Monday, October 10, 2016

Christian and Pro-Life Leaders: DUMP TRUMP! (UPDATED)

Paul Combs,
I am no longer concerned about the prospect of Donald Trump as President of the United States. It was never a strong likelihood, despite his sense-defying victory in the Republican primaries. In fact, over the last year, The Donald has done just about everything in his power to ensure Hillary Clinton’s election save drop-kick a beagle puppy from the 58th floor of the Manhattan Trump Tower. The revelation of his “grab them by the p***y” remark simply put the final nail in the coffin. What does concern me is the failure of some visible Christian leaders, especially in the pro-life camp, to admit their error in supporting Trump.

Assessing the Damage

As of this writing [4:00pm CDT, Oct. 8], the most recent political post on the Priests for Life site is an action alert item: “Help Us Tell Tim Kaine to Stop Insulting Catholicism!” The latest news from Susan B. Anthony List is Oct. 5’s “Pence Goes on Offense to Expose Clinton-Kaine Abortion Extremism”. Ralph Reed of the Faith & Freedom Coalition thinks that “A ten-year-old tape of a private conversation with a talk show host ranks low on [people of faith’s] hierarchy of concerns.” And Gary Bauer of the Campaign for Working Families stated, “The ten-year-old tape of a private conversation in which Donald Trump uses grossly inappropriate language does not change the reality of the choice facing this country.”

In a sense, Bauer does hit the right nail: in reality, Trump is no worse a candidate than he was a week ago. The only difference is, Republican leaders are finally waking up to the full shambling horror, albeit too late to do anything meaningful about it. And neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein presents a better choice on religious and pro-life issues. Johnson has called religious freedom a “black hole”, while Stein has called it a code for “patriarchal domination”. If you eliminate fringe candidacies, such as the American Solidarity Party’s Michael Maturen and (sadly) the independent Joe Schriner, that leaves Christian and pro-life leaders with a Hobson’s choice: either Trump or nobody.

The choice should have been nobody.

The smart Republicans started to abandon ship even before Trump’s nomination was a done deal. Republican strategist Doug Heye called the decision to nominate Trump “a stain on the GOP’s soul,” nor is he the first. Back in August, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asked Republicans, “If you tell us such a man should be president, why should the nation ever believe anything else you say?” Just a few days earlier, Kathleen Parker of noted, “For many Republicans, the question is: ‘Who’d want to be a member of a party that would have Donald Trump as its leader?’” As for those who are only now trying to distance themselves from this dumpster fire, the cliché “a day late and a dollar short” doesn’t begin to describe their failure of foresight.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Book Review: Particles of Faith, by Stacy A. Trasancos

One challenge Christians face, particularly millennials, is the apparent challenge Science poses to articles of faith. To be brutally blunt, most of this appearance of challenge stems from the inability of believers and nonbelievers alike to respect the limits of both Science and Religion. An impoverished “progressive” education, neglecting even the most rudimentary instruction in philosophy and leading to rampant neo-philistinism, contributes heavily to the confusion. Many Catholics can benefit from a guide that clarifies those limits and defangs the “hermeneutic of conflict” which decrees the challenge. This is what Stacy A. Trasancos, Ph.D., M.A., offers us in Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 2016; $15.95).

Walking in “No-Man’s Land”

Particles of Faith is not an apologetical work. That’s to say, Dr. Trasancos doesn’t explicitly seek to make converts of atheists, but rather to steer Catholics along a path that will help them comprehend the current state of the sciences that form the “no-man’s land” between belief and unbelief. To this task, she brings an impressive array of education and experience — industrial chemist, theologian, teacher, and mother of seven.

One small complaint: every once in a while, the chemistry talk goes beyond the average layman’s comprehension despite Dr. Trasancos’ obvious attempt to simplify it. I say this as one whose last physical-science course was twenty-three years ago (for what it’s worth, it was organic chemistry, and I got a 4.0). But that’s what Google’s for, right? [Full disclosure: Stacy is not only a friend but the co-publisher and editor emeritus at Catholic Stand; she and Tito Edwards brought me on board there.]

