine a film that says that Sony was behind the attacks on the Twin Towers, which it promoted because it wanted to destabilize the United States. Or a novel that reveals that Sony paid the gunman who shot the Pope in St. Peter's Square in 1981, because it was opposed to the Holy Father's moral leadership. They are only invented stories. I imagine that Sony, a respectable and serious company, would not be happy to see itself portrayed in this way on the screens, and that it would not be satisfied with an answer such as "Don't worry, it's only fiction, it mustn't be taken too seriously, freedom of expression is sacred."
He goes on to comment,
    those who have taken part in the film's project have no reason to be concerned. Christians will not react with hatred and violence, but with respect and charity, without insults or threats. They can continue to calculate tranquilly the money they will make on the film, because the freedom of financial profit seems to be in fact the only sacred freedom, the only one exempt from all responsibility. They will probably make a lot of money, but they are paying a high price by deteriorating their prestige and reputation.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The latest NSA contoversy

Should we be concerned that the NSA has obtained phone records about calls made in this country by millions of innocent Americans? I'm not sure... it doesn't bother me, but I understand why others are.

However, it does seem clear that what the NSA did was not illegal, that it violated neither FISA nor the Fourth Amendment (see this article). So the usual suspects who are throwing fits of hysteria need to chill a bit.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Gas prices

A great editorial at NRO. And a great article at TCS.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Koran, Sharia, and human rights

An important article.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

They're HEEERE!!!!

The (fraternal) Burgwald Twins were born Saturday night, meaning that the sparse blogging I've been doing of late will become even more so. (Three kids under two + blogging = not a good idea).

Thanks for prayers for the labor and delivery... now we need them for the raising!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The thin skin of feminism

A nice article by Ramesh Ponnuru.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Big profits for Big Oil... who cares? (And yes, I drive a car)

So there's a big ruckus because the annual earnings reports for the major oil producers are coming out, and it turns out that '05 was a good year for them: they made tens of billions of dollars in profits.

A lot of people are apparently upset at the news; they look at the prices we're paying at the pump, and then at these profit statements, and wonder how these companies have the gall to be charging the prices they are.

That's an understandable reaction, but it's a mistaken one. Why? Because gasoline and other petroleum products are commodities, and because of that, supply and demand can have a much more immediate effect on prices. Go back to September for a minute... when Katrina hit, the demand for gas skyrocketed, because people wanted to get the gas while they could (the supply was going to be pinched). The only way for oil companies and their products' distributors to ensure that they didn't run out of gasoline et al. was to raise prices. While that obviously meant we had to pay more, at least there was gasoline to be purchased! I remember reading about a service station here in the Sioux Falls area that was really lowballing their prices... they were consistently running out of gasoline! Let's face it: would you rather pay 50 to 100 cents more per gallon for gas, or not be able to get any gas because the supply is depleted? When demand is high, high prices are the only way to ensure that the supply of a commodity isn't exhausted. The fact is, what many of us saw as price gouging was simply the market ensuring an adequate supply of gasoline. (For a great primer of the reality of "price gouging", see this 2004 column by Thomas Sowell.)

That's one thing to remember. Here's another: if you consider the profit margins of these oil companies are making (profits as a percent of revenue), you'll find that the oil industry actually tends to lag behind other industries, in some cases by more than ten percent! (See this.)

ConocoPhillips has a webpage devoted to explaining oil profits; while you might consider the source biased (for obvious reasons), note that the data they use for their points is a matter of fact and is verifiable in the public record.

Remember, I'm not at all invested in the oil industry (well, apart from the few shares of a mutual fund I currently own in my 401(k)). Nor do I like having to pay $2+ for a gallon of gasoline. I simply think that while blaming "Big Oil" might be easy, it's not quite that simple.

'Ideology' requires ideas

If you want to see some incoherent ranting about the vote for cloture in the Alito debate, go here (warning: adolescent cursing in abundance).

One commenter complained that the Democrats who voted for cloture are intellectually bankrupting their party.

That's funny, coming from a website/forum/blog whose founder has stated that he doesn't read much, and from a political movement that is far more interested in "action" than in "ideas". ("Impeach Bush!" and "Bush lied!" don't count as ideas.) As observers on both sides of the political spectrum have noted, conservatives (in general) seem far more interested in debating their first principles than do liberals (in general).

One final thing: I do have to note that many of the complaints which Kossacks are airing against their senators sound familiar to what many conservatives (including, on occasion, myself) say about their senators (minus the cursing): compromisers, turncoats, etc. etc. It appears that "true believers" on both sides are often less than happy about how "their guys" vote.

But like that's news.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Cognitive dissonance on cognitive dissonance

Generally sensible Melanie manages to accuse those who oppose abortion while supporting the death penalty of cognitive dissonance while failing to recognize that opposing the death penalty while supporting abortion rights is no less cognitively dissonant.

Besides, there's that little difference of death row inmates having been found guilty of a capital crime, something which -- need I point it out? -- an embryonic human being is incapable of.

I note that as someone who sees virtually no use for the death penalty first-world nations like our own, but who recognizes that the death penality is not intrinsically evil, unlike abortion.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Then and NOW

Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the other original feminists recognize what Gloria Steinem et al. do not: "Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women."

Fortunately, we have Feminists for Life around to remind us of what the first feminists stood for and believed.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Today I came across a blog that began this way:
    "Look, no one's for lynching," the speaker said to the citizens gathered around him in the town square. "Both sides can acknowledge that killing a black man is a bad thing. But can't we work together to work to eliminate the root causes of lynching, while still acknowledging that it is sometimes a necessity, and ought not to face a legal penalty?"
Can you believe this baloney? Read more here.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Benedict's first encyclical: Deus Caritas Est (God is Love)

We've known the title of the forthcoming encyclical for some time; we've also heard that it would be released in latter January, so as not to "compete" with the papal messages issued at the turn of the year.

The rumors now are that the encyclical will be released this Friday, January 20th. And today, we have what allegedly is the opening of the encylical:
    "God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God, and God in him." These words from the letter of St. John express with singular clarity the center of the Christian faith, the Christian imagination of God, and also the vision of man and of his path which proceed from it.
Stay tuned.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Did you hear?

When President Clinton authorized a domestic surveillance program (Echelon) which was much more invasive than that which President Bush authorized, the NYTimes labelled it "necessary", as opposed to the grave threat to civil liberties which Bush's authorization apparently is.

And there is no double-standard or bias in the MSM? Please.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Recipients of NEA dues moneys

If there was ever any doubt about the political tendencies of the nation's largest teacher's union, their financial disclosure report clears it up.

Why teachers whose politics differ from union leadership put up with this is beyond me.