Monday, November 30, 2015

Tilting at windmills

Few things are as Quixotic as being a self-appointed champion of effective American English usage, but then that call to the jousting arena is also an occupational hazard of even intermittent blogging.

USA Today headline: Protecting Vatican from terrorists is an 'enormous' challenge
My reaction: They're mincing words with stupidly generic terms again. It's not gun-toting Methodists whom Vatican security officers worry about, as Bill Whittle and others have been saying for awhile now.

Yahoo Politics essay by Hunter Walker: The shooting at Planned Parenthood put GOP 2016 hopefuls in a 'politically uncomfortable' position (Tagged as Planned Parenthood attack flummoxes GOP)
My reaction: Who (other than anonymous "operatives for both parties") actually thinks that? What part of "Thou Shalt Not Murder" is unclear? Which Republican candidate has called for violence against Planned Parenthood staffers? Obvious answer: None of them. Corollary for Mr. Walker to consider: Does their party's support for abortion on demand at any time put Democrat 2016 hopefuls in a 'politically uncomfortable' position? Bueller? Anyone?

More Yahoo Politics innuendo: After two days of silence, GOP candidates respond to Planned Parenthood shootings (Tagged as GOP candidates break silence on Friday's attack)
My reaction: You mean those ogres waited two whole days to say that they don't condone murder? Don't they know they're supposed to hashtag outrage or sympathy within the same news cycle as whatever event they're outraged by or sympathetic to? (No, that's not actually my reaction).

Yahoo goes for the trifecta of inanity: Climate talks are underway, but saving the world might be harder than we thought
My reaction: Ya think? Alternate reaction: "Hubris," Yahoo headline writers -- you might want to re-acquaint yourselves with what that word means.

Washington Post writers are no better than Yahoo News and Politics writers, but Ed Morrissey and Glenn Reynolds have already tag-teamed to give WaPo the scorn it deserves.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

When you confuse science with wisdom

Bill Maher was a guest on Stephen Colbert's TV show the other day. I don't normally watch either of them because I don't think either is particularly funny, but they had an interesting exchange when Colbert invited Maher back to church, and Maher realized the invitation was serious.

Colbert: "You were raised Catholic, right?"

Maher: "I *was* raised Catholic."

Colbert: "Come on back, Bill! The door is always open. Golden ticket, right before you. All you have to do is humble yourself before the presence of the Lord [and] admit that there are things greater than you in the universe that you do not understand, and salvation awaits you! Take Pascal's Wager: If you're wrong, you're an idiot, but if I'm riiiight, you're going to hell."

Maher, smirking: "I do admit there are things in the universe I don't understand, but my response to that is not to make up silly stories...or to believe intellectually embarrassing myths from the Bronze Age. But *you* believe whatever you want to!"

Colbert: "Well, yeah, I mean, I have a connection to our ancestors, because I, I...

Maher: "Sure...because these were men who did not know what a germ or an atom was, or where the sun went at night, and that's where you're getting your wisdom. Anyway, let's not argue!"

At that point, the conversation took a turn not in the clip that I've seen, as both men moved to another subject. What interests me, though, is Maher's chronological snobbery. He apparently believes that because the authors of inspired texts were not well-versed in modern science, they should therefore be ignored. But whether you know what a germ or an atom is has nothing to do with whether you understand (as Colbert does) that Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life."

The other problem with Maher's implicit argument is that he has no idea what wisdom actually is. Wisdom, by definition, stands the test of time; it's not wrapped up in technology. To deride the Bible as "Bronze Age" wisdom is to ignore the fact that if it is what the church says it is, then its truths are timeless.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Paraphrasing the big questions

My parish sponsors an intermittent educational and fellowship initiative for men that organizers call "Toward Discipleship." It's good stuff run by friends, and motivating enough to plant dozens of us in a conference room at ridiculously early but schedule-accommodating times on Friday mornings.

Current talks have focused on what might be called the developmental stages of authentic Christian manhood. Speakers cleverly decided to associate each developmental stage with a key question. That's an effective strategy, especially for people like me, who'd rather take notes after a talk than during a talk.

At the five-week mark, this is what I remember:

  1. The key question in stage one, Boyhood, is "Am I the apple of my father's eye?" 
  2. In stage two, the Cowboy phase, the key question becomes, "Do I have what it takes?"
  3. A Warrior ethos appears for stage three, and the question there is "Are there things worth fighting for?"
  4. Stage four is the Lover, and ideally it tempers stage 3, because it's the other side of the same coin, when you realize that not everything is or has to be a fight. The lover's question is "Can I find the good, the true, and the beautiful?"
  5. Comes then the King. His question is "How do I use my power and influence for good?" Put another way, that question can be understood as an inquiry into the application of mercy: How do I raise other people up?
  6. The last stage in this series (and perhaps in life) is The Sage. I'm not there yet, but I look forward to updating this post when the question posed by the sage is described.
    UPDATE: It turns out that the question for the Sage stage (ha!) is "Am I able and willing to mentor someone else?" Makes sense!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Children, coercion, and climate change

Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal wrote a slow burner of a column that was published yesterday, to mark the news that the government of China was ending its official "one-child policy."

In an essay called "The Tyranny of a Big Idea," Stephens rightly calls that one-child policy a "35-year experiment in social folly and human cruelty," but he also uses its welcome demise as a lens through which to reconsider some warped aspects of the progressive credo.

Here is Stephens' ringing conclusion (italics on the last paragraph are mine):

"Modern liberalism is best understood as a movement of would-be believers in search of true faith. For much of the 20th century it was faith in History, especially in its Marxist interpretation. Now it’s faith in the environment. Each is a comprehensive belief system, an instruction sheet on how to live, eat and reproduce, a story of how man fell and how he might be redeemed, a tale of impending crisis that’s also a moral crucible.

In short, a religion without God. I sometimes wonder whether the journalists now writing about the failure of the one-child policy ever note the similarities with today’s climate “crisis.” That the fears are largely the same. And the political prescriptions are almost identical. And the leaders of the movement are cut from the same cloth. And the confidence with which the alarmists prescribe radical cures, their intolerance for dissenting views, their insistence on “global solutions,” their disdain for democratic input or technological adaptations -- that everything is just as it was when bell-bottoms were in vogue.

China’s one-child policy has been one of the great unrecognized tragedies of our time. It is a modern-day lesson in the danger of environmental fears and the misanthropic solutions they typically inspire. It behooves us to learn its lessons before we repeat its mistakes on a vaster scale."

Sparked by a reader's comment about SJWs ("social justice warriors"), John C. Wright has related thoughts about the moral slide that starts from an Appeal to Equality and inevitably ends with a lethal Appeal to Pride. Don't go there for a quick fix, though: Wright blogs at length, like the novelist he is.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Preach it, sister

(Secular conservative pundit Heather Mac Donald explains in five riveting minutes)