The book is set up in three parts. Part I, “Science in the Light of Faith”, discusses the limitations of science and its necessarily transient state. Part II, “Questions in the Physical Sciences”, delves into the “Big Bang” theory, the relationship of atoms to reality, and the question of whether quantum mechanics explains free will. Part III, “Questions in the Biological Sciences”, discusses evolution from three different angles; particularly useful is the discussion of polygenism versus monogenism (that is, whether humans evolved from a single Adam-and-Eve pair or from a group of independently-evolved individuals).

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Twin Towers of Siloam

The one memory that will stay with me, when all other memories of September 11, 2001 have faded, is how obscenely beautiful the weather was. There really should have been more portents. Fierce, fiery warriors battling in the clouds. Graves yawning and yielding up their dead. At least a two-headed cow, or the ghost of William McKinley.

But no, the New York sky was barely touched with clouds when the Twin Towers  crumbled to the ground. Just as clear was the Arlington, Virginia sky as American Airlines flight 77 slammed into the western side of the Pentagon, and over Stoney Creek Township, Pennsylvania, as the hijackers of United 93 plowed their Boeing 757 into the ground to prevent the passengers from taking over. And it was just as beautiful in Omaha, Nebraska, where I listened to my cab’s FM radio in horror, knowing exactly why Peter Jennings quietly said, “Oh, my God,” as soon as he said it. Satan had apparently decided not to overdo it.

The Loss of Faith

Inevitably, anniversaries such as this will produce analyses in gross lots, rewriting as growing out of the evil stem of the 9/11 attacks trends that were already in place the day before. We need no “truther” conspiracy theories to explain the nadir of our trust in our government; it had been declining for three decades and more. Anti-Moslem sentiment didn’t begin with the collapse of the World Trade Center; it was present during the OPEC oil crisis in the late 1970s, a natural outgrowth of American nativism. We don’t need al-Qaida to explain our interventionism; it was already implicit in complaints that Operation Desert Storm didn’t “finish the job” by going to Baghdad and ousting Saddam Hussein.

Of course we became more afraid. For the sake of security, we permitted the federal government unprecedented powers of investigation and almost casually dispensed with habeas corpus rights for suspected terrorists. In the meantime, we created a new Cabinet-level department whose name carries perhaps-unintended echoes of totalitarian police states. And we also built a cheap, absurd wall along our border with Mexico, as we flailed around to find solutions that would keep terrorists out without going so far as to completely imprison ourselves or stop tourists and imports from coming.

I can’t help but think, though, that in the last fifteen years we became more aware of the fact that America is rotting from within, that both the dream and the reality of America have been corrupted. That’s a broad and vague charge, one not easily specified or documented. However, as much as has been written about the loss of faith in God, I believe that we’ve lost faith in everything — faith in ourselves, in each other, in our social institutions, in our government, in our founding principles.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Libsplaining “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Colin Kaepernick. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.)
“Mansplaining”, originally defined as the tendency of men to explain the frickin’ obvious to women in a patronizing tone, lost its unique vitality and appropriateness by being applied to any situation where men dared contradict feminist dogma. Eventually it met its conservative matches in “femsplaining” and “libsplaining”. Any portmanteau word which includes -splaining can pretty much be taken to mean “ideologically-motivated bulls**t”. While libsplaining is often employed to defend visible-from-space liberal hypocrisies, like George Takei’s labeling Clarence Thomas “a clown in blackface”, it has a more subtle use: rewriting history.

Kaepernick Sits It Out

On Saturday, August 27, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem at the beginning of an exhibition game against the Green Bay Packers. Explaining his refusal, the biracial Kaepernick, who is a supporter of #BlackLivesMatter, said, “There is police brutality. People of color have been targeted by police. So that’s a large part, and they’re government officials. They’re put in place by the government. That’s something this country has to change. There are things that we can do to hold them more accountable, make those standards higher.”

Predictably, there was outrage, and it wasn’t confined to white conservatives. Many NFL players admitted Kaepernick’s right to not stand, but felt his decision was wrong. Said New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, “Regardless of how you feel about the things that are going on in America today and the things that are going on across the world with gun violence and things of that nature, you’ve got to respect the flag.” Retired Army lieutenant colonel and former Florida congressman Allen B. West chided Kaepernick:

Mr. Kaepernick, a biracial young man adopted and raised by white parents, claims America is oppressing blacks at a time when we have a black, biracial president who was twice elected. We’ve had two black attorneys general and currently have a black secretary of homeland security, along with a black national security advisor. Here in Dallas our police chief, whom I know, is an outstanding black leader. The officer in Milwaukee who shot the armed assailant after issuing an order to drop his weapon was black. Is Mr. Kaepernick following suit and cherry-picking what he terms “oppression?”

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Liberal Intelligence Premium is Oversold

Image Source: Institute for Competitive Intelligence.
Over the last few years, liberals have had their egos stroked by studies which report that they are smarter than conservatives. For instance, a few months ago the Pew Center reported that people who had attended graduate school had more consistently liberal positions. These reports have fostered a “smart urban sophisticates vs. dumb rural hicks” mindset among liberals that, if you listen to some people, feeding and encouraging was the sole raison d’être for The Daily Show during Jon Stewart’s tenure. Finally, it got so egregious that even some liberals became uncomfortable with it.

Contemporary Liberalism “Lacks Humility”

Back in April 2016, launched a 7,000-plus word essay by deputy First Person editor Emmett Rensin, titled “The smug style in American liberalism”. That liberals have tended to smug condescension has been a complaint of conservatives for some time now. Rensin’s article, however, drew a bigger impact because it came from a liberal writing on a liberal platform, one Kyle Smith of the New York Post described as “typically [combining] childlike oversimplification …, high-school-student-government-nerd idealism, just-arrived-on-campus humorcidal earnestness and the millennial generation’s pretend fealty to big data.” For conservatives like Smith, this was a liberal safety or an own-goal: a member of the opposition had finally scored their point for them.

Oddly enough — odd, because conservatives tend to take it for granted that postmodern liberals are incapable of substantive self-criticism — Rensin’s screed did provoke some internal agreement. Kevin Drum of (mirabile dictu) commented, “We’re convinced that conservatives, especially working class conservatives, are just dumb. Smug suggests only a supreme confidence that we’re right — but conservative elites also believe they’re right, and they believe it as much as we do. The difference is that, generally speaking, they’re less condescending about it.” “The great virtue that contemporary liberalism lacks and needs,” lamented Ramesh Ponnuru in, “is neither civility nor solidarity. It’s humility — and sadly, even some of liberalism’s most thoughtful internal critics can’t see it.”

Even more recently, lawyer-activist Nikki Johnson-Huston took a swipe at “... the cocktail party liberals, the elites, who wear the cloak of liberalism to protect themselves from criticism and so they can keep a clear conscious [sic]” … in Huffington Post, no less. Johnson-Huston’s criticism, however, was aimed at white liberals who used their leftist concern more to assert their moral superiority over conservatives than to actually get involved in problems like racism.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Four Life Issues and Catholic Social Doctrine

There are several political issues commonly wrapped in the social-justice banner that are also issues affecting life and the family. In theory, a Catholic ought to support those policies which support life and family regardless of which party proposes them. However, when the two parties split on abortion and (later) euthanasia, so did American Catholics. Now the nation is so polarized politically that, as Scott Eric Alt explains, any Catholic who demands we pay attention to life issues outside of abortion and euthanasia is accused of “trying to kill opposition to abortion”.

“A Catholic CANNOT Vote Democrat”

On August 23, my friend and Catholic Stand colleague Matthew Tyson published “Yes, You Can Be Catholic AND Vote Democrat” on his Patheos blog Mackerel Snapper. On the face of it, I can’t conceive a more quixotic and desperate cause than trying to convert the Democrat Party to a “whole life” position, as the Democrats for Life want to do. Besides, the demographics have been shifting leftward (and away from party labels) for the last three generations, and the Republican Party is shredded in two. There’s arguably as much hope for converting the Democrats to the “seamless garment” as there is for converting the Republicans. (Yes, I went there.) But, as GKC said, hope only begins to be really useful when things appear to be hopeless.

For the record: Though I probably agree with many if not most of Matthew’s positions (I don’t fully know what they are), I refuse the label liberal. Classical liberalism, as I recently pointed out, was and is premissed on a faulty anthropology; the postmodern left’s social liberalism is progressing towards an authoritarian statism, and the postmodern right’s economic liberalism enables crony capitalism. Precisely because I am a Catholic, I hold neither the Republicans’ nor the Democrats’ ideological biases and policy preferences to be above challenge or criticism.

The post’s title was guaranteed to attract a knee-jerk contradiction. Sure enough, a reader (whom I’ll call Cato) declared, “A Catholic CANNOT vote Democrat,” and that “being a [Catholic] Democrat is indistinguishable from being a pro-equality KKK member, a Catholic Nazi, or a Catholic Stalinist.” Why? Apparently, because Cato, bless his heart, believes the national platform makes all the party’s members co-conspirators, despite the fact that individual candidates are not and cannot be required to support every platform plank. It’s stupid sweeping generalizations like this which are driving Gen-Xers and millennials away from party identification.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Mark Shea the Ephraimite

Image Source: Mark P. Shea, I presume.
If you want an example of the damage done to the Catholic Church in America by the surrounding culture’s increasing hyperpartisanship and ideological tribalism, consider this: Mark Shea’s blog at the National Catholic Register has been dropped, and his even-Christians are happy about it. Rejoicing, even. Good riddance, Shea, you heretical librul (because, of course, to be a librul is to be a heretic and vice versa). The Circular Catholic Firing Squad has finally claimed a victory/defeat.

“Do Not Rejoice”

I have not found the official statement from NCRegister. Apologist Steve Ray posted it and linked back to a Fr. Peter West’s Facebook post. Who Fr. West is, where he got the statement, and whether he has a relationship with NCRegister, the deponent saith not.

Added Fr. West, “With this in mind, I ask you to pray for Mark Shea. Hopefully, this will be an opportunity for personal reflection for him. He has many gifts that he can use in the service of the Church and the pro-life movement. Recall the words from the Book of Proverbs: ‘Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and when they stumble, do not let your heart exult, Lest the Lord see it, be displeased with you, and withdraw his wrath from your enemies.’ (Proverbs 24:17[-18 NABRE])” I expect God to withdraw His wrath fairly soon.

Note that Mark wasn’t dismissed because of anything he wrote at NCRegister, but rather because of his social-media activity. I’ve watched with some concern as Mark’s Facebook posts became increasingly caustic, strident, and hyperbolic in his condemnations of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the pro-life PACs associated with them. If there’s anything we should have learned by now, it’s that our social-media activity isn’t private, that employers can and will fire people for their off-work behavior.

Furthermore, we who publicly proclaim and defend the Catholic faith have a special duty to be the same people in our bedrooms as we are in the public square — especially now that the line between public and private is thinning and blurry. I too have difficulty being charitable to critics, so I empathize with Mark’s frustration. However, to be anything more than a pose, charity must inform everything we do. To instruct the ignorant and admonish the sinner are spiritual works of mercy; the intent, however, doesn’t justify the manner.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, and the Trump Campaign

Jesse Bernstein of Tablet blames Donald Trump on Jon Stewart. Well, partially, at least; he does admit upfront that there are plenty of factors in the matter. But apparently Stewart and his The Daily Show compatriot Stephen Colbert are partially to blame because they “helped to create the very specific type of internet-era liberal smugness (and, consequently, ignorance) that, though far from the sole cause by any means, has been a significant factor in both the rise of Trump and our current political fracturing.”

The Daily Show’s Liberal Smugness

Here’s the centerpiece of Bernstein’s argument:

[Stewart’s] show [The Daily Show] was a cultural touchstone that dealt in mockery and ridicule, as good political comedy should. It parsed the bluster to find the nugget of insincerity that drives selfish politics. But as the democratization of media made it easier and easier to hear only from the sources you wanted to hear from, those who counted The Daily Show and its even jokier spawn, The Colbert Report, as news sources slowly but surely created an echo chamber.

The process went something like this: Someone said something on Fox News that mainstream liberalism didn’t like; Stewart and/or Colbert aired a sustained critique of the idea and the thinking behind it; liberal internet publications hailed it as the greatest rhetorical victory since Darrow argued for Scopes; liberals’ Facebook feeds full of liberal friends filled up with clips of the takedown. No one learned anything, no one engaged with an idea, and nothing outside of a very specific set of ideas was given any real credence. As Emmet Rensin so perfectly put it:

Finding comfort in the notion that their former allies were disdainful, hapless rubes, smug liberals created a culture animated by that contempt. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy. … Over 20 years, an industry arose to cater to the smug style … and culminated for a time in The Daily Show, a program that more than any other thing advanced the idea that liberal orthodoxy was a kind of educated savvy and that is opponents were, before anything else, stupid.

As Rensin deftly discerns, this sort of intellectual elitism is probably part of the reason that the Democratic Party went from getting 66 percent of the manual laborer vote in 1948 to outpolling the GOP by just 2 points in 2012. It’s the inevitable consequence of eight years of reducing George W. Bush and all of his supporters to dumbass hicks, and choosing to denigrate the poor and uneducated (if only they read The Atlantic!), rather than doing real outreach to them. But as Christopher Hitchens learned on Bill Maher’s show, people don’t want to consider that possibility[.]

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Why We Can’t “Do Something” About the Gun Problem

Sig Sauer MCX, similar to rifle used at Pulse massacre.
(Image source:
In the wake of the horrific massacre in Orlando, people are once again demanding we “do something” about the massive number of guns in American hands — an estimated 357 million privately-owned guns as of 2013, or about 112 guns per 100 citizens. Some demand we get rid of guns altogether; others demand we loosen the legislation to put guns in the hands of more people. And both sides are churning out bogus “facts” to support their positions.

To be clear about my own biases: I believe the Second Amendment as written is outdated and needs revision. I favor reasonable legislation which includes mandatory training and certification as well as reasonable restrictions on carrying and purchasing. However, the research and statistical analysis I’ve done over the last couple of days highlighted for me both the drama and the intractability of the problem. To put it concisely, there’s plenty we can do about the American gun problem … most of which will do little if anything to solve it.

By the Numbers

To give you an idea of the legislative mess:

  • Only 17 states[*] require some form of permit or license to purchase a weapon; in many cases, the requirement only obtains for pistols.
  • Only 9 states require registration, mostly of handguns, sometimes only under certain circumstances.
  • Only 6 states require a license to own a handgun.
  • The concealed-carry laws of 42 states vary from very strict may-issue conditions to non-mandatory permits issued on request for the sake of reciprocity with other states.
  • Open-carry is permitted to some degree in 30 states.
  • There are only 8 states in which local ordinances can do more than limit discharge of weapons; in 22 states, state pre-emption is total.
  • Eleven states have no magazine capacity restrictions; 8 have no “assault weapon” restrictions.
  • Nineteen states require no background checks for private sales.
  • Only one state, California, imposes a mandatory waiting period as well as requiring a purchase permit.
  • Thirty-three states have some version of “castle doctrine” or “stand your ground” law, either on the books or through case law.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Justice for Harambe … or Revenge?

Photo source: Nature World News.
A recent petition on, titled “Justice for Harambe”, makes me wonder if anyone really knows what justice is anymore.

Harambe’s Death

On Saturday, May 28, a four-year-old boy managed to slip out of his mother’s sight at the Cincinnati Zoo. Nothing new or surprising in that. However, this four-year-old boy made short work of a series of barriers separating visitors from the gorillas at the zoo’s Gorilla World, and fell fifteen feet into the moat surrounding the habitat. Harambe, a 17-year-old western lowland gorilla, found the boy and — well, the boy survived, and has all his limbs. Harambe, on the other hand, was shot to keep the boy from further harm.

Strange to say, very little public concern has been devoted to questioning the design of the barriers. No, most of what can with some stretch of the imagination be called concern has been devoted to punishing the boy’s mother for the death of the gorilla (and, incidentally, for letting the kid out of her sight).

The petition is demanding, based on eyewitness claims for which it offers no source, “an investigation of the child’s home environment in the interests of protecting the child and his siblings from further incidents of parental negligence that may result in serious bodily harm or even death.” Note the words “further incidents of parental negligence”; that the parents are already guilty of one count is a verdict immune to challenge or contradiction. The Court of Public Opinion has already spoken.